When we try to work out where cars come from, old assumptions can no longer be trusted. The global nature of the motor industry means that familiar cars come from surprising places. Just as a ‘German’ car may not necessarily be made in Germany, so a ‘Japanese’ car may well come from somewhere other than Japan.
Thus we have had to get used to Mercedes from Alabama, BMWs from South Carolina, Nissans from Barcelona and Jeeps from Turin. Then there are Volkswagens from Bratislava in Slovakia, and Citroens from the Czech Republic. Now here comes a Honda from Mexico.
The new Honda HR-V is the latest version of a model that began 16 years ago. It is not the only car in the Honda range that will soon be landing here from Mexico. The new Jazz, also due for launch this summer, is built in the same Central American factory opened last year by Honda.
Meanwhile the new HR-V is the latest arrival on the ‘crossover’ scene of tall hatchback cars with a semi-4×4 look but – mostly – front-wheel-drive running gear. This hunky new Honda wears HR-V badges for the first time in nine years. The previous model, launched in 1999, was discontinued in 2006. In the meantime, crossover models have mushroomed, with the Nissan Qashqai and Juke both up there amongst last year’s UK top ten best-selling cars.
Honda already has another crossover model with the CR-V. That’s a bigger car, though, up against the dominant Qashqai and its rivals such as the Kia Sportage and Mazda CX-5. The HR-V is a slightly smaller brother with a sleeker, more coupe-like styling, and it goes up against a Nissan Juke and Renault Captur, although it feels a little bigger than either.
The swoopy coupe-ish style does not seem to compromise interior space. The HR-V has very reasonable rear seat knee space, and enough headroom back there for a six-footer. It also has a 470-litres boot, one of the biggest amongst current crossovers. The cabin is quite stylish, although a bit quirky. There is a high centre console that sits snugly beside the driver, but you have to grope a bit awkwardly underneath it to locate the USB for plugging in your phone.
The upper dash is hard plastic, and although the vertical surfaces are soft-touch, it’s only very mildly so. It’s a plus that it all looks quite smart, with some swish piano black trim. Unusually, the electronic handbrake won’t release unless your seatbelt is fastened. The satnav on higher-spec versions is a Garmin unit, but it’s not the best of its type, and some of the route instructions are far too last-minute.
Overall though, the new HR-V is a thoroughly pleasant drive with nicely weighted steering, a slick gear-change quality, tidy handling and reasonable ride. The engine choice is 1.5 litre petrol or 1.6 litre diesel, both good performers, although a bit vocal when revved.
Prices range from £17,995 for the base level S petrol model, and reach almost £25,000 for a top-spec EX diesel. There is either a six-speed gearbox, or a new CVT (continuously variable transmission) auto, which unlike most CVTs mimics the feel of gearshifts as you drive.
Honda is having a busy year. As well as the new HR-V and so-to-be-launched new Jazz, it also has a couple of performance ‘halo’ cars in the new Civic Type R and NSX. Ever wondered where the Honda name comes from? Yes, it’s taken from the surname of the company founder, Soichiro Honda, but its meaning in Japanese is ‘main rice field’.