Honda HR-V Hybrid: Smaller Engine, More Kick

By Lee Pang Seng

GOING Hybrid is almost like going turbocharged; you could make do with a smaller displacement engine while enjoying combined electro-mechanical power that is higher than the engine output produced by a bigger displacement unit. And it could provide better fuel economy too in daily motoring use.

This is clearly the case with the new Honda HR-V Sport Hybrid i–DCD (intelligent dual clutch drive) that we spent a few days with. We are somewhat partial to this Honda SUV (sport utility vehicle) since driving it for the first time in Thailand shortly before it was launched here in 2015. We like its compact dimensions for easy manoeuvrability in urban situations while enjoying its reasonable roomy interior.

It has unique features such as the ‘hanging’ or high deck central console where the transmission shift is located. As the shift operation is electronically actuated (shift by wire), there are no linkages that would take up space inside the console. Thus, the space below is freed up to serve as an additional tray for keys or other minor items.

Another unusual feature is the rear doors with seemingly no door handles; it might not dawn on you immediately until your passengers look for the door handles to get to the rear seats. The door handles are located on the windows area and designed to flow in with the C-pillar mouldings. This styling gives the rear doors and the HR-V a neater look.

The HR-V Hybrid was introduced shortly into 2019 along with the premium-spec RS variant. In trims and equipment, the Hybrid version is more or less similar to that in the E and V variants. That would also explain its rather attractive price of RM120,800 on the road without insurance. This makes it only RM2000 more than the V variant and RM12,000 more than the lower spec entry-level E model.

This is made possible as the HR-V Hybrid comes with halogen headlamps with manual beam levelling and bulb type foglamps like the HR-V E but not the auto levelling LED (light emitting diode) units of the V and RS variants. However, the LED Daytime Running Lights are common to all HR-V versions.

The interior appointments is also a bit of a mix with split leather steering wheel like the E and not the full leather units of the V and RS, and the half leather upholstery is the same as the E unlike the full leather spread of the V and RS. Likewise, the HR-V Hybrid doesn’t come with the luxury of the eight-way Driver Power Seat of the V and RS either.

Nevertheless, the compromise in features to arrive at an affordable price for a hybrid variant remains commendable. Despite the mix-and-match arrangement in appointments and equipment, the level of equipment is still good enough to make owning and driving the HR-V Hybrid a pleasant and enjoyable one.

The highlight of the HR-V Hybrid is under the bonnet; it comes with a 1.5-litre (1496cc) against the 1.8-litre units in the HR-V E, V and RS variants. What’s more it reflects newer development with a direct injection double overhead camshaft engine unlike the indirect injection single overhead camshaft design of the bigger displacement unit.

Assisted by an electric motor, the 1.5-litre engine delivers a combined 112kW (152PS) - 97kW (132PS) at 6600rpm from the engine and 22kW (29.5PS) at 1313-2000rpm from the electric motor that is supported by the high-power lithium-ion battery. Likewise, the combined torque output is 190Nm – 156Nm at 4600rpm from the engine and 160Nm immediate torque from 0 to 1313rpm.

From this combined power delivery arrangement, the HR-V Hybrid enjoys stronger pick-up in initial speed for strong acceleration and overtaking moves. The 1.8-litre engine offers 105Kw (142PS) at 6500rpm and 172Nm at 4300rpm.

Another difference is in the transmission with the HR-V having a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission (7DCT) that operates on a quieter level than the CVT (continuously variable transmission of the 1.8-litre HR-V models.

Hybrid driving is best enjoyed in urban conditions where the electric motor could play its part to reduce engine operation and thereby save on fuel consumption. Like a typical hybrid, the engine would cut off when you slow down and the vehicle goes into electric mode. That means when you accelerate gently, you are using the immense torque of the electric power.

It’s when you pick up speed that engine power comes into play and this transition was noted in a somewhat jerkier manner than we could recall from our last Hybrid experience (a rival brand). This was a mild irritation as the jerky manner in which the engine re-engaged the transmission varied; sometimes a bit harder and other times more subtle.

You could follow all this power interplay via the LED information on the instrument panel (without being distracted from the road of course) where two main colours – blue and green – dominated. A purple one also showed up on initial acceleration and sometimes between electric and engine power feed; we are still guessing as to what information it is meant to convey. This colour display is also carried in the ambient speedometer as well as a bar indicator on the left

Obviously, when green dominates, it means that the HR-V Hybrid is running at its cleanest and when it turns to blue, you are running on engine power. The level of electric power from the lithium-ion battery is indicated in the form of bars as well as the charging procedures, either from the engine or brake regeneration. It could be quite fascinating initially but try not to take your eyes off the road often for safety sake.

Interestingly, for the HR-V Hybrid, there is no tachometer (which is found on the left of the central speedometer in the 1.8-litre models). But when you select the Sports button on the centre console, the engine-electric motor indicator on the right becomes a bar speedometer, meaning that engine revs are represented by bars instead of the analogue-type meter. The faster you rev the engine, the more bars that build up and vice versa.

Selecting Sports mode also means engaging a lower gear and with more torque and power coming into play, you are ready to burn the roads. We found that practical when we took to our regular winding road section, carrying good speed through the variety of corners and turns. We noticed a bit more body roll with the HR-V Hybrid but nothing too dramatic to dampen our enthusiasm in checking out its dynamic limits through the ‘esses’. It remained just much fun to drive through winding roads, reminding us of earlier drives with the 1.8-litre models.

The HR-V Hybrid comes with 17-inch alloy wheels, like the E and V variants, and the same 215/55 R17 tyres (Continental UltraContact UGC). The suspension design is standard for all models being a MacPherson strut front and a torsion beam rear with multiple links. Likewise, electric power steering is standard for all. Good directional feel through corners add to the fund of driving the HR-V as well as the appreciable road damping qualities.

As a hybrid model, the HR-V Hybrid is the heaviest at 1300kg (kerb weight) due mainly to the lithium-ion battery, electric motor and ancillaries. Nevertheless, we didn’t feel this added weight in city traffic in both electric and engine powered acceleration, and less so when taking off with a combined power surge. And when cruising at 110km/h on highways, the engine is actually recharging the battery so that it would have enough electric power on hand when entering urban areas.

The HR-V is a popular choice in the compact SUV market with more than 72,300 SUVs sold since it was launched in 2015. And now, if you want to enjoy the combination of power and fuel efficiency, then the HR-V Hybrid is your cup of tea. With its affordable price, relative to the other models in this Honda model range, the HR-V Hybrid could perhaps be your first step to part-time electric motoring.