The first four-wheeled Honda I ever saw was in the late ‘60s, in Montreal. Back at home, some of my friends were already zooming around on Honda 50s, and an ad agency was assuring us that “you meet the nicest people on a Honda.” (A Honda motorcycle, of course — quite a change from Marlon Brando and the Wild Ones.) In a sea of full-size Detroit iron, that tiny yellow two-door car, with its rear window like a skindiver’s mask, stood out. It was a Honda 600 and it weighed just 1,200 pounds. With its two-cylinder, 36-horsepower motorbike engine, it could hit 77 mph and get 36 mpg. Wow!
Now comes this latest Honda four-wheeler, the 2016 HR-V. Small as it is, at just 14 feet overall, it’s still 4 feet longer than that 600 was, and it weighs nearly a whole ton more — but it’s also got 105 more horsepower and will do way better than 100 mph, and even with all-wheel drive it still squeezes out nearly the same gas mileage. Back when the Ford Explorer kicked off the SUV craze, the HR-V would have looked just as tiny and unusual and clever next to one of those beasts as the 600 did 25 years earlier, and it would have been just as accurate a harbinger of things to come.
Is it any wonder we love Hondas?
Having conquered the CUV — compact utility vehicle — market with its best-selling CR-V, Honda has now seen fit to deliver an MUV, a micro-ute that’s nearly a foot shorter. (In fact, the HR-V shares a platform with the Honda Fit, another brilliant piece of automotive packaging.) At prices between $20,000 and $27,000, the HR-V is available in LX, EX and EX-L trim levels with front-wheel or all-wheel drive. Common to all is a sideways-mounted 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine rated for 141 horsepower and 127 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual gearbox is available in the LX and EX, but only with 2WD; all other HR-Vs get a CVT, a continuously variable automatic transmission.
Around town the HR-V feels responsive and appropriately agile, but not scary small; the driving position gives an SUV-like sense of perspective. For secondary roads there’s a Sport mode in the transmission, and the driver can also shift through seven “gears” with paddles on the steering wheel. On the highway, at 70 mph the engine is turning just 2,200 RPM indicated while knocking off 34-plus miles per gallon. The value of a CVT is that it is, or should be, always providing the right ratio between engine and wheel speeds for the most efficient performance and fuel burn, and Honda has nailed it. The coarser nature of a CVT shows up here only in foot-to-the-floor acceleration, which the HR-V shouldn’t be asked for.
When it comes to amenities, standard and optional, the HR-V has toys such as pushbutton ignition, automatic heating and cooling, an electric parking brake, a backup camera with a choice of three views (one of which nearly looks around corners), Honda’s unique Lane Watch side-view camera and more. The digital console is refreshingly simple, but there’s a lot going on there and it’s all easy to dope out and access. And nothing in or on the HR-V looks or feels cheap.
It’s become a Honda cliché, but thanks to a millimetric obsession with packaging (the gas tank, for example, is tucked under the driver’s seat for more cargo room at the back) the HR-V is bigger inside than out. A passenger who slides the front seat way back may bang his heels on the seat box underneath, but otherwise there is space galore. Families of four who shop the CR-V can legitimately consider the HR-V also. The beauty of the HR-V — and this is a carry-forward from that original 600 and then the CRX, CR-V, Fit and other Hondas, from snowblowers to jet airplanes — is how it makes so much out of so relatively little.
To be fair to Kia, Nissan, Jeep, Fiat, Mini, Chevrolet and others, the HR-V is nowhere near the first micro-ute on our roads, but now that it’s arrived it is likely to gobble up a goodly share of their market.

Likes
- Inexpensive but not cheap
- Small but not cutesy
- Honda obsession with function
Dislikes
- Front underseat floor space compromised
- Rear headroom a bit tight for long torsos