“The closest thing we make to an EP3 Type R” - that’s how someone in Honda’s UK press fleet garage refers to the Honda HR-V Sport. Now, before you demand his contact details so you can send him a bag of excrement in the post, I should say that I’m inclined to agree…
You see, the modern Type R is a turbocharged sledgehammer of a car. It has a brutally effective and boosty 2.0-litre inline-four kicking out 50 per cent more power and double the torque. It’s stiff, extremely capable, and visually, quite happy to shout about all that performance. The old EP3 is rather different.
Drive an EP3 next to an FK8, and it’ll feel slower and softer. Rather like the HR-V Sport. But that isn’t where the allusions end - the warmed-up crossover does genuinely invoke the feeling of fast Hondas of old. It may not have a naturally-aspirated engine, but its 1.5-litre inline-four turbo unit is an eager little thing, and it even belts out a muscular, VTEC-engine-like growl as you rev it out. With 180bhp on tap, it makes the HR-V brisk rather than fast, making 0-62mph possible in 7.8 seconds.
Peak power comes in at a fairly low point - 5500rpm - but once it’s time to change gear, you’re in for a treat. The shift is just as good as it is on a lot of ‘proper’ performance Hondas, with a short, precise and mechanically satisfying throw. And if you swap the cog a little too late, you hit a hard limiter - a rarity even on performance cars these days.
The pedals are ideally spaced for a little heel-and-toe action, and even the retuned steering is pretty sweet, being nicely weighted and perfectly predictable. The more economy-minded Michelin Primacy 3s do reach the end of their tether fairly early, but swapping for something like Pilot Sport 4s seems like overkill for a car like this. In any case, once the HR-V is pushed to the edge, it shows its fun, slightly ragged side. You’ll even get a hint of lift-off oversteer if you back off the throttle at the right moment. It’s just a shame the traction control is too eager to kill the fun, even with it turned ‘off’.
Unlike the Civic Sport Line we tried recently, the dampers here are passive. They’re different relative to the rest of the HR-V range, though, aimed at reducing roll without completely wrecking the ride. The shocks are very well judged; the HR-V Sport is indeed still comfortable, and while there is some lean when you press on, it’s more than flat enough considering the target market. The target market being… I’m not sure, actually.
The sort of person who’d appreciate all the EP3-like stuff such as the gear shift, the burly engine note and the hard limiter will unlikely want to go for something like an HR-V. It’s getting on a bit, which shows in the dated cabin with its naff infotainment system, and the car as a whole doesn’t exactly have the sportiest of images.
In fact, I’ve had a hard time working out who or what this car is aimed at out of any other vehicle I’ve driven lately. It’s not like it’s vying for buyers of much faster premium sporty crossovers - at £28,090 it’s considerably cheaper, while still being fairly pricey compared to more direct rivals.
We can’t help but think anyone who actually cares about dynamics would be better off with the lighter, lower Civic Sport (which oddly, doesn’t sound as nice as this HR-V), or even making the jump to the FK8 Type R.
But perhaps this doesn’t matter - Honda is using a Mazda-like approach here, making sure that even the stuff lower down the pecking order feels great to drive. People who’ve no interest in performance can appreciate a nicely sorted car, even if they won’t be able to explain what’s good about it.
The Sport isn’t ever going to make up a big percentage of HR-V sales (although with a 16 per cent share in the UK it does better than you might expect), but what it does is arguably more important than flogging cars. It shows what kind of company Honda is - one that gives a damn about driving.