First Look Review: 2023 Honda HR-V EX-L

Honda

In a market filled with small SUVs, it takes an edge to stand above the rest. The new 2023 Honda HR-V has that edge, and then some. This most recent version of the HR-V checks a lot of boxes in a consumer’s must-have list, with a few surprises thrown in as well.

Past HR-V’s were based on the modest Honda Fit platform. This time, Honda set its sights on impressing the maturing customer in what is often referred to as an aspirational segment of the market, for the millennial or young Gen-X customer who is ready to upgrade from a hatchback or small sedan to a more robust vehicle.

2023 Honda HR-V EX-L front three-quarter
Alejandro Della Torre

Outside, the 2023 HR-V’s design works well. The body lines have been smoothed out for a more neutral and streamlined character. Beyond the paint color provided, Nordic Forest Pearl (imagine a gray business suit with a hint of blue), several trim pieces—the grille, rocker panels, splitter, fog light surround, and wheel well arches—are finished in polished black as if to say: Check out the matching belt with leather shoes!

The 2023 model is significantly longer by 9.4 inches and wider by 2.5 inches than its predecessor. Inside, there is a minimalist design both visually and functionally that matches what we’ve grown to like in the latest Honda Civic.. In a hint of mid-century modern look, the pencil-thin accents with a honeycomb grate blend well with the vent bezels. A Jetson spaceship-like dash combined with the airy cabin provides an open view from all five seating locations. This expansive view was achieved through thin A-pillars and door-mounted mirrors.

2023 Honda HR-V EX-L interior
Alejandro Della Torre

The smooth dashboard lines are broken by the nine-inch infotainment screen in the upscale EX models, a seven-inch screen in the other models. Alongside there’s an exceptionally convenient feature: The addition of analog control dials and buttons. For those who don’t like to digitally scroll through a series of touch screen menus, you can access the basics: Radio, phone and the temperature and fan control settings. Their location is artistically and ergonomically placed to be easily found without taking your eyes off the road. The passenger has been attended to as well, with his or her own USB charger port and a fair amount of storage space.

2023 Honda HR-V EX-L steering wheel
Alejandro Della Torre

An additional styling point worth mentioning is the high-gloss black highlights found next to the shifter console and steering wheel. It matches the outside gloss, but on the inside, being next to high-touch areas, it’s an OCD nightmare. You’d best keep a microfiber cloth in the door pockets as the gloss very easily registers the slightest smear from fingerprints.

2023 Honda HR-V EX-L front
Alejandro Della Torre

Our test vehicle was an EX-L, which had all-wheel drive (a $1500 feature) and was priced at $30,195, including a hefty $1245 for shipping. It’s the best bang for the buck with the most tech features and an upgraded interior finish. Also available are the Sport at $26,895, and the LX at $24,895. At first, I thought I’d fall for the Sport package, with its single-tip chrome exhaust and black accent lettering, but for the extra money, I’ll take the multi-way adjustable seats, AWD and upgraded interior of the EX-L. The best option for the price-conscious customer may be the LX, as the powertrain is the same on all three of these models.

The backdrop for this test was the Pacific Northwest, specifically a town in Washington called Stevenson: Easy on the eyes, but an arduous terrain to put the powertrain and new chassis to the test. The elevation changes are aggressive, and so are the curves.

2023 Honda HR-V EX-L rear three-quarter
2023 Honda HR-V Sport Alejandro Della Torre

Honda borrows the engine from the Civic, a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that makes 158 hp and 138 lb-ft of torque. Even though it’s mated to the unloved CVT transmission, the engine choice is enough to classify the acceleration as better than adequate. Keep in mind that this test was on steep roads with tight switchbacks, so the power outlay will be more significant for the flatlander.

We are talking about the HR-V’s performance as if it should be on par with a hot-hatchback, and surprisingly, it’s not far from it. Honda accomplished this using a global variable platform which shares sections of its structure with the Civic and CR-V. Speaking with the lead engineer, he told me that the chassis was tuned to inspire confidence in even the novice driver. A key factor of this improvement in handling is the upgrade from a torsion beam to an independent rear suspension.

One big difference from the previous model is the absence of paddle shifters, which customers in this segment don’t much want or need. The 2.0-liter engine’s smoothness through the powerband almost lets you forget that it’s attached to a CVT. By the way, my mileage was just short of the claimed EPA’s 25 mpg city, 30 highway for the AWD model. Impressive given the bouts of heavy acceleration.

2023 Honda HR-V EX-L console
Alejandro Della Torre

A few tidbits of technology included with most models:

  • The lane departure warning with lane-keep assistance was useful on the mountain roads. There was just enough corrective steering input to help keep you aware and on the road through the mountain switchbacks.
  • The infotainment system comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The former worked best for me when connected to the USB port.
  • The wireless smartphone charging pad is a great add-on feature.
  • Hill descent control was a pleasant yet rarely used surprise. It’s a console-mounted button that, when pressed, can help maintain a speed of up to 12 mph through a descent.
  • There are three driving modes available on the fly: Normal, Eco and Snow
2023 Honda HR-V EX-L side
Alejandro Della Torre

Bottom line, the 2023 Honda HR-V offers a lot for younger buyers who want to experience the great outdoors but not stray too far from civilization. It’s a good formula in the right size, with plenty of safety and technology features. The new HR-V looks great, is fun to drive and raises the bar with sophistication, design, and improved driving dynamics.

 

***

 

2023 Honda HR-V EX-L AWD

Price: $28,695/$30,195 (base/as-tested)

Highs: Crisp steering with a comfortable ride and capable powertrain. Creature comforts for today’s consumers and their passengers at an entry-level price.

Lows: Power still managed by a slow-witted CVT.

Summary: With sedan-like handling, a compelling price, and room for young adults the revised HR-V punches above its weight.

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