Relaunch of crossover hatch feeds hunger for Honda

In the first quarter, Honda UK sales were up 17.45 per cent as the rejuvenated models started to come into showrooms in numbers. In spring last year it had one of the oldest model ranges. By the autumn it was the newest. The customers are hungry for the brand.

The HR-V bears a close resemblance to its larger cousin, the CR-V

The HR-V romper hatchback is the latest model. It is positioned as a larger, more “lifestyle” alternative to the lower, sleeker and cheaper Civic hatch.

Honda likens the HR-V to a boldly sculpted coupé shape, combined with the “tough, solid stance of a robust SUV”.

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In other words, another crossover? There are secret rear door handles, incorporated into the rear window surround. It has dark, synthetic anti-scuff material around its lower edges. There’s an interpretation of the face on the bigger Honda CR-V with a dropped bottom lip. The sides are broken up by swage lines and surface changes. Certainly, there’s enough going on to catch your attention.

The interior is large enough for five adults, with plenty of headroom, and good leg space in the back. Here the HR-V showcases Honda’s self-proclaimed “magic” and, I think, unique folding rear seat system. The seats can be folded flat in the normal way or – and here’s the tricky bit – the seat base can be folded upright against its backrest. This creates a large cargo area between the front and rear seats. This is possible because the rear seat base is supported tubular metal legs rather than a full depth bolster. It also allows storage under the seats.

This system is prized by Honda owners since its debut years ago on the Jazz hatchback. It adds another storage option for things like pushchairs, bicycles, shopping, anything you don’t want to put in the other load area – oh, and that has a false floor under which you can hide your Louis Vuitton or Hermes luggage.

So, it’s a handy sort of lifestyle alternative to a regular hatchback with some clever interior design and a badge which for most people is a symbol of reliability and middle-ranking prestige.

Then there’s the price. The only model under £20,000 is the 1.5 petrol S. The top price is a shade over £26,000 for the 1.6 diesel EX. These are the only engines offered. Automatic gears – the CVT system of variable transmissions – are offered only with the petrol engine, from £21,810 for the SE CVT.

The HR-V comes from Mexico but build is moving to Japan. It marks a late return to the market Honda left in 2005 when it did not replace the original HR-V which was a versatile estate car shape with a 4x4 option. In the meantime its rivals were diving into the sector – the boxy Vauxhall Mokka, cute Renault Captur and funky Nissan Juke – and all are shorter.

The HR-V sits between, say, the Juke and Qashqai in size while offering interior space nearer the Qashqai. I never really got a feeling of belonging in the HR-V. The mood may have been muddied by a week in a larger and more solid Ford S-Max. Normally, I can make the transition and adjustment between Test Car A and B etc in a day or less. The Honda always felt a bit nervous, I think because of the very light steering, which could make it twitchy.

Body roll is not harsh and you sit fairly low – there’s no trouser-scuffing on the sill when you climb in and out. That said, it’s not a chucker, just a practical family hatchback for sensible drivers.

The controls are familiar Honda stuff, enriched with gloss black but set in a bespoke layout with an unusual row of narrow air vents stretching across the facia in front of the passenger. Door pockets are short but there is plenty of oddments space between the seats, including a Volvo-type tray behind the central stack. There is up-to-date “infotainment” with a multi-function steering wheel managing what’s on the screen but I never got the best from it. Features include internet browsing, standard on all bar the base S version. The test car was the diesel SE Navi, with Garmin navigation, for £23,050. A muted pearlescent paint, called morpho blue, added £525. Honda offers a Personal Contract Purchase three-year plan at £209 per month.

Diesel is getting a kicking these days. It contributes to health problems and if you use your diesel car mostly in town you may feel a few twinges of conscience. It’s not just about those low CO2 figures which reduce road tax duty and business taxes. There’s other muck from the combustion process in the air.

So be it. Taking the SE Navi model as an example, the petrol version is rated at 49.6mpg, 134g and tax band E. The diesel tested here boasts 68.9mpg,108g and band B. However, it costs £1,750 

On test the diesel’s trip computer read a best of 55mpg on a long return motorway trip, improving to a creditable 61mpg on a 45-mile regular mixed but flattish route.

Verdict: Mixed feelings. It’s gone. We never bonded, but oddly I am missing it now.