The original HR-V was labelled the Joy Machine by Honda’s marketing bods back in the early 2000s.
It was meant to appeal to young buyers with its “unique” styling and and blend the practical benefits of an SUV with a compact form. It was ahead of its time in many ways but was abandoned in 2006 amid mediocre sales.
Wind on to 2015 and the world was ready for compact crossovers and the HR-V was reborn as a more conventional-looking entrant into the market.
Honda HR-V Sport
Engine: 1.5-litre, four-cylinder, turbo, petrol
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Top speed: 133mph
0-62mph: 7.8 seconds
CO2 emissions: 151g/km
Jump ahead four more years and the HR-V has had some mild titivation with a new grille, bumper, wheels and lights but has also had a more major change in the oily bits with the addition of a 180bhp turbo engine to this Sport model.
The HR-V falls into that subset of crossovers that are bigger than the Juke, Ecosport and Captur but smaller than the Qashqai, Kuga and Kadjar. It’s up against the likes of the Mazda CX-3 and Toyota C-HR. In this Sport guise, it also needs to consider the 1.6 T-GDI versions of the Hyundai Kona and Kia Stonic.
The purpose of this Sport model is to offer something more engaging and dynamic than the standard car. To that end, it only comes with the 1.5-litre turbo petrol also found in the Civic Sport.
With 180bhp and 177lb/ft of torque the engine has a decent glug of power but to properly fulfil the sporty brief it needs to be paired with the six-speed manual rather than the optional CVT transmission.
The CVT is one of the better ones on the market but robs the engine of some urgency and makes it harder to get the most from it. The quick shifting manual, on the other hand, turns the HR-V Sport into a lively and reasonably fun little car with good responsiveness and a decent turn of pace.
Zero to 62mph is dealt with in a decent 7.8 seconds and the HR-V Sport will go on to 133mph if given enough room.
Along with the engine, the Sport model gets specific performance dampers, a variable-ratio steering system and Honda’s Agile Handling Assist to improve handling and offer a more dynamic drive. It’s not the most enjoyment you’ll have on a twisting mountain road but it is far more fun than you might expect and I was pleasantly surprised. Body control is good and the variable speed steering offers quick handling, although there’s not an abundance of feel.
Away from the driving, the Sport is largely the same as the standard HR-V.
Front legroom isn’t particularly generous but what you lose there you gain in the rear seats, which are impressively spacious for a car in its class. It’s a more practical proposition than the CH-R thanks to better legroom, a less claustrophobic feeling cabin, the smart folding “magic seats” and a decent 470l boot.
Having recently driven the larger CR-V I wasn’t expecting great things from the HR-V’s interior but it’s far nicer. Sport models get a two-tone interior with red leather covering the door cards, dash panel, arm rests and part of the seats. The leather is complemented by chrome strips and gloss black finish around the ventilation controls and seven -inch media screen. The HR-V also has a more conventional gearshift arrangement rather than the CR-V’s weird buttons.
It’s not quite as classy as the CX-3s or individual as the CH-R’s but it can hold its own in terms of ambience. Externally, however, it can’t compete with either of those head-turners, despite the Sport-specific gloss black body trim and black 18-inch alloys.
Strangely, buyers looking for a middle-sized crossover with more than the seemingly regulation 120bhp output are quite well served. The Kona and Stonic come with around 160bhp and you can have a sporty-feeling 148bhp CX-3. Into that mix you can now add the HR-V Sport which can easily hold its own among such company with its engaging drive and everyday usability.