EXPERT REVIEW

2023 Honda HR-V Review: Missing the Magic

honda-hr-v-2023-01-exterior-front-angle 2023 Honda HR-V | Cars.com photo by Christian Lantry
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News Editor Jennifer Geiger is a reviewer, car-seat technician and mom of three. She wears a lot of hats, many of them while driving a minivan. Email Jennifer Geiger

The verdict: The redesigned 2023 Honda HR-V boasts welcome upgrades including more standard safety features and a better multimedia system, but its new powertrain is boring and less efficient, and its slick, unique Magic Seat has disappeared.

Versus the competition: The HR-V’s comfortable ride and user-friendly multimedia system help it stand out from other subcompact SUVs, but it trails some competitors in cargo room and fuel efficiency.

Honda redesigned the HR-V for 2023, moving it to the Civic car’s platform. The SUV gets a fresh face, more standard safety tech and a larger engine with increased power, among other updates. (See it compared with the outgoing model.)

Related: 2023 Honda HR-V Grows in Size, Shrinks in Quirkiness

The HR-V competes in the budget-friendly subcompact SUV class along with the likes of the Chevrolet Trailblazer, Kia Seltos and Toyota Corolla Cross; see these models compared.

No Pep, No Hybrid

The outgoing HR-V failed to deliver any engaging road manners, and driving the 2023 model is another trip to Dullsville. For starters, the engine has no guts. Power from a stop builds lethargically, and you’ll need lots of time (and road) to merge or pass. The engine’s partner isn’t very willing, either: The HR-V’s continuously variable automatic transmission feels and sounds strained, keeping rpm pegged at what sounds like the redline. The engine complains loudly and constantly.

With the move to the Civic’s platform, we’d hoped the HR-V would also gain some of that sedan’s powertrains — like maybe that fun little 180-horsepower, turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder? But nope. The 2023 HR-V uses a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that’s good for 158 hp; it replaces the outgoing model’s 141-hp, 1.8-liter four-cylinder. A CVT is still the sole transmission, and the HR-V again comes with front- or all-wheel drive. Others in the class offer a bit more excitement: The Trailblazer and Seltos both have available turbo engines.

Continuing on the disappointment train, the HR-V’s new engine has worse fuel economy than the old one. The outgoing HR-V is EPA-rated at 29 mpg combined with AWD and 30 mpg with FWD, but the SUV’s 2023 rating drops to 27 mpg combined with AWD, 28 with FWD. The Honda’s counterparts do better: With its base engine and FWD, the Chevy Trailblazer gets an EPA-estimated 29/31/30 mpg city/highway/combined, the Kia Seltos gets 29/35/31 mpg and the Toyota Corolla Cross is rated at 31/33/32 mpg. What would help in both the mileage and performance departments is a hybrid or electric version. Honda sells a hybrid HR-V in Europe, but not stateside; it’s a missed opportunity, as there are few vehicles in this class that offer alternative fuel options, though a Toyota Corolla Cross Hybrid is coming.

It’s not all bad, though. The new HR-V’s AWD system gets an upgrade, with a new Snow mode joining Normal and Eco, as well as standard hill descent control. The system allows drivers to preset a speed from 2-12 mph, and the vehicle will maintain that speed while the driver steers down a steep grade. Ride quality has also improved thanks in part to the HR-V’s new fully independent rear suspension. It feels composed and absorbs bumps comfortably; it’s among the best-riding SUVs in the subcompact class.

Control Upgrade

The cabin in my top EX-L trim level had a clean, modern look thanks to extra touches like a metal honeycomb-mesh accent running across the dash and overlaying the air vents. It strikes much less of a budget vibe than the Corolla Cross and Trailblazer cabins.

Also in the pro column are the HR-V’s controls, which got a much-needed ergonomic makeover for 2023. The new model uses a 7-inch digital instrument cluster paired with an analog speedometer and a standard 7-inch center touchscreen (up from the standard 5-inch screen in the 2022 HR-V). The base LX model now also gets standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. A larger 9-inch touchscreen with wireless CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, as well as wireless charging, goes in the top EX-L trim.

The EX-L’s multimedia system was refreshingly straightforward to use. The screen sits high on the dash, within easy reach, and is responsive and intuitive. Wireless Android Auto connected seamlessly, and I appreciated the return of physical controls to the HR-V — there’s a large volume dial above a pair of small tuning buttons. Below that, big climate control dials and buttons replace the fussy touch-sensitive panel that went in higher trims of the outgoing model. The upgrades make the HR-V’s multimedia system one of the most user-friendly ones in the class alongside the Kia Seltos, which likewise has an excellent multimedia system.

Bigger Outside, Smaller Inside?

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One HR-V hallmark is its surprising ability to fit a lot within its small footprint, and that’s still true for 2023 — with some caveats. Sadly, the previous version’s Magic Seat has done a final disappearing act. Because the HR-V moved to the Civic’s platform, the Magic Seat — a backseat with a variety of flexible modes for carrying passengers and different types of cargo — didn’t carry over to the new model. In previous tests, I found it a useful feature that added spice to the HR-V in a crowded class of bland counterparts.

Another surprise: The HR-V grew by 9.4 inches in length and 2.6 inches in width with its 2023 redesign, though the stretch somehow doesn’t translate to tangible gains in passenger and cargo space; in some places, it actually results in a loss of space. For example, Honda says the 2022 version has 39.3 inches of rear legroom, but the 2023 model has just 37.7 inches. When it comes to rear headroom, the 2022 version had 38.3 inches of space, but the 2023 has just 38.0 inches.

Like the outgoing model, however, backseat space is still good for a car this size; there’s adult-friendly headroom and legroom, and the SUV’s wider rear-seat area and redesigned seats make it a comfortable place to travel. The HR-V also scored well in our Car Seat Check thanks to easy-access Latch anchors, as well as ample space for two car seats.

By Cars.com’s measurements, the 2023 HR-V has 15.5 cubic feet of space behind the backseat. At one time, the HR-V was a class leader in cargo space, but others are catching up. One key competitor has even passed it: The Seltos has 16.3 cubic feet of space behind its backseat. (The Trailblazer has 13.5 cubic feet of cargo space and the Corolla Cross has 14.2 cubic feet.)

Some storage highlights include small underfloor bins for organizing small items in the cargo area, as well as a new pass-through area in the front center console that I really liked. It’s a great spot for USB ports, and there’s ample space to stash smaller items.

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Safety and Value

The new HR-V also improves on the outgoing model’s safety features. The Honda Sensing suite of active-safety features is now standard even on the base model, and several new features have been added, including a front wide-view camera, traffic jam assist and traffic sign recognition. Those join the HR-V’s existing features, including forward collision warning with pedestrian detection and automatic emergency braking, road departure mitigation, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and lane departure steering assist.

The 2023 HR-V comes in three trims: LX, Sport and EX-L (the EX model has been dropped). The base LX starts at $24,895, the Sport at $26,895 and the EX-L at $28,695; AWD adds $1,500 to each trim (all prices include a $1,245 destination charge). Prices are up $780-$2,080 over the 2022 HR-V, depending on trim. The HR-V’s price tag sits at the top of the subcompact food chain, coming in higher than base versions of the Trailblazer ($23,295), Seltos ($24,135) and Corolla Cross ($24,395).

On the whole, the 2023 HR-V is a mixed bag. While its added safety features, updated multimedia system and improved ride keep it competitive in this class, the new model is also a mash-up of missed opportunities when it comes to its powertrain and interior space.

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