First Drive: Honda HR-V Sport

Creating the Honda HR-V Sport is a brave move, especially when there’s just a 1.5-litre engine under the bonnet of this handsome SUV. We find out if it’s a badge too far…

It’s the same petrol engine that already powers the HR-V, but there’s now a turbocharger bolted on to provide more poke. Honda’s engineers have also been fiddling underneath, adding uprated dampers to hold the body firmly in place, improving the steering, and adding more noise insulation.

The styling team has spent some time with the HR-V too, tidying up the front with a wide ‘solid wing’ grille and some extra chrome, while there are new taillights either side of a chrome garnish. It’s not the most comprehensive update ever, but it works well and keeps the compact HR-V looking fresh. To differentiate the Sport model from the rest of the range, Honda’s added a honeycomb grille behind the wing, some dark cladding around the body, and 18-inch wheels, a combination that actually does hint at sporting abilities.

Starting with the existing HR-V makes this even easier, as it was always a reasonably entertaining car to drive. Beefing it up into a Sport spec undoubtedly adds to its abilities, and that’s mainly thanks to that engine. Fitted only to the Sport model, it’s an eager unit that pulls strongly from low revs, able to propel the Honda HR-V Sport to 62mph in a little under eight seconds. That’s not supercar levels of performance, but it’s doubtful that many customers will be demanding much more.

Despite its SUV stance, the HR-V handles quite nicely. It weighs about the same as the Civic hatchback and shares the same engine, so you wouldn’t expect it to be much different, but it’s surprising to find just how neutral the balance of the car is. Turn-in is sharp, and the revised steering is precise, making it possible to thread pleasingly from apex to apex on a flowing road.

It’s aided by the new suspension, which uses special dampers to keep the body roll in check while retaining ride quality, at least according to Honda. That’s not quite right as, while the car remains comfortable and compliant at speed, it falls apart in the city. On the open road, you’ll feel bumps and cracks in the road but they’re never intrusive, whereas trundling around town allows the car to transmit every imperfection straight to the driver’s seat. Of course, despite the Sport moniker, this is a car that’s likely to spend most of its miles in the urban sprawl doing sensible family things, which makes the ride a disappointment.

The Honda HR-V Sport is a handsome SUV

Still, the sensible family stuff can be carried off with aplomb. There’s a spacious interior that’s trimmed nicely and exceptionally well built, with lots of technology and equipment included. Space upfront is good, it’s great in the rear, and the boot is decent enough. The rear bench is made of Honda’s ‘Magic Seats’ that fold and flip effortlessly, hiding in the floor to create a load space that’s entirely flat. These should be fitted to every car. All of them.

The same isn’t true of the infotainment system, which is Honda’s usual woeful affair. It’s made worse by missing out on Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, so you can’t just use your phone instead. They’re not even available as an option.

The infotainment system in the Honda HR-V Sport still needs work

That’s a small issue in what is otherwise an impressive car, though. You might think the ride is a bit rough for you, but other models in the HR-V range should show a noticeable improvement in exchange for losing some of that sporting prowess. In fact, it’s other models in the HR-V range that are the Sport’s biggest issue – at almost £28,000, there’s no escaping the fact that this model is expensive, and you’ll need to find another £1,250 for the automatic version. Opt for the lower SE spec and you lose only a little equipment but save yourself close to £5,000.

At least it’s competitive with its pseudo-sporting rivals, such as the Volkswagen T-Roc R-Line, Toyota C-HR Dynamic or Mini Countryman Cooper S Sport but, like all of those rivals, if you’re after the performance aspect then there are better options to choose from. Likewise, for those wanting practicality then virtually any ordinary estate car will offer more space for less outlay without compromising handling. As an SUV, it lacks four-wheel drive so can’t rival more rugged options elsewhere.

The result is that, while I remain a fan of the Honda HR-V, I can’t make sense of the Sport version launched this week. Honda expects about 15% of HR-V buyers to splash out on this new top-spec model, which suggests the other 85% don’t get it either.

Model Tested: Honda HR-V Sport 6MT
Price: £27,840
Range: £20,440 – £29,090
Top speed: 134 mph
0-62 mph: 7.8 seconds
Power: 182 PS (180 bhp)
Torque: 220 Nm (162 lb ft)
Monthly PCP*: £380
Official economy: 40.4 mpg
Road test economy: N/A
CO2 Emissions: 135 g/km
Car Tax: £145
Insurance group: 27E
* Monthly PCP estimate based on 20% deposit, 36 month term, 5% APR, final payment of 40%.