The entry-level Honda HR-V wears the same premium looks as its more expensive hybrid compatriot, but the cost-saving measures can be felt on the inside.

What is it?

Of the two versions of the 2022 Honda HR-V on offer in Australia, this, the Vi X, is the cheapest you can buy. Priced at $36,700 drive-away – Honda now uses an agency model in Australia, meaning no-haggle pricing – it presents itself as a stylish and premium small SUV that offers more space for occupants and luggage than you’d expect.

Why are we testing it?

We’ve already taken a look at the top-spec Honda HR-V e:HEV L earlier in the year, and were impressed by just how premium it actually felt; Honda’s current aim, of course, is to reposition itself as a more premium marque. With the Vi X presenting an $8300 saving over it, we wanted to see whether this entry-level version can live up to those same premium expectations.

What does it look like?

One of the biggest positives of this base model is that visually, it’s almost identical to the top-spec HR-V. Featuring the same 18-inch wheels and the same bodywork, there are only a few minor ways to tell it apart. This Vi X model lacks the LED fog lights, auto-levelling and active cornering headlights, and sequential indicators of the e:HEV L. It also doesn’t have a trim level badge on the rear, while the Honda emblems are a plain silver rather than accented with blue as this isn’t a hybrid. Otherwise, it’s a total doppelgänger for the more expensive model.

That’s certainly a good thing as the HR-V is a very smart-looking car, especially in the stunning Premium Opal hero colour my tester was painted in which has an incredible golden fleck that’s brought out in the sun. The slatted grille gives it a distinctive look to the front-end, while its rear door handles are hidden convincingly enough to make you do a double take and wonder if Honda had brought back the three-door HR-V from its first-generation.

What’s the Honda HR-V Vi X like inside?

While the interior might be a match for the top-spec model, it’s inside where you can clearly see where a great deal of that $8300 is saved. While the HR-V e:HEV L feels genuinely premium inside with a vast array of soft-touch materials, the Vi X does away with a lot of them.

Everything feels that bit harsher and more plasticky throughout the cabin, but most notably the steering wheel which is now a very cheap polyurethane item rather than the leather-clad tiller you’ll find in the e:HEV L. For something you’ll touch more than anything else in this car, it serves as a constant reminder that this is only the base model. Likewise, the semi-leather seats are now pure cloth, while seat and steering wheel heating are also both gone.

Dual-zone climate control is another omission, but it does at least have automatic climate control. What’s far more disappointing is that there are no longer any rear air vents, with a rather obviously tacked-in cubby hole taking their place.

However, not all hope is lost as at least you do still get the same great Advanced Display Audio infotainment system with a 9.0-inch touchscreen, satellite navigation, and wireless Apple CarPlay. There’s no wireless charger, however, but that’s something the top-spec model also lacks. Likewise, the semi-digital instrument cluster is retained from the top-spec.

The HR-V Vi X also retains the Honda Sensing active safety suite which includes forward collision warning, collision mitigation, lane keep assist with Level 2 semi-autonomous capability, lane departure warning, road departure mitigation, adaptive cruise control, automatic high-beam lights, and traffic sign recognition. What it does miss out on, though, is blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and automatic wipers.

Some other less obvious omissions are an auto-dimming rear view mirror, along with heated, power-folding, and auto reverse tilting side mirrors. At least it does have keyless entry, although a power-assisted tailgate is also missing from the spec sheet. It does have a more useful boot than the top-spec model thanks to this not being a hybrid, with it offering a multitude of additional trays and slots under the boot floor where the battery would’ve been. However, the main boot still measures the same 304 litres.

Interior storage is also helped by the HR-V featuring Honda’s ‘Magic Seats’ which not only fold down to expand the boot to a maximum 1274 litres, but the seat base also folds up easily for fitting in taller items. Do be aware, though, that this is only a four-seater.

READ MORE: We put the top-spec hybrid HR-V to the test

What’s under the bonnet?

Like the top-spec model, the base Honda HR-V Vi X features a 1.5-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine paired with a CVT automatic and front-wheel drive, but unlike the e:HEV L, the Vi X makes do without the hybrid system that adds more power and allows for short bursts of electric-only driving at low speeds.

That means the Vi X only produces a miserly 89kW at 6600rpm and 145Nm at 4300rpm – less than the old HR-V made. As you’d expect from Honda, this engine does have the VTEC variable valve timing system; it also uses a lower compression ratio than the Atkinson cycle version of this engine in the hybrid. Although the power output is low, so too is its fuel consumption, claiming a mere 5.8L/100km which gives its small 40-litre a surprisingly decent range.

What’s the Honda HR-V Vi X like to drive?

The second you get behind the wheel of the HR-V Vi X, the lack of torque from its tiny atmo engine can be clearly felt. Punch the throttle with any sort of enthusiasm and it feels lethargic and strained, and as is the case with most VTEC engines, you really need to get it high up in the rev range to extract what power it has to offer. It’s perhaps not quite as bad as the numbers suggest, but its well off par for the sort of power you’d expect in this class now.

With that said, this engine is still adequate for putting around town, with the CVT managing to make the most of the little power it offers on city streets. It’s only particularly vocal at the upper end of its expansive rev range as well, so it remains unobtrusive during daily driving duties. If your commute includes any stints on the freeway, though, I’d be suggesting you’ll need the hybrid’s added torque.

At least the same pleasant ride quality and neat handling shown by the hybrid is also on display in the Vi X, with it riding comfortably on just about any surface and absorbing imperfections well even with a torsion beam in the rear rather than an independent suspension setup. It’s the sort of relaxing drive that makes for a good commuter car – something evidenced by the fact its only two drive modes are ‘Econ’ and normal.

How do the numbers add up?

Although it is a positive that the HR-V is offered with fixed drive-away pricing nationally, at $36,700 this base model is at least a grand or two more expensive than its equivalents in the Hyundai Kona, Mazda CX-30, and Toyota C-HR ranges. While its interior is spacious, it’s down on boot space compared with these rivals as well, and don’t forget the fact there’s only a pair of seatbelts in the rear rather than the expected trio.

At least incredibly cheap servicing claws it back a few points in the value-for-money category, with the first five visits to the dealer priced at a mere $125 – that’s as cheap as capped-price servicing gets for any car on the market – but do keep in mind that servicing is required every 12 months/10,000km rather than the usual 15,000km. However, this is a Honda with a simple driveline, so it’s likely it’ll last a lifetime as long as you do maintain it.

Fuel efficiency is also a big positive, with it only using 6.5L/100km during my 310km of testing – an acceptable increase over the 5.8L/100km combined claim, a figure that’s still below its 6.8L/100km urban consumption claim, and a lower number than I’ve seen on the dash of any other car in this class. Given I saw a return of 5.1L/100km in the e:HEV L, it’s an even more impressive figure for this non-hybrid model to deliver.

So, what’s the verdict?

There’s no denying that the 2022 Honda HR-V is one swish-looking SUV, and it’s impressive that the base Vi X maintains the same looks as its more expensive e:HEV L compatriot. However, the extra power that the latter’s hybrid system adds into the mix is something that’s sorely missed in this underpowered base model.

It’s also a big shame that the Vi X feels so much cheaper inside with its plastic finishes and lacks a lot of obvious equipment that the e:HEV L has. To make up for these deficiencies, though, it does at least offer a lot of active safety technology, a comfortable ride and tidy handling, an excellent infotainment system, uses a tiny amount of fuel in any and all conditions, and is sure to last a lifetime knowing the build quality and mechanical reliability standards Honda holds itself to.

In my eyes, the extra $8300 you’d spend on the e:HEV L is money very well spent as it truly hits the premium mark that Honda is now aiming for, with there being just a few too many reminders of penny-pinching on display here. However, if you want to avoid the more complex hybrid and just want something simple and reliable, this is holds a lot of credit in that regard.

2022 Honda HR-V Vi X Drive-Away Price: $36,700
  • 6/10
    Performance - 6/10
  • 8/10
    Ride & Handling - 8/10
  • 8/10
    Tech & Features - 8/10
  • 8/10
    Practicality - 8/10
  • 7.5/10
    Value for Money - 7.5/10

Pros: Very fuel efficient, good array of standard safety tech, premium looks, super-low running costs
Cons: Underpowered engine, interior feels noticeably cheaper than in the e:HEV L, more expensive than most rivals, boot is small for the class

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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