Honda has been making a premium push as of late, and the newly-introduced ZR-V is its best embodiment of the brand's future yet.

Honda has undergone quite some restructuring in Australia over the past few years, with a change in its sales model to an agency setup alongside the brand repositioning itself as a more premium marque, but now it has an all-new model to join its lineup – the ZR-V. The brand’s first core model to be introduced to the Australian market in two decades, it slots between the smaller HR-V and larger CR-V, both of which have now been updated with new-generation models to better represent the brand’s new direction.

Although the ZR-V is a new addition to Honda’s Australian lineup, it’s actually sold as the new HR-V in North America and China, with the HR-V sold here dropping down a size and only offering four seats. As a result, the ZR-V rivals the likes of the Mazda CX-5 and Hyundai Tucson, although its premium aspirations mean it could also be seen as a better-value alternative to the likes of the BMW X1 and Lexus NX.

A total of four variants are on offer, including three petrol models and one hybrid. On test here is the VTi LX, the highest-specified petrol variant, which comes at a cost of $48,500 drive-away.

Visually, the ZR-V plays it pretty safe in the looks department, with it presenting a simple but attractive design that’s perfectly indicative of its entry-level luxury positioning. When it comes to this VTi LX model, it’s worth stepping up to it for its body-coloured wheel arches alone, with lower trim levels featuring black plastic wheel arch surrounds instead. All variants bar the base model ride on 18-inch diamond-cut alloy wheels, and all trim levels come with adaptive LED headlights and LED taillights as standard.

But it’s on the inside where Honda shows the greatest signs of the ZR-V’s premium push, with this cabin feeling more plush than that of the similar (and similarly-priced) Civic. Leather-appointed upholstery adorns the majority of surfaces, with the use of black plastic relegated to the lowest confines of the cabin. As a result, just about everything you touch or any place you rest your arm feels soft and, well, premium. The honeycomb air vents shared with the Civic also give a unique and classy bit of intrigue to the dashboard, while the metal paddle shifters also lift the premium feel up a notch.

Pleasantly, Honda has fitted the ZR-V with a slick 10.2-inch digital instrument cluster which has a far clearer display and is more advanced than the semi-digital setup of the HR-V and Civic. The same 9.0-inch infotainment touchscreen carries over, with it featuring wireless Apple CarPlay and wired Android Auto. Integrated satellite navigation and a 12-speaker Bose audio system are reserved for the LX grades.

Likewise, you’ll find that an eight-way power adjustable driver’s seat with two-position memory, four-way power adjustable passenger seat, wireless phone charger, heated steering wheel, and heated rear seats are also exclusive to LX variants, while heated front seats are also offered on the VTi L. However, I’m surprised to see that Honda hasn’t included a sunroof on any variant.

It’s worth noting, though, that all variants come with the same array of Honda Sensing safety technology which includes Forward Collision Warning, Collision Mitigation Braking, Lane Departure Warning, Lane Keep Assist, Road Departure Mitigation, Adaptive Cruise Control, Low-Speed Braking Control, and Traffic Sign Recognition. It also features Level 2 semi-autonomous driving capability in the form of its lane tracing system.

Interior space is excellent, with more than enough room to stretch out for both front and rear occupants, with its seating feeling particularly well cushioned. There’s some handy storage up front with a handy storage tray in the middle of the centre console ahead of a deep storage cubby under the centre armrest.

For LX models, boot space is listed at 370 litres with the rear seats up, while with the rear seats folded down, that expands to 866 litres below the windows and 1302 up to the roofline. For VTi X and VTi L models, those figures are all boosted by 10 litres. All petrol variants come with a space-saver spare tyre, while the hybrid makes do with a tyre repair kit.

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Powering all ZR-V petrol variants is a 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine producing 131kW at 6000rpm and 240Nm from 1700-4500rpm. By no means are those earth-shattering numbers, but it’s mighty impressive for a 1.5-litre engine, particularly as it’s more powerful than the BMW X1 sDrive18i with the same capacity engine, although it’s only a three-cylinder by comparison.

The hybrid, meanwhile, uses a 2.0-litre naturally aspirated four-pot in conjunction with an electric motor to offer 135kW/315Nm. All variants are equipped with a CVT automatic and front-wheel drive.

Once it starts to get on boost, you quickly forget how small this engine is, with it feeling strong, smooth, and punchy through its wide torque plateau. Below the 1700rpm mark, you can somewhat detect its lack of displacement if you’re pushing it right off the mark, although it’s no real hindrance nor a surprise – the majority of the time, this engine feels like it’s punching well above its weight.

The CVT is prone to droning on when only applying the throttle moderately as it holds it around the 2000rpm mark in the name of fuel efficiency, but the engine’s quietness does mean it’s not as much of an annoyance as in some other CVT-equipped rivals – it’s just a shame that it doesn’t feel as direct as the transmission in the Civic which simulates traditional gear changes more of the time.

Given the ZR-V’s premium positioning, it comes as no surprise how comfortable it is, with its fully-independent suspension soaking up bumps with aplomb, meaning it’s just as capable on city streets as it is relaxing on longer drives. It strikes the right balance between comfort and dynamic performance, too, with it feeling balanced and poised through the corners as well. Perhaps that’s no surprise, though, given Honda’s track record with developing cars that are great to drive.

Really, the way the ZR-V drives perfectly matches the rest of the package, with everything from the power delivery to the feel through the steering wheel and the way it handles some corners making it feel discerningly upmarket. Were the tuning of its CVT more like that of the Civic, you’d be hard pressed to pick the driving experience apart.

Honda claims fuel consumption of 7.2L/100km for the petrol ZR-V, and after 585km of testing I came quite close to that with a return of 7.9L/100km. All variants have a 57 litre fuel tank.

All ZR-V variants are covered by a five-year unlimited kilometre warranty, along with a six-year rust perforation warranty. Honda also includes five years of complimentary over-the-air map updates and a five-year Honda Connect subscription.

Servicing is required every 12 months/10,000km which means its service intervals are on the shorter side. However, the first five services are capped at the very reasonable price of $199 each.

Although Honda is aiming high with the ZR-V, it’s cleared the bar with pole-vaulter ease, as I feel it genuinely can go toe to toe with its rivals from luxury marques – that is, if prestige-conscious buyers are prepared to look beyond the badge.

From the way it looks and feels to the way it drives, Honda has delivered a real surprise package, as I wasn’t expecting this much of a step up having previously sampled the Civic and HR-V. They all might be good to drive in typical Honda fashion, but the brand’s premium credibility is legitimised by its efforts here.

The greatest highlight of all, though, is the price. For just $1300 more than the equivalent Civic, this ZR-V VTi LX model is terrific value, and the capped price servicing costs are a bargain as well. Being offered at a national drive-away deal, it makes it cheaper on the road than its closest rivals in the CX-5 and Tucson ranges, and even if you’re cross shopping with premium brands, the ZR-V is a smart alternative.

2024 Honda ZR-V VTi LX Drive-Away Price: $48,500
  • 8/10
    Performance - 8/10
  • 8/10
    Ride & Handling - 8/10
  • 8.5/10
    Tech & Features - 8.5/10
  • 8/10
    Practicality - 8/10
  • 8/10
    Value for Money - 8/10

Pros: Premium interior feel, economical turbocharged engine punches above its weight, comfortable ride and seating, slick digital instrument cluster
Cons: Unavailable with all-wheel drive, short service intervals, unsure why this wasn’t just the new HR-V in Australia as well as the USA

In a nutshell: The Honda ZR-V might be aiming itself high when you see the competition it’s up against, but it goes toe-to-toe not only with its rivals from Mazda and Hyundai, but also those from premium brands such as Lexus and BMW. This is Honda’s finest attempt at making a premium-feeling car since the brand’s repositioning yet, and it shows great promise for the brand’s direction from this point onwards. 

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

Patrick Jackson
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