We road test the newest entrant to the family crossover scene – the full hybrid Honda ZR-V…
Slotting in between the HR-V and CR-V SUVs in terms of size, the all-new ZR-V is a very important car for Honda – and it’s tasked with an mighty challenge.
Not only do crossovers and SUVs now account for more than half of total car sales, the ZR-V is up against big-sellers including the Kia Sportage, Nissan Qashqai, Ford Kuga, Hyundai Tucson and Volkswagen Tiguan, to name but a few.
The good news is that the Honda ZR-V is based on the excellent 11th-generation Honda Civic hybrid, which was launched in 2022.
Distinctively styled, the new ZR-V is nicely proportioned and sports a relatively small grille for a modern crossover, flanked by slim LED headlights.
Add a sleek and curvaceous profile, rear LEDs, a wide-opening tailgate, twin exhausts and plenty of rufty-tufty cladding down below and you have a crossover with kerb appeal.
Only available as a petrol hybrid (no diesel or pure electric versions), the ZR-V uses much the same powertrain set-up (e:HEV in Honda-speak) as the Civic.
That means a 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine paired with a small 1.05kWh+ lithium-ion battery and two electric motors, producing a combined 181bhp.
Honda claims the ZR-V is capable of up to 49.6mpg with CO2 emissions as low as 130g/km.
Unlike hybrid systems from most other car makers, the ZR-V’s engine acts as a generator to power the battery rather than the wheels for much of the time, so it runs in EV mode as much as possible.
However, at higher speeds or under heavy loads, it can send drive straight to the front wheels.
Priced from £39,495 to £42,895, it’s on the expensive side compared to many of its rivals. That said, it comes in three well-equipped trim levels: Elegance, Sport and Advance.
Elegance’s highlights include keyless entry and ignition, heated front seats, rear parking camera, automatic headlights and wipers, plus dual climate control.
Sport adds half-leather seats, power tailgate, privacy glass, wireless phone charger and slightly sportier body styling.
Advance comes with full leather upholstery, a panoramic opening sunroof, electric seats, heated steering wheel, head-up display, heated rear seats and adaptive headlights, plus a bangin’ 12-speaker BOSE sound system
The interior, which is almost identical to the Civic, represents a real step up in terms of quality and functionality. There’s a solid feel overall, the seats are comfortable and there are plenty of soft-touch surfaces.
The infotainment system isn’t the slickest, but does the job nicely. Most of all, the dashboard is not too minimalist – there are still dials, buttons and switches for essentials such as climate control, radio volume, heated seats and drive mode selection.
There’s plenty of space for five people to sit comfortably, though boot capacity is modest (compared to its competitors) with just 370 litres of storage space, or 1,291 litres with the 60/40-split rear seats folded flat.
Honda fans will note that the ZR-V doesn’t feature ‘Magic Seats’ like the HR-V and Jazz, where the rear seat bases flip upwards like cinema seats to make it easier to carry taller items.
The driving position suited me nicely because it’s possible to sit slightly lower in the cabin than most crossovers. Of course, if you prefer to sit higher up, it is possible to crank up the seat.
After you’ve started it up, it’s simply a case of pressing the ‘D’ button and you’re away in silent EV mode, more often than not.
It’s swift off the line (0-62mph in 7.8 seconds) and you can choose from three regular drive modes (Econ, Normal and Sport).
There’s plenty of poke, thanks to that electrical assistance, but the biggest surprise is the e-CVT gearbox.
Honda has done its best to eradicate the soaring revs you generally get when you put your foot down in a car with a conventional CVT box.
Instead, there are simulated gear changes, giving the feel of traditional transmission ratios. It’s still not perfect, but it is a huge improvement.
The ride is on the firm side, but not uncomfortably so, but generally it’s a great all-rounder – happy cruising motorways and stretching its legs on more engaging roads.
In fact, the new Civic offers a surprisingly agile drive for a crossover. When pushed, it stays surprisingly flat in more challenging corners, there’s decent grip and the steering is nicely weighted.
On smooth roads the cabin is refined, except for a bit of wind noise. However, on poorer surfaces there’s also a fair amount of road noise.
I found that Econ mode (it adjusts throttle response to improve fuel efficiency) is fine for pottering around town or using on motorway journeys, Normal is best for everyday driving, while Sport (which sharpens throttle response and improves performance) is fun for blasts on twisty roads.
There’s also a new Snow mode which boosts traction in low grip conditions. I tried it on grass and it did seem to offer a fraction more grip, but if you want the peace of mind of four-wheel drive on your SUV, you will have to look elsewhere because it’s not an option on the ZR-V.
It’s also not the car for you if you have a caravan because its maximum (braked) towing weight is 750kg. Some hybrid rivals are capable or towing more than twice that weight.
I matched the official economy figure in mixed driving and got as high as 50mpg on a motorway run, so the ZR-V should be kind to your wallet.
It’s also safe because it comes with Honda’s latest safety and driver assist technologies, so as well as 11 airbags, there’s everything from autonomous emergency braking (AEB) to lane-keep assist, plus driver attention monitoring to adaptive cruise control and traffic-sign recognition.
Verdict: The Honda ZR-V is one of the best hybrid family crossovers on the market. Good looking, safe, spacious, economical and well built, it also delivers an engaging drive.