LOS ANGELES – Honda enters the subcompact CUV segment with a model name from the automaker’s sport-utility past, but styled for today’s Generation Y 20- and-30-something buyers.
Making its North American debut at the Los Angeles auto show, the 5-passenger Honda HR-V hatchback is built on the same global platform as the Fit subcompact car and positioned as a gateway product to the automaker’s light-truck line, says Jeff Conrad, senior vice president and general manager-Honda Div.
“People come in looking for this size, this versatility, this functionality, this price range – and then they can step up to the CR-V, then from there, if they need a little more room, to the Pilot,” Conrad tells WardsAuto during a sneak-peek event in the parking lot of Randy’s Donuts, L.A.’s iconic drive-up bakery with a huge concrete doughnut mounted on its roof.
Honda has geared the HR-V toward the youthful demographic of consumers “that’s coming into the segment looking for a vehicle that matches their unique take on life. They have a very active lifestyle, they like unique experiences,” he says. The new mini CUV “is a vehicle that has all the functionality, all the versatility that can give them a package that meshes well with their lifestyle, their endeavors...and still is going to get them great fuel economy and is very affordable.”
Due next year in showrooms nationwide, the HR-V – short for the “Hi-Rider Revolutionary Vehicle” was built and sold in Japan from the late 1990s until 2006. The new-iteration LX model provides “one of the most spacious and versatile cabins in its class,” thanks to a center-mounted fuel tank and second-row Magic Seat which can fold flat to create an interior space that offers 100.1 cu.-ft. (2,830 L) of passenger volume and 58.8 cu.-ft. (1,660 L) of cargo volume.
The vehicle's profile is dynamic and sporty, with a coupe-like cabin shape, defined face and distinctive side contours, including an up-swept character line, sculpted lower body form and a horizontal taper of both the front and rear fascia.
The HR-V’s power is generated from a 1.8L SOHC 16-valve 4-cyl. engine with i-VTEC valvetrain, producing a peak 138 hp at 6,500 rpm and 127 lb.-ft. (172 Nm) of torque at 4,300 rpm.
The engine is combined with a fuel-efficient continuously variable transmission with Honda G-design shift logic, or a 6-speed manual available only in front-wheel-drive models. The AWD units sport Honda’s Real Time AWD with Intelligent Control System, for all-weather traction and control.
Standard equipment on all HR-V models, including the LX, EX and EX-L trims, include power windows, power mirrors and power door and tailgate locks, electronic parking brake, rearview camera, aluminum-alloy wheels, tilt and telescoping steering wheel with audio and cruise controls, Bluetooth technology, HandsFreeLink phone interface and Pandora radio.
Certain trim packages come equipped with Honda’s 7-in. touchscreen Display Audio telematics interface, Honda LaneWatch, Smart Entry/Push-Button Start, paddle shifters, SiriusXM radio, HD Radio and Honda Digital Traffic, heated front seats, power sunroof, embedded navigation and leather trim.
“The migration from cars to crossovers has been going on for some period of time,” Conrad says. “We suspect that will continue. I think we've gotten to the point where it’s not hordes of people, but there is a migration that’s in place and that's why we’re bringing this to market.”
He admits that as Honda introduces a new model and product tier to the CUV line of vehicles, the new HR-V will bite into CR-V sales.
“Yes, it will probably cannibalize a few sales from CR-V...hard to put a number on it, 10%, 15%, but the way we look at it, that means 85% of the business will be plus business,” Conrad says. “There are others that are looking to come in to the segment. We want to be among the leaders.”
The executive dismisses suggestions the effort to bring the HR-V to market, set for early next year, could be hampered by ongoing production problems reported at the automaker’s new assembly plant in Celaya, Mexico, where the new CUV will be built alongside the Fit.
It was widely reported last month Honda in Japan cut the pay of its president and 12 other executives after the automaker announced the fifth recall of its new Fit hybrid model within the past year.
Conrad says he doesn’t “characterize the production and the early production that we had with Fit as a problem. More than anything else, we have one person in mind and that’s the customer, and we want to bring a quality product to that customer.
“So if the maturation of our process is to bring that quality product to market, if it takes a little bit longer than we initially thought, so be it.”
Likewise, “we’re taking the same position with the HR-V. We originally, maybe over a year ago, said (sales would launch) very late in the calendar year, so now we’re saying spring...the real take-away, it's going to be a quality product,” he says.
Meanwhile, Honda as a brand faces growing public scrutiny – not to mention lawsuits and a government investigation – over the deaths of five people linked to airbags supplied by Takata. Millions of Honda vehicles fitted with Takata units have been recalled worldwide after revelations faulty airbag inflators spray shrapnel when activated.
Conrad contends the issues with Takata won’t hamper the automaker’s ongoing effort to stay at the forefront of technology and consumer demands.
“I think Honda is still viewed as rock solid in quality,” he says. “We’ve hit a speed bump in the road,” but “it’s a Takata issue that’s impacted many, many manufacturers. We’re just one of those manufacturers.”
Honda has “processes in place to make sure that our customers can get their airbag checked,” he says. “If they need a new inflator for their airbag we put that on. It’s all about the customer.”
Now that North American customers are being introduced to the HR-V, “we think, frankly, a lot of people who’ve been buying cars from other people are going to be looking to Honda and saying, ‘Wow, there’s a vehicle that meets my needs.’”