Honda ZR-V

01 Honda ZR V FD 2023 lead driving front
Honda ZR-V is vertically stretched Civic for the fiercely contested hybrid-powered family crossover class

A, B, H, Z, C, D, E, F, G…” is, as we all know, how the alphabet goes. We all learned it in school.Hang on, no it doesn’t, but it seems Honda thinks it does, because it has just launched the Honda ZR-V, a new crossover to sit between the HR-V and the CR-V.A space between those two cars has been created because the new CR-V, which is coming later this year, has grown substantially to compete more directly with cars like the Hyundai Santa Fe.Honda doesn’t actually have an official explanation for choosing the ZR-V name. Apparently there were some mutterings internally about Generation Z. But that’s not a logical explanation, because the ZR-V is aimed at slightly older families. Not confused yet? Well, this car is also available in America, where it’s called… the HR-V.Anyway, its name and market positioning might seem random, but just think of the ZR-V as a Honda Civic SUV. At 4568mm long, it’s near enough the same size as the hatchback, just a bit taller. That puts it right in the middle of the class, with the Kia Sportage.The ZR-V also shares much of its technical make-up with the Civic. In Europe, Honda is offering it exclusively with the same hybrid powertrain.The naturally aspirated 2.0-litre four-cylinder Atkinson-cycle petrol engine produces 141bhp, but it mainly serves to spin a generator and either power the 181bhp electric motor or buffer the energy in the 1.05kWh battery. Most of the time, the engine doesn’t drive the wheels directly, but at a motorway cruise a clutch in the transaxle can close to connect the engine to the front wheels through an overdrive gear.As the engine isn’t physically connected to the wheels most of the time, the software can make it do whatever it wants, so at lighter loads the engine could be doing anything. It could be off, it could be pretending it’s connected to either a CVT or an eight-speed automatic gearbox, or it could be holding a set number of revs to charge the battery.That’s all familiar from the latest Civic. Where the ZR-V is different is inside, but only a little bit. A lot of it is Civic as well. The dashboard has the same design featuring a horizontal strip of air vents, and the clicky buttons for the climate control are as welcome as ever. The 9.0in touchscreen for the infotainment isn’t the crispest and its sat-nav system isn’t especially clear, but the shortcut buttons and wireless smartphone mirroring mean it’s largely pleasant to use.Generally, the materials have had a bit of an uplift compared with the Civic, with more soft-touch stuff on the doors and a more sculpted centre console with storage underneath (unlike with the Civic, there won’t be a manual version of the ZR-V sold anywhere in the world, so no space needs to be reserved for a shift linkage).What is odd is the driving position. It’s the same as in the Civic, just slightly higher up. The Civic sits you low, with your legs outstretched, in a comfortable seat with a good amount of adjustment. That’s great for a hatchback, but a lot of people buy SUVs for the slightly more upright seating position, so it feels a bit as if the ZR-V is trying to please the people who prefer a hatchback anyway.The rear cabin space is generous, with good leg room and head room and a very shallow centre tunnel.The same grade of materials as in the front is used in the rear, and there are two USB ports and air-conditioning vents, so the rear passengers won’t feel like they have ended up in the cheap seats.The boot, by contrast, is rather small for the class. The ZR-V’s 390-litre capacity is down quite significantly on the hybrid versions of the Kia Sportage (587 litres) and Nissan Qashqai (504), or even the Civic (410). It’s practical enough, with a flat floor and a panel that can flip up to form a divider, but it ought to do better.Fans of Honda’s Magic Seats (which flip up cinema-style to let you load tall items in the footwells) will be disappointed too. As with the Civic, Honda prioritised ride and handling and so used a multi-link rear axle instead of a more compact twist-beam one. That meant the fuel tank had to go in the usual spot under the rear bench, making the Magic Seats impossible.Which begs the question of whether the ride and handling are worth the slight loss of practicality. That depends on how often you might use those Magic Seats and just how much handling verve you desire from your family crossover. We suspect that for most potential buyers the answer will be ‘no’.That said, the ZR-V does ride and handle more keenly than some comparable cars, with weighty, responsive steering and a limited amount of body roll. The suspension is fairly firm but quite nicely damped, giving it a calm consistency. Perhaps the dusty Spanish roads were to blame, but grip was only just adequate, whether on the Michelin or Dunlop tyres that we tried it on.In general, if you’re looking for ride and handling excellence, you won’t find it in a family crossover, but the ZR-V is at least at the top of the class. It also impresses by isolating you fairly well from road and wind noise.Given that the powertrain is lifted from the Civic, you might expect this bit to be a case of “see Civic review”, but that’s not the case, because two changes mean it’s not quite as impressive as in that car. First, it has about 100kg more to deal with. Second, the ZR-V lacks some of the Civic’s digital noise reduction. We have never remarked on it when reviewing the Civic, but it now seems that it does quite a bit to take the thrashiness out of the engine note, because that’s more present in the ZR-V.The drive system doesn’t seem to behave quite as consistently either. When you demand a bit of acceleration, sometimes the ZR-V will deliver it smoothly and silently as the Civic usually does, but other times the same throttle input will prompt the engine to rev. It also rarely performed its simulated-gearchanges party trick.On a mountainous test route involving a fair bit of spirited driving, the car reckoned it had averaged 46.3mpg. So in daily use, you could see close to the quoted 48.7mpg, which is good for a car of this type.By making its family crossover so similar to its family hatchback, Honda has set it up for some cruel comparisons. The ZR-V is much like the excellent new Civic but very slightly worse in every way. That’s par for the course, but other manufacturers have disguised that fact by differentiating their crossovers and hatchbacks more clearly – or indeed by axing the latter altogether.Giving it much the same driving position as the hatchback is an odd choice as well, but as long as that suits you the ZR-V is one of the stronger options in the class thanks to well set-up ride, handling, comfort, and multimedia, as well as mature assisted driving features, good performance and fuel economy.What might hold the ZR-V’s back its price. It starts at £39,495 for the Elegance grade. That’s the same as the most expensive Renault Austral, and not far off the most expensive Kia Sportage Hybrid or Nissan Qashqai e-Power. Sport costs £41,095 and Advance, which adds leather, a panoramic roof, Bose hi-fi and a few more things, rises to £42,895. Finance rates may paint a slightly different picture, but that’s ambitious.
Source: Autocar

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