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2023 Honda HR-V First Drive Review: Better in Almost Every Way

Too bad it's just so ugly.

Front 3/4 view of a green 2023 Honda HR-V
The new Honda HR-V is pretty uggo.
Daniel Golson/CNET

The third-generation Honda HR-V has been designed specifically for the American market, sharing almost nothing with the HR-V that the rest of the world gets. Our 2023 HR-V rides on the same new platform as the Civic instead of using Fit underpinnings like before, with Honda wanting to move the HR-V upmarket. It's just too bad the 2023 HR-V is so damn ugly, because underneath the skin is a crossover that has been improved in every single way.

Honda describes the new HR-V as having a coupe-like silhouette. It does not. The 2023 HR-V's shape is similar to that of the old HR-V, but its overhangs are longer and the greenhouse is taller, leading it to look a little bloated. Overall, the 2023 HR-V is 9 inches longer and 2.6 wider than before, making it nearly as long as the current CR-V and slightly longer than a Civic hatchback. It also does without the old model's hidden rear door handle, instead going for a totally normal pair of doors.

This is not a coupe, Honda.

Daniel Golson/CNET

The HR-V's face has slim rectangular headlights and a large grille that makes it look like a bottom-feeder fish, a look that isn't helped by the complex faux-intake plastic trim in the lower bumper. While the front end is ungainly, the rest of the HR-V is just boring, with a saggy rear end and no distinguishing Honda characteristics or detailing. The top-end EX-L model makes all the exterior cladding gloss black instead of matte, which doesn't look great and is a bit silly for a car aimed at the active lifestyle type. The new HR-V's styling just makes me a bit sad, as the outgoing one was at least distinctive and the latest Civic is very attractive.

Much more successful is the HR-V's interior, which features the same minimal design aesthetic as the Civic. A metal honeycomb mesh runs the width of the dash and houses the air vents, with a panel of analog climate control buttons and knobs below. One major differentiator from the Civic is the design of the center console, which has a bridge-like shape over a storage area and a pair of integrated USB-A ports. The EX-L model has leather upholstery and a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and the HR-V has nicely padded surfaces on commonly touched parts of the interior like the dashboard, door panels and center console. It doesn't feel like an entry-level car, unlike most of the competition.

The HR-V's interior is excellent.

Daniel Golson/CNET

Every HR-V gets a partially digital gauge cluster with a 7-inch screen, and the base LX and mid-range Sport models have a 7-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and much better infotainment software than the old HR-V's system. Both setups get a volume knob, but the larger screen has fewer physical controls. The EX-L's 9-inch screen has wireless smartphone mirroring, SiriusXM and a wireless charger, as well as a fantastic eight-speaker sound system.

The HR-V has the same thinner A-pillars as the Civic that provide a great view out the front, but there is a disappointingly huge blind spot at the D-pillar and hatch area. Fans of the old HR-V will be sad about the death of that car's Magic Seat, a rear bench that folded up to fit large items on the floor. But the new HR-V has a clever split-folding rear seat that lowers the seat base as the seatbacks are folded, which gives the HR-V both stadium seating and a flat cargo floor. The HR-V's 24.4 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats up is slightly better than before, but with the seats folded the total area is actually smaller than the outgoing model's by around 3 cubic feet. The Civic hatchback has a nearly identical amount of room.

There's more space for rear passengers.

Daniel Golson/CNET

On the road, what first strikes me about the HR-V is how quiet it is. The near lack of road and tire noise is super impressive for the class, especially compared to the much louder previous generation. (The EX-L model I'm driving has 17-inch wheels with all-season tires, but the Sport model gets 18s that might be a little rougher and noisier.) Ride quality is greatly improved, too, thanks to the HR-V's new independent rear suspension, with the car remaining composed over rough road surfaces. Front-wheel drive is standard, but the HR-V I'm driving has the optional $1,500 all-wheel-drive setup that sends more torque to the rear wheels than before. While the HR-V certainly isn't sporty and has plenty of body roll in corners, the AWD model has neutral handling without much understeer.

Honda's sole powertrain offering is the HR-V's biggest dynamic weak spot. It's a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter inline-4 making 158 horsepower and 138 pound-feet of torque paired with a continuously variable transmission (CVT). That's the exact same setup as in the Civic sedan, and it's 17 hp and 11 lb-ft more than the old HR-V. But the new HR-V is still slow to the point of being aggravating, especially when trying to accelerate up a hill. Putting the gear selector in S keeps the revs higher, but it barely helps, with the powertrain feeling sluggish even when flooring it, like it's trying to drag itself through molasses. Fuel economy is worse than the old model too, though I'm easily able to match the EPA's 30-mpg highway rating in mixed driving.

No more Magic Seat, but these fold flat.

Daniel Golson/CNET

Every HR-V comes with the Honda Sensing suite of active safety features, which includes adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams, automatic emergency braking with forward collision warning, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, traffic sign recognition and a rear-seat reminder. All those features work well without being too intrusive, but the HR-V's backup camera quality is awful.

The 2023 HR-V starts at $24,895 including a $1,245 destination charge, a $1,780 increase over last year's model. For that price you get automatic climate control, LED head- and taillights, push-button start, heated side mirrors, hill-descent control, and an auto up/down driver's window. The $26,895 Sport model adds mostly cosmetic items like different bumper and grille designs and sweet orange-accented cloth seats, but it also gets blind-spot monitoring, a leather-wrapped shifter and steering wheel, remote start, keyless entry and heated front seats. For $28,695 the HR-V EX-L gains leather upholstery, an auto up/down front passenger window, ambient lighting, a power-adjustable driver's seat, front and rear parking sensors, a sunroof and dual-zone climate control.

That seems like a lot of car for the money, and it is -- until you look at the Civic. Larger touchscreen aside, the Civic Hatchback EX-L has all of the same features as the HR-V EX-L, and it costs $350 less. The Civic also has a 180-hp turbocharged engine and is even nicer to drive, not to mention vastly better to look at, and its $31,145 Sport Touring trim comes with things you can't even get on the HR-V. Unless you really want the upright stance and available all-wheel drive of the HR-V, Honda's new compact crossover is good, but its own sibling is better.