2023 Honda HR-V
(Photo/Paul Eisenstein)

First Drive: 2023 Honda HR-V Review

Sales are on fire for the Honda HR-V as the brand debuts the next generation of the crossover. We got behind the wheel of the 2023 Honda HR-V to see what this crossover is all about and if it can keep up its impressive sales momentum.

Honda has dubbed this “the year of the SUV,” and for good reason, considering it’s in the midst of refreshing virtually all of its utility vehicles. That includes a second-generation HR-V, the smallest ute in the Japanese brand’s lineup.

While no longer equipped with the “magic seats” found in the original model, the 2023 Honda HR-V is larger outside and roomier inside, providing a surprising amount of space for passengers and cargo.

The original Honda HR-V made its debut back in 2016 as one of the first in what has become an expanding field of subcompact crossovers. As I quickly discovered myself, that small footprint actually disguised an unexpectedly roomy interior that allowed me to pack in a surprising amount of “stuff” while helping a friend move to a new home.

Much of the credit went to the HR-V’s “magic seats,” which could fold, tumble, and split in a variety of configurations to provide as much as 40 inches of rear legroom and 58.8 cubic feet of cargo space. Sadly, that flexible seating system has been dropped from the 2023 HR-V. But Honda has largely filled the gap in other ways.

2023 Honda HR-V
(Photo/Paul Eisenstein)

Where the original HR-V shared platforms with Honda’s pint-sized Fit hatchback, the new model is based on the same architecture as the 11th-generation Civic.

It’s now 9.4 inches longer and 2.6 inches wider than before, with a 1.7-inch longer wheelbase. Overall, the 2023 HR-V measures 179.8 inches long, 72.4 inches wide, and 63.8 inches tall.

2023 Honda HR-V Review

2023 Honda HR-V
(Photo/Paul Eisenstein)

As for the critical interior dimensions, it does lose a wee bit of space — but for the segment it competes in, there’s still an impressive 55.1 cubic feet of cargo space when the rear seat is folded down. When passengers are riding in back, they still get 37.7 inches of legroom, more than enough for my 6’2” frame.

And the 2023 makeover of the Honda HR-V has a lot to recommend it beyond its room, starting with a more stylish design, a peppier powertrain, an improved ride, and more upscale interior details. That said, it feels like it’s in a different class, which could come as a disconnect for those who liked the nimble, urban feel of the first-generation HR-V.

There was a lot of speculation about what Honda might come up with before teasing the new crossover in April. As it turns out, the automaker decided to develop two different versions of the HR-V. There’s a smaller model sold in some foreign markets, including Japan, still using the little Fit platform no longer sold here.

2023 Honda HR-V
(Photo/Paul Eisenstein)

For the U.S., the automaker clearly bought into the idea that bigger is better. And that move might have been motivated, at least in part, by wanting to directly tackle one of the most direct competitors to the HR-V, the recently added Toyota Corolla Cross. Whatever the reason, we’ll have to see if first-generation Honda buyers like the trade-off.

A More Compelling Design

There’s no question that the look is more compelling. There’s a more distinctive front end, grille, fascia, and headlights picking up on the latest Honda design theme. The sides have a more sculptural appearance, the roofline going more coupe-like, though the roll is gentle enough not to sacrifice rear headroom.

2023 Honda HR-V
(Photo/Honda)

Inside, the HR-V also moves upmarket, at least a little bit. Depending on the model you pick you could get French-stitched accents and metal mesh trim, though journalist colleague Larry Printz nailed things when he described the cabin as being “serviceable,” but nothing fancy.

The switchgear does have a better feel — and thanks to Honda for giving buyers some traditional controls, including climate and audio volume, reversing its earlier decision to move virtually everything to the infotainment touchscreen.

The base model, incidentally, gives a buyer a 7-inch color screen, with mid-trim packages adding Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality. The EX-L trim jumps to a new, 9-inch high-definition touchscreen with wireless versions of CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as Qi wireless smartphone charging.

The display can be reconfigured to make it easier to access apps you tend to use repeatedly. The EX-L also gets a better eight-speaker audio package.

Tech-Savvy

2023 Honda HR-V
(Photo/Honda)

For the tech-savvy young buyers who are expected to go for the 2023 HR-V — especially those who want an affordable family vehicle — you’d expect to find plenty of advanced safety gear. The crossover delivers with an upgraded version of the Honda Sensing suite.

It gets the expected forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking and active cruise control. But now it adds features like traffic jam assist, which helps hold your speed and your lane at speeds below 45 mph. There’s also a new traffic sign recognition feature and improved pedestrian recognition.

Though not technically an advanced driver assistance system, the 2023 Honda HR-V also gets Hill Descent Control. While you’re not likely to do any serious off-roading in this crossover, you might find yourself having to cope with a steep or slippery downslope. HDC lets you select a downhill speed of between 2 and 12 mph that it will maintain without you having to flip-flop between throttle and brake.

The CUV also gets a three-mode driver control for the first time. This includes a Snow mode, as well as Econ and Normal.

More Mass Requires More Power

2023 Honda HR-V
(Photo/Honda)

With added size and weight, Honda needed to upgrade HR-V’s powertrain, as well. The 127-horsepower, 1.8L inline-four has been replaced by a 2.0L package now making 158 horsepower and 138 pound-feet — the torque number up 11.

The added power is adequate to make freeway passes, but it’s not especially sporty. On the plus side, there’s much less lag when you tip the throttle. And, while Honda chose to retain a continuously variable transmission (CVT), there’s much less of the “motorboating” that CVTs are known for as the gearbox catches up with the engine.

Also carried over: you can spec the 2023 HR-V in either front- or all-wheel-drive.

2023 Honda HR-V
(Photo/Honda)

As with the outgoing model, the 2023 gets an independent front suspension. But Honda also made some notable upgrades to HR-V’s back end, with an independent rear suspension on all versions. The old crossover had either a torsion bar or a DeDion rear suspension, depending upon the model.

Driving Impressions

2023 Honda HR-V
(Photo/Paul Eisenstein)

Again, you won’t confuse the HR-V with a sports car, but it is clearly more nimble, as I found out logging several hundred miles dashing around the mountainous Columbia River Gorge heading east out of Portland, Oregon. For most drivers, it’s going to mark a big improvement in ride and handling. The one drawback: more road and engine noise than I would have expected.

Actually, there’s another powertrain drawback. The larger engine and vehicle mass yields 27 mpg with the all-wheel-drive package, 28 mpg with the front-drive option. The outgoing HR-V delivered 29 and 30, respectively.

Still, that’s a relatively modest sacrifice and you’ll still get reasonably good fuel economy at a time when rising prices at the pump have us all a bit flummoxed.

2023 HR-V Summary

2023 Honda HR-V
(Photo/Paul Eisenstein)

Expect to pay a bit more for the 2023 Honda HR-V, however. The base front-wheel-drive LX package starts at $24,895 — including $1,245 in delivery fees. The old model started at $23,115. With the 2023, add $1,500 for all-wheel drive. At the upper end, the EX-L with FWD goes for $28,695 and the AWD package is $30,195.

Surprisingly, demand for the HR-V has gone up during its last year on the market. During just the first quarter of 2022, Honda sold 42,168 of the crossovers, a 38% year-over-year jump.

One question is whether the gen-2 model will maintain that momentum, especially with its new, larger design, lower mileage, and higher price. But the added features should help.

There’s also the question of whether the new HR-V will be able to maintain its position against the Toyota Corolla Cross. The big Japanese competitor hopes to increase the appeal of that model with the 2023 introduction of a high-mileage hybrid option. That said, the Honda compact crossover is more stylish and more fun to drive, the Corolla engine being particularly anemic.

There’s also the question of whether a bigger HR-V might cut into demand for the Honda mainstay, the CR-V. We’ll be better able to answer that concern when the automaker reveals that model’s update later this year.

Paul Eisenstein
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Paul A. Eisenstein is an award-winning publisher, photographer, editor, and one of the world’s most widely published automotive journalists. His work appears in a wide range of print, broadcast, and electronic outlets, including AutoWise, GearJunkie, NBC News, Forbes Wheels, and his own automotive website, TheDetroitBureau.com. He’s a North American Car and Truck of the Year juror, and board member and past president of the Automotive Press Association. J.D. Power also named him a “Pioneer of the Internet."