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Monday, April 22, 2024

Honda's new hybrid with sharp sporting edge

Honda ZR-V drive by Steve Rogers

Another month, another new SUV.

Our appetite for these high riders is insatiable and car companies are hell bent on filling every little gap in their SUV portfolios.

Honda saw such a slot between HR-V and CR-V so enter ZR-V, a hybrid for the family but with a sharp sporting edge.

The modern day SUV is a solid drive but can't match the handling of a hatchback. Or can it? Honda has built ZR-V on the same platform as the outstanding Civic, so this is more fun to drive than its illustrious rivals? Can it be as good as a Civic?

Of course not, yet Honda has made a pretty good fist of it and this SUV is a genuine fun drive gliding confidently through twists and turns. The suspension is on the firm side but is still pretty comfortable.

To back up the sporty handling ZR-V has sporty performance with plenty of punch from the 2-litre hybrid engine. The hybrid set up is quite interesting and deserves a couple of paragraphs of explanation.

This is not an electric car but drives off electric power most of the time. Confused? Don't be. The 2-litre petrol engine generates power to the charge the batteries which power two electric motors that drive the front wheels.

The upshot is that driving in town or poodling around the lanes will be on electric power with the engine seemlessly taking over at motorway speeds. That translates into sprightly acceleration and a good lump of torque for strong mid range pick up.

Economy will play a big part in tempting buyers as ZR-V should easily top 50mpg.

Honda has gone for continusouly variable transmission, or CVT as we know it. This provides an infinite number of gear ratios rather than the hard shifts in a conventional gearbox. Not the most popular of systems because changes can be random, and often holds on to a gear for too long.

But I was pleasantly surprised and liked the way Honda has introduced fake changes. You don't feel a change but somehow sense it when the rev counter pointer alters just like a conventional gear change. Weird, I know, and best experienced by driving the car.

Enough of performance and gearboxes, ZR-V is first and foremost a family SUV so is it up to the challenge? Two important areas to consider: passenger space and luggage capacity. It passes with flying colours on one and falls short on the other.

As a C segment car you expect it to be capable of carrying five people and ZR-V does it well. Back seat legroom is generous so there should be no complaints from six footers, and the seat base is set higher than the front which will please toddlers who get a decent view of what is going on outside.

With no transmission tunnel the flat floor makes it a comfortable fit for three across the back, and headroom is fine as well.

Which brings us on to point number two, boot space. For a car this size you could reasonable expect a capacity of at least 450 litres, and that is way off class leading, but ZR-V can only muster 390 which is actually less than the Civic!

It is an obvious area to criticise and then I ask myself how often is a boot filled to capacity? Even when my two children were young I cannot remember packing a boot until it was bursting, so is it really that big a deal? It would not put me off.

Honda is keen to emphasise quality and to be fair the ZR-V has a quality look all around the cabin. The full width mesh covering for the air vents is eye catching and there is plenty of soft touch trim. Chunky switches for the heating controls is pleasing with a nine inch touch screen dealing with radio, navigation etc.

There are three trim levels with the entry Elegance good for heated front seats, keyless go, rear camera, LED headlights and adaptive cruise control. Move up to this Sport model for electric seat adjustment, wireless charger, privacy glass and power tailgate. All three get an excellent suite of safety features including hill descent which will be reassuring on an icy slope.

Apart from excessive wind noise at motorway speeds there is nothing much not to like about ZR-V although compromises might have to be made when it comes to matching bootspace against the best of the rivals.

But as hybrid SUVs go ZR-V is definitely challenging for medals on the winners podium.

Fast facts

ZR-V Sport eHEV

£41,095 (starts £39,505)

2-litre petrol hybrid; 181bhp

0-62mph 7.9secs; 108mph

48.7mpg combined

131g/km. 1st year tax £270

Boot: 390-1322litres

Insurance group 35

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