Honda said it wants to reposition itself as a premium brand, and the new HR-V indicates it's heading in the right direction.

Honda, once just the plain Jane company that happened to build a supercar, is reinventing itself at the moment. However, it’s not the rebrand as an all-electric brand you might expect. Instead, Honda is angling to make the brand and its cars more premium – chart-topping sales be damned.

The business model was the first thing to change – some dealerships have closed, while those remaining are adopting an agency model with non-negotiable pricing. Now, it’s time for the fancier cars to start rolling in.

While the new Civic was the first to be ushered in after the change, we’re looking at the all-new 2022 Honda HR-V here, which shows an even greater leap forward over its predecessor. The old HR-V looked and felt like a conventional small SUV designed to sell in droves; this looks smart and swish and, well, premium.

But of course, it comes at quite a price. Just two grades are offered, and it’s the more expensive of the two we’re in here – the e:HEV L which is priced at $45,000 drive-away. That name sounds a bit like it was decided upon using leftover Scrabble tiles, but basically it means this is the hybrid model and it’s especially well specified.

Regardless of which model you go for – this or the non-hybrid Vi X – both look identical other than the hybrid’s blue Honda badges. That’s a very good thing as the design is clean and modern, so there’s no place for anything like ugly small wheels or cheap black plastic wheel arches. Here, the wheels are 18-inch alloys clad in Michelin Primacy 4 tyres, and the lower body cladding is all painted gloss black.

Normally, I’m not the biggest fan of ‘hidden’ rear door handles like this thing has, but with the HR-V I’m happy to make an exception given the very first model from 1999 was offered with just one door on either side, so it’s a nice nod to that and is done more seamlessly here than on many other cars.

The interior of the 2022 Honda HR-V is just as clean and crisp as its interior, with a modern feel that mercifully erodes past memories of dated Honda cabins. While the interior materials aren’t the utmost luxurious out there, there’s nothing that will leave you feeling too disappointed.

There’s soft touch materials where you want and need them, such as on the doors and armrests, while the plastics elsewhere are smooth and perfectly acceptable for a car at this price point. I’m a fan of it having cloth seats as well since it’s a softer material than leather, plus the bolsters are trimmed in leather to accent it anyway.

I must also commend this cabin for its ergonomics and storage options. The driving position finds a nice balance between providing good visibility while still feeling closer to that of a hatch than a larger SUV. Its storage options from the smartphone-sized tray under the climate dials to the handy rear ‘Magic Seats’ in which the base can be lifted to fit taller items makes it ideally practical.

Granted, the boot is small for the class at 309 litres – the battery pack plays a big role in that – but the flat loading floor is very convenient, there’s some under-floor storage to make up for it, and realistically there’s enough room for most buyers’ transporting duties.

The list of standard features is very impressive as well. On the comfort front, you get heated front seats and a heated steering wheel, along with dual-zone climate control with funky dials that turn red or blue as you increase or decrease the temperature.

As for connectivity, there’s wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto available on its 9.0-inch touchscreen which I imagine most buyers will use, although it’s a shame there’s no wireless phone charger to accompany that. It also bears mentioning that I preferred using the car’s own navigation system as it’s fast and easy to program with it recognising the names of most businesses so you don’t need to go Googling for an address. There’s also a semi-digital instrument cluster which works well enough, although I feel a fully-digital unit would be more in keeping with the premium push.

The safety and driver assistance tech is also impressive as well thanks to it bearing the full Honda Sensing suite, meaning it has all the usual blind spot and forward collision warning systems, as well as Level 2 semi-autonomous driving assistance to keep you centred in your lane.

Regardless of which 2022 Honda HR-V model you buy, there’s a 1.5-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine under the bonnet. Fortunately in the e:HEV L model tested here, it comes paired with an electric motor to produce 96kW and 253Nm which is sent to the front wheels through a CVT automatic.

Obviously, power isn’t really the name of the game here, with its double-digit output meaning it feels a bit strained if you need to plant it to overtake someone. However, the torque of the electric motor means that in city traffic, it feels utterly at home with smooth and relaxed power delivery. Indeed, the hybrid system operates seamlessly bar the hum of the petrol engine when it kicks in.

It’s a shame this is as powerful as the HR-V gets as there’s a really neat chassis under this equally tidy body. The quick, light steering suits it well and the battery pack helps keep the weight down low, so through the bends it feels quite pleasant. It’s no Type R, but for an SUV it more than suffices.

The ride quality is excellent in the city as well, with it soaking up potholes and speed bumps with utter ease and a seriously impressive amount of body control. On faster country roads, the road noise level remains quite acceptable for a light SUV like this, too.

However, with a hybrid such as this, efficiency is the name of the game, and the HR-V delivers on that front as well. The e:HEV claims 4.3L/100km on the combined cycle, and over the course of my 475km behind the wheel I achieved an indicated 5.1L/100km. It’s worth keeping in mind that when sticking to the city, that number easily hung around in the mid-to-high fours, so the fact I live in the countryside skews it slightly.

If you’re a city-dweller, this hybrid is ideal and you’ll easily see the fuel savings add up. As a conventional hybrid, there’s no real learning curve either given there’s no need to plug it in. Factor in Honda’s five-year unlimited kilometre warranty and utterly cheap capped price servicing – just $125 for the first five visits, although it calls for servicing every 10,000km – and it’ll be incredibly easy on your hip pocket in the long run.

It must be said, though, that the initial outlay does counteract the incredibly low running costs. $45,000 is a lot for a small SUV, even if that’s a drive-away price, and the likes of the Kia Seltos or Hyundai Kona offer the same or more equipment and far more power for a saving of thousands. Left-field offerings such as the Skoda Kamiq are absolutely worth consideration as well.

However, for the city buyer, I think the HR-V presents a really attractive package. It might be down on power, but that doesn’t matter in traffic – it’s the fuel economy, incredible comfort, and cheap servicing that’s the HR-V’s main drawcard.

Plus, the 2022 HR-V proves that Honda really can make something that looks and feels premium. It’s obviously one of the first stepping stones to the brand’s eventual goal of repositioning itself, but it’s a clear step in the right direction.

2022 Honda HR-V e:HEV L Drive-Away Price: $45,000
  • 7.5/10
    Performance - 7.5/10
  • 8.5/10
    Ride & Handling - 8.5/10
  • 8.5/10
    Tech & Features - 8.5/10
  • 8/10
    Practicality - 8/10
  • 7.5/10
    Value for Money - 7.5/10

Pros: Smooth and economical hybrid driveline, smart styling, solid amount of standard equipment, low running costs
Cons: Boot is small for the class, no wireless phone charger, expensive for a small SUV

In a nutshell: Honda said it wants to be a more premium brand, and the HR-V is a clear step in the right direction. Not only does it look and feel smart, but it’s a smart buy as well thanks to its low long-term running costs.

Full Disclosure: The vehicle tested here was provided by Honda Australia for a week with a full tank of fuel.

Patrick Jackson
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