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The US' subcompact crossover genre is exploding, but Honda was one of the first to enter this space with the HR-V. Just as it started feeling a little old, the automaker came through and gave the 2019 Honda HR-V a number of updates that add peace of mind and, if you pick the new Sport trim, an aesthetic dash of sportiness.
The HR-V has always been at the top of my recommendation list, and these new updates only reinforce its position on that list.
In addition to a few creature-comfort upgrades across its various trims, Honda also added a new Sport model that's positioned just above the base LX. It's a Sport trim in name only, relegated to aesthetics alone -- a choice from Honda that I find harder to defend with each iteration -- but I like the final result. The gloss black lower body trim and wheels stand out against my tester's orange paint in a way that confers just the right amount of aggression for a car of its size.
The interior doesn't change all that much, and it's still a pleasant place to hang out. The Sport trim adds a black headliner and contrasting stitching on the cushy cloth seats, and I like the way both additions mix with the HR-V's interior design. The rear seats are expectedly small for a vehicle in this class, but my six-foot-tall frame had little issue getting in and staying comfortable.
The real magic in the second row comes from Honda's split-folding rear seats. While my tester's optional all-wheel drive does eat into cargo capacity by a small bit, it still has 57.6 cubic feet of space with the second row folded flat, putting it at the top of its segment.
Honda added some additional sound-deadening material to the body, and it actually works. The ride is slightly quieter than it used to be, if only by a bit. If anything, the biggest benefit it confers is that the doors no longer feel like I'm wielding pieces of corrugated tin.
The 2019 HR-V might feature new creature comforts and trims, but one area where the HR-V is no different than when it debuted is the powertrain. It still rocks the same 1.8-liter, naturally aspirated four-cylinder that it's always had.
141 horsepower isn't all that much, and 127 pound-feet of torque definitely isn't, granting the HR-V forward motion that could be described as slightly better than sluggish on a good day, thanks in part to the extra weight of the optional all-wheel-drive system. Combined with a continuously variable transmission (the six-speed manual option is dead and gone), the whole shebang isn't really worthy of a Sport badge.
Honda's 1.5-liter turbo I4 would be a much better option for this car, especially in the wake of new competition like the Hyundai Kona, which has an optional turbocharged engine good for 175 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque.
Speaking of the Kona with its hopped-up optional engine, both it and my 2019 HR-V tester share the same EPA-estimated fuel economy in the city (26 miles per gallon), with the HR-V besting the Kona on the highway (31 mpg vs. 29, respectively). Considering I was able to get better figures out of the Kona during my time with it, I think Honda's aging 1.8-liter is about ready to be put out to pasture.
Yet, the HR-V is still a blast to drive once I'm up to speed. It feels flat enough during spirited driving, offering confidence as the thing gets thrown into corner after corner. The steering is especially delightful, offering responsiveness at any speed.
But when it comes to more family-friendly driving, the HR-V doesn't exactly disappoint. The wheels might be big, but the suspension still does a good job of soaking up bad roads like every other trim on offer. Would I like it more if the Sport badge meant some stiffer springs? Possibly, but the HR-V is plenty fine in that department as-is.
While Honda still fits a dinky little screen in the base HR-V, higher trim levels receive a revised 7-inch Display Audio infotainment system with both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It feels more responsive than it has in the past, but it's still the old version of Honda's system, not running the flashy new software I've experienced in other updated models, like the Accord, Insight and Odyssey.
Now that backup cameras are standard, I've become a stickler for quality ones, and the HR-V disappoints in that area. While the field of view is appropriately wide, the resolution is so low that it's hard to pick out details at even a moderate distance. I understand the HR-V is a cheap car, but this problem isn't limited to Honda's lower-cost offerings. It could do better.
One big improvement for the 2019 model year is the democratization of Honda Sensing, the automaker's suite of active and passive safety systems. Standard equipment now includes adaptive cruise control, automatic braking and lane-keep assist, but it's only available on the EX trim and up. The base LX and my Sport-trim tester are left to do without, a sad casualty of Honda's penny-pinching.
Honda's trim packaging lets me down in other ways, too. The Sport trim lacks a number of basics that are available at this price point on other vehicles. I don't have heated seats, nor do I have automatic headlights, and satellite radio is nowhere to be found. Heck, I still have to put a pocket-puncturing key into the steering column to start the damn thing. Given the ubiquity of these features across other parts of Honda's lineup and the industry at large, I think lower trims of the HR-V are a little feature-poor.
Honda's trim levels rarely carry optional packages, so what you see is what you get (and what you pay). I will skip the Sport trim and move up to the EX, which adds Honda Sensing, heated seats and keyless entry. I'll stick with front-wheel drive to save $1,400, and since there are no packages available, that means I'm sitting pretty with a $23,720 HR-V. For comparison, my all-wheel-drive Sport tester is just $100 below this at $23,620. Sure, you lose a bit in the looks department, but the EX is better equipped.
The HR-V has a lot of competition. The Hyundai Kona offers a zippy turbo engine without fuel-economy penalties, the Kia Soul is about as practical as a vehicle can get and the Mazda CX-3 features some of the segment's best driving dynamics. Some of its challengers are nowhere near as fully baked, like the Fiat 500X and Chevy Trax. If you want some semblance of off-road readiness, the Jeep Renegade exists, but that's the only reason to consider it in my opinion.
Back when the segment was small, the HR-V stood out with a solid blend of sensibility, capaciousness and fun. It still possesses all those qualities, but as the segment has grown, the HR-V is slowly getting lost in the noise. I still recommend it for every reason I've stated above, I just hope Honda has some more tricks up its sleeve in the near future to keep this car near the top of the segment where it belongs.