Honda's eleventh generation Civic family hatch embraces full-Hybrid tech. Jonathan Crouch takes a look.
Ten Second Review
Honda at last has a really serious entry in the volume part of the mid-sized family SUV segment with this car, the ZR-V. This Civic-based crossover only comes as a self-charging full-Hybrid and claims sporty drive dynamics and premium quality. If you like the looks, need efficiency, don't really want to plug in and aren't hung up on a posh brand, it could be worth a look.
It's about time that Honda had a properly market-focused C-segment 'Qashqai'-class family SUV. Original turn-of-the-century versions of the company's CR-V were targeted in that way, but later CR-Vs were sized and targeted at the upper mid-sized crossover class above; and the latest sixth generation design in the CR-V model line has been pushed even further up-market. But that's left space in the range for a Civic-based SUV to slot in above the brand's compact HR-V. And this is it, the ZR-V.
It's basically a crossover version of the eleventh generation Civic hatch. The dashboard is much the same, as is the full-Hybrid e:HEV petrol engine, the only powertrain on offer. This car is called the 'HR-V' in the US, but it's quite a lot bigger than the supermini-based HR-V model we know here. Honda says it wants to target younger family customers, folk who'll approve of the ZR-V's role in the company's ambitious electrification strategy which aims to see the brand become completely carbon neutral by 2050.
Honda wants the ZR-V to be seen as 'sporty' by family SUV standards. Which would make it fairly unusual in the Qashqai class. And unusual too for a full-Hybrid, a 2.0-litre non-plug-in 181bhp petrol engine that sort being the only one available. Still, it's a trick the Civic e:HEV manages to pull off and the ZR-V e:HEV has all the same underpinnings and engineering. Which means that, like that Civic model, this crossover is a curious confection: an EV - but not an EV.
The main role of the engine we mentioned isn't to drive the wheels but to generate energy for a little 1.05kWh lithium-ion battery that drives two electric motors. Unlike Toyota or Hyundai full-Hybrids, this one has no gearbox between the powertrain and the wheels. Instead, the e:HEV system itself shifts seamlessly between 'EV', 'Hybrid' and 'Engine' drive phases as you move along. 'EV' drive propels you from start off and at low speeds and 'Hybrid' drive cuts in when extra acceleration is called for. Only at steady high speeds does 'Engine' drive kick in, but that happens only briefly because as you approach top speed and the required drive energy becomes higher again, the system switches back into the 'Hybrid' phase to re-unleash the full output of the electric motors. All of this happens without driver input but, as in the Civic, the e:HEV system does also offers various selectable driving modes - 'Eco', 'Normal', 'Sport' and 'Individual'.
Design and Build
It's to Honda's credit that the ZR-V looks like a bespoke design rather than a Civic on steroids, though that's essentially what it is. With a length of 4,570mm and a width of 1,840mm, it's well clear of the brand's smaller HR-V crossover. Instead, the dimensions are similar to those of the old fifth generation CR-V. The ZR-V is a sportier-looking thing than the MK6 CR-V - the roofline is 20mm lower. The front features a long bonnet flowing into a narrow grille flanked by slim LED headlights. The rear C-pillars are narrow too and there are the usual big wheels with black arch cladding.
It's much more recognisable as a Civic-derived model inside, the ZR-V adopting that car's 'horizontal' interior design language, with features like a hidden air vent spanning the width of the cabin. But there's a more open approach to the fascia architecture, shedding the Civic's high centre console and adopting a taller driving position to suit the crossover body. The screens are Civic-derived of course - a 10.2-inch digital instrument cluster and a 9.0-inch central infotainment screen.
There's a premium vibe behind the wheel - lots of soft-touch surfaces and doors that 'clunk' shut with a solid feel. One of the reasons you'd choose a ZR-V over a Civic would presumably be to get more back seat space, but the tapering rear roofline robs the car of at least an inch of headroom at the back. Your expectations in boot space might be better met: there's 380-litres of it, around 20% more cargo capacity than you'd get in the smaller HR-V. With the back seat folded, that rises to 1,312-litres.
Market and Model
Expect your ZR-V e:HEV to start from around the £40,000 mark and you won't be too far out. That base figure gets you entry-level 'Elegance' trim. Above that, there's a mid-level 'Sport' grade and top 'Advance'-spec requires a £43,000 budget. At least you get plenty of kit for across the range. All variants come with LED headlights featuring a High beam Support System, plus there's auto headlamps and wipers, rear privacy glass, all-round parking sensors, adaptive cruise control, a security alarm system and 'smart entry and start' keyless entry. There's also a really high standard of 'Honda SENSING' camera safety kit, which is fitted right across the range.
Inside, all versions get dual auto air conditioning, a reversing camera, heated front seats with electric lumbar support for the driver and a 7-inch 'Multi Info' instrument display screen. Plus there are paddles for control of regenerative braking and deceleration. Infotainment connectivity is taken care of by a Honda CONNECT' 9-inch touchscreen, which incorporates navigation, 'Apple CarPlay' and 'Android Auto' smartphone-mirroring, live traffic information and an 8-speaker DAB audio system with front tweeters. Plus you get over-the-air updates and a voice command system. With this car, Honda is also offering the latest version of its Honda+ smartphone app, which includes remote vehicle locking and unlocking, plus 'intelligent geofencing', which alerts an owner if the vehicle breaches a pre-set 'geofence' zone. Plus there's the ability to send journey information from the app to the car's navigation system.
Cost of Ownership
As with this Hybrid engine in the Civic, the efficiency figures here aren't class leading, but Honda claims that they're more achievable. Expect similar stats to those you'd get in the brand's smaller 1.5-litre HR-V Hybrid crossover, which means around 50mpg on the combined cycle and just 120g/km of CO2.
To get the 'real world' returns that Honda promises, you'll obviously need to do your bit as a driver. Which means regularly engaging the most frugal of the four drive settings ('Econ') or in the 'Individual' mode running the 'Powertrain' in its 'Econ' setting. You'll also need to maximise regenerative braking via the steering wheel paddles; and keep an eye on the instrument binnacle's left hand Power Meter. The car does its bit to help out too, contributing with a 'Predictive Eco Assist' system, which optimises the battery state of charge based on the road information and traffic conditions of the selected route. And the centre monitor has a selectable 'Powerflow' option which has mpg and drive range meters flanking an Energy Monitor that shows you at any given time what's being powered by what.
The three year, 90,000-mile warranty is better than the package you get from many competitors. In addition, surface corrosion is covered for three years, exhaust corrosion is covered for five years, chassis corrosion is covered for ten years and structural corrosion for twelve years. Honda rightfully has a very good reputation for reliability. The brand makes it possible to budget ahead for scheduled maintenance with a fixed-price scheme called 'Five' that covers servicing for a total of five years.
The ZR-V has arrived about a decade too late to establish Honda as a major player in the 'Qashqai'-class SUV C-segment, a role the brand's CR-V has increasingly been too large and expensive to fulfil. Even now we have it, the ZR-V's impact will be limited to niche player status by punchy pricing and the single Hybrid engine option. But if you were looking at eco-minded non-plug-in electrified models in this sector like the Renault Austral, the Ford Kuga Hybrid or the Nissan Qashqai e-POWER, then the ZR-V needs factoring into your deliberations.
You're likely to find it sharper to drive and, at the wheel, more ergonomically pleasing than its rivals. It's based on engineering of enviable quality. And it's a Honda with Civic design genes going back half a century. Potentially then, lots to like.