There are a lot of boring cars in the world today, but the one that I personally believed stood out from the rest – the Honda HR-V — will soon be replaced. Not with the new HR-V teased more than a year ago, because it is the one that the rest of the world receives. The North American HR-V will be different in ways I can only assume will make it less appealing, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Honda goes remove the covers from the HR-V bound for the United States on April 4. When it does, I’ll be watching closely, as I find the HR-V absolutely confusing. Mainly due to its complete lack of mystery and continued success despite it. I mean Honda sold some 137,000 copies of the entry-level SUV in these regions last year, beating its previous best year – 2019 – by around 38,000 units. And it managed to do so despite the aging crossover’s reputation for being one of the least charismatic cars money can buy.
I say this not because I’ve driven an HR-V, but because I know a few people who own one. I even rode in the back seat of a vehicle while a friend who bought cars tested it. They didn’t leave the dealership in an HR-V or even any Honda that day, and I promise you it wasn’t totally my fault.
Listen: nobody has anything good to say about this car. When I ask owners what they think of their HR-Vs, the answer is always the same: the face of apathetic disappointment, uttering the slightest bit of praise – “it’s reliable”, or something like that – belied by the unmistakable passive-aggressive tone. And then they give up the trick and complain about CVT noise during freeway merges.
Even if you don’t like cars, your car should do Something for you. If it’s not fun to drive or comfortable, or if it doesn’t inspire a slight sense of pride when you look at it, maybe it offers some financial peace of mind or lets you do the things you love. or should do. The Toyota C-HR, for example, might be generally despised by its owners, but at least it looks weird, so that’s okay. Every time I see an HR-V on the road, I wonder what it’s doing for the person behind the wheel.
The ironic thing about the HR-V is that it didn’t really start out that way. Before it landed on our shores, there was a previous iteration of the crossover sold between 1998 and 2006. Honda dubbed it the “joy machine” in print ads; when you study some of the automaker’s press images, you do indeed find people immersed in unbridled joy, usually with an HR-V placed haphazardly in the middle of the stage.
You can get the original HR-V with two or four doors, in an assortment of funky colors and interior upholstery patterns and even with a manual, if you want. Every HR-V comes standard with a spunky, adorable face. At some point, however, the little Honda strayed from its mission statement of being the fun subcompact SUV and became the poster child for the boredom people associate with subcompact SUVs.
Nevertheless, the HR-V has proven to be a winning formula and so there is little incentive for Honda to change it. I don’t expect the 2023 model to subvert my expectations, but a little joy of living would at least allow the HR-V to pass on the unenviable title I gave it to the next small crossover. That said, I’m sure I’ve annoyed a few HR-V owners all set to tell me to hit the grass, so if you’re driving one, I’d love to know what you think of it in the comments.