If you are looking for an engaging drive, chances are your first choice would not be an SUV. Too tall.
So when Honda introduced a new sporty version of its smallest SUV, the HR-V, called the, er, HR-V Sport, most people were just expecting a bit more pep and perhaps the odd bit of red trim.
In fact, the car’s handling came as a revelation. On twisty country roads near its international launch in Lisbon the Sport gobbled up corners like a greedy teenager and seemed to encourage the driver to give it an extra helping of beans.
Armed with a 182PS 1.5-litre VTEC turbo engine it is not going to set your socks on fire, but there is easily enough grunt to make cross-country dashes plenty of fun. Whether the Sport has a slick six-speed manual gearbox or a seven-speed step-shifted CVT auto, it always feels eager to press on, but is equally happy to noodle around town at a snail’s pace.
The driving position is spot-on, and both the steering and gearbox are a joy to use. I preferred the manual version but the auto box works well and manages to avoid the shouty characteristics of some CVT rivals.
The much improved hot-hatch-style handling is partly due to twin-piston performance dampers front and rear, which are unique to this model, and reduce roll and harshness to an impressive degree.
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Externally, the Sport version gets black alloy wheels, twin exhausts and black front splitter, side skirts, wheel arch mouldings and honeycomb grille. Inside there are soft-touch materials, black and maroon leather dashboard trim and a black roof lining.
Safety is well catered for with lane departure warning, forward collision alert, traffic sign recognition and high-beam support, but surprisingly there is no Apple Car Play or Android Auto to link with your smart phone’s functions.
Honda is keen to enhance its reputation as a sporty brand with models such as the Jazz Sport, Civic Type R and NSX supercar, although there are no plans at the moment for a faster version of its CR-V model.
The HR-V Sport is a worthy addition to the range and provides that difficult combination of talents which can provide practical family transport with up to 1,103 litres of loadspace, and an enjoyable driving experience when circumstances allow.
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The only fly in the ointment for me, and plenty of my fellow road testers, was the car’s dim-witted sat-nav, which was slow to react and tended to issue its verbal commands just as you sailed past the turn you needed to make. This is a good car and it deserves a better sat-nav.
Honda probably won’t sell vast numbers of the HR-V Sport – it is quite a niche market – but those who do buy one are in for a great deal of fun.
Honda HR-V 1.5 VTEC Turbo Sport manual
Top speed: 134mph
Combined mpg: 42.2 WLTP
0-60mph: 7.5 secs
Price: £27,595 (£28,845 auto)