If I were to describe most modern city cars in one word, the word I would associate them with would most probably be ‘lackluster’. No, I am not being mean but truth be told, most city cars are about as interesting as a pair of white socks. They are meant to be used as how they are intended, no frills. While I’m not really sure why I used a pair of white socks as an analogy but let me tell you right away, the Honda HR-V RS e:HEV is definitely not the white socks of city cars. And to put it into perspective, this statement is coming from someone who has no interest in Hondas in general.
Okay, okay, I have nothing against Honda to be frank. But I’ve never gotten the same appeal as to how most Malaysians see the ‘H’ badge. If we were talking about the ‘Type R’ here, sure, those things are pretty cool but even then, the FK8R has never been something that interested me since the launch, in fact I think it’s ugly (the new FL5 however gets all my attention). I respect it for what it is but nothing more than that. So, once again, I have nothing against Honda but they are just not for me. However, after spending four days with the all-new Honda HR-V RS e:HEV, I genuinely believe this might be the best city car for someone who likes cars.
When Honda Malaysia handed me the keys to HR-V RS, the term ‘over the moon’ wasn’t in my mind but I needed to change my perception of Honda. So with a destination in mind, I set a course down-south towards Johor Bahru with my colleague sitting as my co-pilot. I knew that most people would just take the car to the city and do a few things with it but my ultimate goal with the HR-V RS e:HEV was to do everything and anything that a HR-V owner could do but probably wouldn’t.
But before we get on to my journey with the HR-V, let’s talk a bit more about the car. Honda’s current design language seems to have grown up over the recent years, moving from the ‘Civic Ketam’ generation, even the HR-V has taken a much cleaner look, chiseled and refined to say the least. And I assume that even the public agrees with that statement as I caught a lot of eyes looking at the HR-V everywhere between Kuala Lumpur to Johor Bahru. It is in fact a rather good looking thing.
While the front is definitely the best angle of the car, the rear is something that leaves a lot to be desired for me at least. Personally, I’m not a particular fan of the sloping roof line which has the Coupe SUV outlook but hey, to each their own. That being said, the rear tail lamps are rather cool with the rear light bar crossing over the hatch but it took me a while before I realized that the tail lamp itself looked a lot like the ones on Honda’s S660 kei car.
Let’s get inside the car shall we? First of all, space. This car has tons of space for what it is. You can sit four full grown adults and one child without any issues. Not to mention the ‘Magic Honda Seats’ that fold all the way down for a fully-flat floor to fit large and tall objects without hassle. Not only that, the car does come equipped with dual-zone air-conditioning with rear air vents and four USB ports to satisfy everyone’s need to charge their mobile devices. Everything in the interior too is well laid out. Everything is where it needs to be without the driver or passenger having to move out of their way to get it. None of those touch capacitive nonsense, actual buttons with a tactile feel. A wireless charger would have completed the package but that is in fact an optional extra from Honda at RM1,330. Ouch Honda, isn’t this already RM140k?
However, the infotainment screen does need a significant revamp, Honda. The car is brand new but the interface on the screen feels really dated and the buttons on the screen feel rather cheap and tacky. However, thank your car gods for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as they do come included throughout the whole range. Not to mention, the stock 8-speaker sound system in the car too was rather decent once you adjust the settings.
The Usual Daily Traffic and Balik Kampung
Small annoyances aside, the HR-V RS e:HEV really showed me the characteristics of the ideal city car. With speeds under 40km/h and a light foot, I basically got to drive the car in KL for free which is pretty sweet to be honest. It uses little to zero fuel in town or in traffic as the battery will be the main power source until the petrol-powered engine kicks in. Most cold starts with the RS e:HEV will be in full EV mode, which is great for quiet mornings to work or when your kid secretly steals your car to go lepak at night. Having the ability to have full-EV mode would be a dream but this still works brilliantly.
What I particularly love is Honda’s idea of paddle shifters with their hybrids. It does not work the way you’d think it does. Honda calls it ‘Deceleration Paddles’ and what it does is basically controlling the rate of deceleration during the regenerative braking. Hold on, that sounds way too technical. It is pretty much a bicycle dynamo. The battery is charged by the unused energy while braking, in return, the stored energy will be used for low speed driving. If you know how to use the paddles properly, you don’t even need to touch the brake paddles in traffic. A feature I absolutely enjoy after 4 days of driving this car. WHY DON’T PEOPLE TALK ABOUT THIS?!
But even out of the city, driving the car all the way to Johor Bahru at highway speeds got me really good fuel consumption, as low as 4.1L/100km at one point. Calling it impressive would be an understatement. A full tank of fuel is about 35L and could get you to around 800km if you’re careful enough. The HR-V RS e:HEV is relatively comfortable at speeds higher than the national speed limit. It can sit comfortably at around 140km/h with the e-CVT not batting an eye. However, above those speeds, the e-CVT does start to whine and you just know that the car is not enjoying any second of it.
I tend to ramble on a bit whenever I talk about CVT gearboxes. CVTs too me are the anti-Christ for any car enthusiast. The whine, lack of punch and overall just a dimwitted form of a gearbox. However, the newer generation of CVTs are not as bad as one may think. I’ve always hated the CVT gearbox since I drove a Honda Civic FC a couple of years ago but the e-CVT-driven HR-V did not have that feeling whatsoever. Mind you, it still doesn’t shift like a DSG or a ZF but it isn’t that bad on a daily driving basis.
Beyond that, the car is rather comfortable for long-distance driving. The materials are nice to touch and even the chassis absorbs most bumps comfortably. Even after driving for 14 hours straight with small breaks in between, I was barely tired. The seats are nicely bolstered but were slightly on the hard side for my liking. Either that or my spine is pretty messed up. But even then, it was a cabin that I enjoyed being in. The color-changing air-conditioning knobs did make me giggle for like 5-minutes but hey, who doesn’t enjoy small gimmicks? Not only did I enjoy the cabin, the HR-V RS e:HEV has terrific handling for a crossover but more on that later.
Out Of It’s Comfort Zone
I didn’t expect the Honda HR-V RS e:HEV can do everything I tossed at it to be frankly honest. I was rather scared for the most part worried with the idea of “Would Honda be okay with this?”. We turned off into Rembau where I found myself unexpectedly on a dirt road at someone’s random farm and rubber plantation. It wasn’t planned but I just wanted to see if the HR-V could take it, which it did rather brilliantly. Ground clearance was not an issue either.
While back on the highway heading to Johor Bahru, we turned off again with Desaru being set on Waze to find some sandy beaches and once again, the HR-V was fine with the fine white sands. With the weight tipping just under 1,400kg, the car had no issues of sitting comfortably on the sand without any struggle. Just before the sun set on the coast, we found another dirt path and once again the HR-V coped with whatever we threw at it.
With everything needed to be done down south completed, we headed back to Kuala Lumpur with cruise control and Honda Sensing active, trying to figure out what more can the HR-V do. It’s clear that the car is capable of soft-roading. A lap around Sepang International Circuit would be pointless to say the least even if we asked for Honda’s permission. But after driving for more than 14 hours, I realized that the HR-V RS e:HEV was extremely capable in the bends.
Throughout the whole weekend, I’ve been telling myself it would be pointless to go up Genting Highlands in the HR-V but I was so intrigued by the handling that I needed to check it out myself. So on a lonely Sunday night, I brought it to a dark Ulu Yam towards Gohtong Jaya with a cup of coffee and two things in mind. Firstly, what is wrong with me and secondly, how is it possible that the HR-V drives this well? Not my best of ideas but then again, why not?
The Atkinson-Cycle engine produces 107hp & 131Nm while the battery churns out an additional 131hp & 253Nm. With a combined power of 238hp and 384Nm, the car is fast enough to overtake slowpokes (No VTEC to kick in yo!) but does not feel particularly fast in the bends but remember, this is a hybrid crossover. The chassis is very capable with the 225/50R18 Continental UltraContact UC6 but the engine and e-CVT gearbox knows that it doesn’t want to do what you want it to do. I do believe that the handling was made better due to its lower center of gravity (because of the battery location) when compared to its competitors, probably even to its turbocharged sibling.
All in all, it does drive like a little hatch, slightly underpowered with the whiny e-CVT but sharp and agile, which in all honesty, is still really impressive for what is essentially your weekend grocery getter. Comfortable and capable. What made it a little bit more fun was coming back down from the mountain’s peak, the HR-V was fully electric-powered. I did check out their hill descend assist and it works very well with steep slopes and with the deceleration paddles on play most of the time, I barely touched the brakes all the way back down into Karak highway and by the time I reached Karak, my battery was already on full charge ready to be used in the city.
I knew that by the time I had to give up the keys to the car, I was going to miss it dearly and truth be told, I do genuinely miss it. I’m not paid by Honda but I honestly believe that this is the best city car that you can buy today, that’s how much I adore this car. Practical, comfortable, fuel-saving, rather good looking and really exciting to drive. And again, this is coming from someone who doesn’t have any interest in Hondas.
The Proton X50 will forever be everyone’s benchmark for the ‘bang-for-buck’ car. And to be fair, it still is. The X50 is so much of a car for the money! But the X50 doesn’t feel as premium nor does it drive as good as the HR-V RS e:HEV. However, does a RM40,000 premium over the X50 do it justice? Hard to say quite frankly as it depends on your desires of what you look for in a car.
As someone who has always fancied Mazda’s CX-30, due to its premium interior and ergonomics, the HR-V RS might just be a better preposition in the end. I never thought I would actually enjoy a modern Honda but here I am, loving every minute with it. Sure there are certain niggles that I’m not a fan of but for me personally, I think the HR-V is the family car that car enthusiasts can enjoy when they want to.
Some may question the reliability of the lithium-ion battery but Honda does offer an 8-year hybrid battery warranty as well as a 5-year warranty with unlimited mileage. Not only that, free labour on the services up to 100,000km or 5-years too is a good deal. RM140,800 on-the-road without insurance is rather steep but hey, cars are getting more and more expensive nowadays but some expensive ones are not even as nice as this.
Would the cheaper and turbocharged HR-V be a better choice? I wouldn’t say so since the efficiency and the usability of the hybrid was what made my experience so great. Sure, the turbocharger is a bit faster but let’s be realistic, this is made for the city and if power is what you’re looking for, look elsewhere. But if you really wanna enjoy your daily commute with a peace of mind? The Honda HR-V RS e:HEV won’t let you down.
Written by | Danial Malek
Photos by | Firdaus Mahidi