Honda HR-V vs. Mazda CX-3 vs. Kia Soul vs. Buick Encore: Small crossover four-way.
This week: 2016 Honda HR-V AWD EX-L Navi
Price: $26,720 as tested. No options. A base front-wheel-drive model starts at $19,115.
Marketer's pitch: "One HR-V fits all."
Conventional wisdom: Edmunds.com likes the "roomy interior and seating; versatile cargo loading thanks to unique rear seat; high fuel economy; excellent outward visibility," but not the "underwhelming acceleration; touchscreen interface can be frustrating to use and lacks full Android integration."
Reality: Small CR-V or big Civic? Sorry, big Civic.
Popular size: Small crossovers are supposed to be all the rage now. An expert told me around the time of the Philadelphia Auto Show that any entry into that segment would sell like hotcakes. So I decided to pit two of the newest comers to the category, the Honda and the Mazda, against a pair of perhaps unusual challengers. But size-wise, they fit together.
Welcome to the Honda: I was looking forward to trying out the new models. The CR-V and the Toyota RAV4 have both grown up over the last few years and really needed a baby brother in the lineup.
Outside, the handsome egg shape echoes the Honda Fit, a car with so much versatility it makes my small-car must-have list.
On first sitting, it seemed Honda certainly fulfilled the "any entry" portion among our crossover contestants. Perhaps it just didn't measure up to my great expectations.
Still, that reaction mellowed a bit over time.
Love me or hate me: I've followed certain movie critics and political columnists for ages simply because I know if they hate something, I'll like it. On that note, if you like new Hondas, and I know lots of you do, then I'm your Charles Krauthammer.
Driver's seat: From the moment I sat down, I was disappointed. Many Honda models come with far more lumbar support than I need, and the HR-V was no exception. And I sat atop the seat rather than snuggling into it. The leather felt hard and unwelcoming, but worst were the seat bottoms that were far too short for my thighs, and I'm just 5-10.
Up to speed: The 141 horses working inside the 1.6-liter four provided erratic acceleration. I'd just get finished telling someone how disappointed I was when, zoom, off I'd tear on the next pullout.
Shiftless: I lay the burden squarely on the CVT, which I may have referred to on social media as the Cheapo Venomous Torture. The HR-V's continuously variable transmission offers a "shift" mode, but I wasn't fooled. Mainly it seemed to produce much sound but no fury. Make sure you wait for the right spot in traffic.
On the turns: Light steering did nothing to make the driving experience more fun. And the Honda leaned hard on corners.
Play some tunes: I know I sound like Goldilocks: "This seat is too hard." "This transmission is too soft." But here, Honda gets it just right. The infotainment system sits atop the dash like a tablet, and the graphics are superbly clear and helpful. Steering-wheel buttons are clear and easy to operate.
Turn to the right: Honda's nifty right-turn camera, activated with the turn signal, offers a clear view of what's going on in the next lane. That camera and the back-up camera offer crisp views of the outdoors.
Friends and stuff: The lovely Mrs. Passenger Seat echoed my complaints when sitting in her side of the vehicle. Legroom in the rear was sufficient, and the seat was comfortable enough, reported nearly 6-foot Sturgis Kid 4.0, but the lack of an armrest was notable.
Up front, a tiny armrest console didn't hold much more than a couple smartphones. An open console underneath the shift lever holds a few pieces, but not securely. Fortunately, the glove box is large.
The HR-V offers 55 to 58 cubic feet of cargo space behind the first row of seats, 23 to 24 behind the second. (Less than the Soul, more than the Encore, far more than the CX-3.)
The view: Unfortunately, I could pick two out of three: seeing the speedometer; keeping my arms comfortable; or keeping my back comfortable.
Fuel economy: I averaged just above 28 miles per gallon in a mix of driving that included a trip to the Poconos. Not the worst, but I was expecting a little better.
Where it's built: Celaya, Mexico
How it's built: New for the model year, the HR-V doesn't rate Consumer Reports reliability data.
Next week: How does the Mazda CX-3 stack up?