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Honda ZR-V 2023 review

The Honda ZR-V slots between the compact HR-V and growing CR-V in the brand’s expanded SUV line-up.

Launching any brand-new vehicle into the Australian market isn't easy, as we have the most competitive new car industry in the world.

It's even tougher when your new model is entering the most hard-fought sector of that industry. And it's even more challenging when you haven't done it in 20 years.

That's what Honda is trying to do with its all-new ZR-V. It's the Japanese brand's first all-new model in two decades and it enters the cut-throat mid-size SUV segment where it will go up against the likes of the Hyundai Kona, Kia Seltos, Mazda CX-5 and Toyota Corolla Cross.

But the ZR-V arrives at an interesting time for the brand, as it finally finds its footing after switching to its controversial 'agency model' of selling cars directly to the public, rather than via dealers.

It took a lot of flak for this approach, and the subsequent drop in sales and rise in non-negotiable prices, but with the new-generation Civic now available alongside the HR-V and a new CR-V due soon, Honda may be on the up again.

Which is appropriate because back in 1997 when Honda first introduced the CR-V it was a 'semi-premium' brand with the likes of the Prelude, Legend and Integra as well as the Civic.

After years of fluctuating fortunes, the brand is once again trying to re-establish itself as 'semi-premium' in terms of the quality of its models and its price positioning, and the ZR-V is the next step in the process.

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Price and features – Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?

The ZR-V slots into the Honda range between the HR-V and CR-V, both in terms of size and price. As with all Honda models since it went to the 'agency model' prices are a non-negotiable drive-away figure, so while you may not be able to haggle you do know what you'll be paying when you decide to buy.

There are four models in the initial line-up, starting with the petrol-only VTi X at $40,200, then the VTi L from $43,200 and VTi LX at $48,500 before the hybrid e:HEV LX caps the range at $54,900.

Standard gear includes 17-inch alloy wheels. Standard gear includes 17-inch alloy wheels.

Honda has said it hopes to introduce a more affordable hybrid grade in the future, but hasn't locked in any details.

In keeping with its simplified line-up there are only five colour choices across the range - 'Platinum White', 'Platinum Grey', 'Premium Crystal Garnet', 'Crystal Black' and 'Premium Crystal Blue'. And to make things even simpler, the entry-level VTi X can only be had in the first three colours.

It features wireless Apple CarPlay, wired Android Auto, Bluetooth connectivity and digital radio. It features wireless Apple CarPlay, wired Android Auto, Bluetooth connectivity and digital radio.

The VTi X comes well-equipped, though, even if it's limited in terms of paint options. Standard gear includes 17-inch alloy wheels, adaptive LED headlights, a 10.2-inch digital instrument panel, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and ignition, two-tone fabric seat trim and a 9.0-inch multimedia touchscreen with wireless Apple CarPlay, wired Android Auto, Bluetooth connectivity and digital radio.

Stepping up to the VTi L adds LED light bars, a hands-free power tailgate, heated side mirrors, black synthetic leather seats with fabric trim and heated front seats.

The range-topping LX pair get a few notable extras including an 'Econ' mode, leather-appointed seat trim, power adjustable driver and front passenger seats, satellite navigation, a wireless smartphone charging pad, a 12-speaker Bose premium sound system and a 360-degree parking camera set-up. The hybrid also has an acoustic warning when it's in EV mode and a 'Smart Key' card.

The range-topping LX pair get a wireless smartphone charging pad. The range-topping LX pair get a wireless smartphone charging pad.

Design - Is there anything interesting about its design?

Whether by design or just a consequence of the restrictive safety rules all car designers are forced to follow, the ZR-V has a somewhat derivative face.

At least to this reviewer's eyes there are elements of the Maserati Grecale, Mercedes-AMG GLC and Ford Escape in the face.

Not that it's an unpleasant looking car, far from it, with a refined appearance but it doesn't have an overtly 'Honda' look to it in the same way the new Civic and incoming CR-V share some design elements.

  • The Honda ZR-V slots between the compact HR-V and growing CR-V in the brand’s expanded SUV line-up. The Honda ZR-V slots between the compact HR-V and growing CR-V in the brand’s expanded SUV line-up.
  • More than its cosmetic appearance, the most interesting element of the design of the ZR-V is its size. More than its cosmetic appearance, the most interesting element of the design of the ZR-V is its size.
  • Officially it’s a ‘mid-size' SUV which puts it in the same segment as the current CR-V, which at first glance seems an odd choice from Honda. Officially it’s a ‘mid-size' SUV which puts it in the same segment as the current CR-V, which at first glance seems an odd choice from Honda.

Perhaps that was a deliberate choice, to separate the ZR-V and Civic visually as they share much of the same mechanical DNA under the surface.

More than its cosmetic appearance, the most interesting element of the design of the ZR-V is its size. Officially it's a 'mid-size' SUV which puts it in the same segment as the current CR-V, which at first glance seems an odd choice from Honda.

But, the incoming, new-generation CR-V is longer, wider and taller so the move will make sense in the not-too-distant future.

The most obvious connection between the pair is the horizontal honeycomb strip that runs across the centre of the dashboard to split the multimedia and climate controls. The most obvious connection between the pair is the horizontal honeycomb strip that runs across the centre of the dashboard to split the multimedia and climate controls.

The other notable element of this new model is its badge, specifically the decision to badge it 'HondaZR-V' rather than just 'ZR-V', as it does across the rest of the range.

The designation is on the rear of the car as well as the door sills in the high-grade models and the company says it was done for a variety of reasons including the fact they want to cement the new nameplate as a Honda model.

But, interestingly, Honda also said it was in-part inspired by the Chinese carmakers, which have been using the same tactic and Honda wants to see what impact it will have.

As soon as you climb aboard the ZR-V (or Honda ZR-V, if you prefer) you notice the clear family resemblance between the latest Civic and this new SUV. As soon as you climb aboard the ZR-V (or Honda ZR-V, if you prefer) you notice the clear family resemblance between the latest Civic and this new SUV.

Practicality – How practical is its space and tech inside?

As soon as you climb aboard the ZR-V (or Honda ZR-V, if you prefer) you notice the clear family resemblance between the latest Civic and this new SUV, with the same design theme carried over.

The most obvious connection between the pair is the horizontal honeycomb strip that runs across the centre of the dashboard to split the multimedia and climate controls.

The digital instrument display and media screen create a hi-tech feeling to the interior that's needed for this type of SUV, particularly at this price.

There’s a thoughtfulness to the layout and design that should appeal to owners over the long run. There’s a thoughtfulness to the layout and design that should appeal to owners over the long run.

In addition, there's a thoughtfulness to the layout and design that should appeal to owners over the long run.

There's plenty of small item storage space, including two cupholders, bottle holders in the doors and two small shelves to pop your phone (on the LX models one of those shelves is the smartphone charging pad). There is both a USB-C and USB-A port in the front as well as a pair of USB-C sockets in the rear.

The seats are comfortable and supportive up front, but the lack of power adjustment is noticed in the two lower model grades.

Space in the second row is good for an SUV of this size, even if the ZR-V is very much on the smaller side of a ‘mid-size’ SUV. Space in the second row is good for an SUV of this size, even if the ZR-V is very much on the smaller side of a ‘mid-size’ SUV.

Space in the second row is good for an SUV of this size, even if the ZR-V is very much on the smaller side of a 'mid-size' SUV.

At 180cm I'm able to sit behind my driving position in relative comfort, with adequate head and knee room, although shoulder room is a little tight.

Because of that, getting three adults or older teenagers across the back would be a squeeze, but smaller kids should be fine to sit in the rear.

There’s plenty of small item storage space, including two cupholders. There’s plenty of small item storage space, including two cupholders.

For younger families there is a pair of ISOFIX anchors in the rear, but once you get two car seats in the middle seat is likely to be very compromised.

Out the back, the boot measures 380 litres in the two lower grades and just 370 litres in the higher grades (thanks to the LX models getting a sub-woofer as part of the premium sound system).

That's slightly below its key rivals, with the CX-5 boasting 438 litres, the Kia Seltos at least 433 litres and the Corolla Cross 436 litres.

  • Out the back, the boot measures 380 litres in the two lower grades and just 370 litres in the higher grades. Out the back, the boot measures 380 litres in the two lower grades and just 370 litres in the higher grades.
  • That’s slightly below its key rivals, with the CX-5 boasting 438 litres, the Kia Seltos at least 433 litres and the Corolla Cross 436 litres. That’s slightly below its key rivals, with the CX-5 boasting 438 litres, the Kia Seltos at least 433 litres and the Corolla Cross 436 litres.
  • This comes despite the ZR-V using a space saver spare for the petrol models and a tyre repair kit for the hybrid. This comes despite the ZR-V using a space saver spare for the petrol models and a tyre repair kit for the hybrid.

This comes despite the ZR-V using a space saver spare for the petrol models and a tyre repair kit for the hybrid.

The power tailgate function on the VTi L and above not only includes the ability to open it with a wave of your foot, but you can also press a button that will close and lock the car once you walk away with the key - which is helpful if you've got both hands full.

Under the bonnet – What are the key stats for its engine and transmission?

As alluded to earlier, there are two powertrain options for the ZR-V -  a turbocharged petrol engine and a petrol-electric hybrid.

The petrol engine is a 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder unit which makes 131kW/240Nm. It's paired to a CVT auto and drives the front wheels only, just like the Civic.

The hybrid system combines a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine with an integrated electric motor to make 135kW/315Nm. It gets a unique electronic CVT with shift-by-wire technology reportedly taken from Honda's NSX supercar.

As alluded to earlier, there are two powertrain options for the ZR-V -  a turbocharged petrol engine and a petrol-electric hybrid. As alluded to earlier, there are two powertrain options for the ZR-V - a turbocharged petrol engine and a petrol-electric hybrid.

Efficiency – What is its fuel consumption? What is its driving range?

Unsurprisingly the e:HEV is the most fuel-efficient member of the ZR-V range, with a claimed urban/highway cycle of 5.0-litres per 100km.

Impressively, on our initial drive of the hybrid, which involved more open road than urban commuting, we managed to hit the official claim. Which is a positive sign but one we'll investigate further during subsequent reviews when we have more time behind the wheel for a more representative test.

That compares to 7.0L/100km for the VTi X with its 17-inch alloys and 7.2L/100km for the VTi L and VTi LX with the bigger 18-inch wheels.

All models use the same 57-litre fuel tank, which gives the hybrid a theoretical range of more than 1100km, the VTi X more than 800km and the VTi L and LX approximately 790km of driving between stops at the petrol bowser.

Driving – What's it like to drive?

Because of its connection to the Civic Honda pushes the dynamic capabilities of the ZR-V - and not without cause. It's a genuinely enjoyable SUV to drive, with an engaging, almost-but-not-quite, sporty character.

The ZR-V is only available with front-wheel drive, skipping any of the pretence of its being an 'off-roader' like so many of its all-wheel drive rivals, which means it drives quite similarly to the Civic in many respects.

It steers with a directness not all of its rivals can match and the ride is compliant while still offering good body control.

It steers with a directness not all of its rivals can match and the ride is compliant while still offering good body control. It steers with a directness not all of its rivals can match and the ride is compliant while still offering good body control.

While that makes it enjoyable on the open road, the majority of ZR-V buyers will use it in the urban setting and this dynamic ability helps there, too. It feels agile and responsive in traffic and the steering is nicely weighted for parking.

The 1.5-litre turbo-petrol engine is a gem, providing good performance for an SUV of this size. It's not going to shove you back into your seat, but it does have good punch off the mark or when you need a burst of acceleration.

Which is more impressive because it uses a CVT, which have a habit of dulling the performance of an engine and leaving it feeling 'doughy' - which is not the case here.

The hybrid engine lacks the same kind of feeling, even if it offers a lot more torque. That's in large part because it doesn't have the smooth, linear power delivery of the turbo-petrol, instead relying on the 2.0-litre non-turbo engine and then adding a surge of torque from the electric motor when needed.

It’s a genuinely enjoyable SUV to drive, with an engaging, almost-but-not-quite, sporty character. It’s a genuinely enjoyable SUV to drive, with an engaging, almost-but-not-quite, sporty character.

Safety – What safety equipment is fitted? What is its safety rating?

The safety offered across the ZR-V line-up is impressive, with even the entry-grade VTi X getting a comprehensive suite of passive and active safety features.

On the passive front, there are 11 airbags in total - front, centre, knee, side and full-length curtain airbags.

The ZR-V features the same "donut-shaped" driver's side airbag first introduced on the Civic to try and reduce the amount of head rotation in the event of a crash.

The passenger side gets a three-chamber design, which has been created for the same reason.

Also standard across the range are front and rear parking sensors and a rear-view camera (although the VTi X and L miss out on the 360-degree parking camera system).

The safety offered across the ZR-V line-up is impressive. The safety offered across the ZR-V line-up is impressive.

In terms of active safety, the ZR-V comes well-equipped with the 'Honda Sensing' suite which includes forward collision warning, collision mitigation braking, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, a road departure mitigation system, low speed follow, low speed braking control, traffic sign recognition and adaptive cruise control.

The only safety items the VTi X and VTi L grades miss is blind spot monitoring, while the hybrid gets an acoustic warning in EV mode.

The ZR-V also comes with a five-year subscription to 'Honda Connect' across the entire range. This smartphone connectivity system includes a connection to a 24/7 call centre in the event of an accident.

At the time of publication the ZR-V had not been crash tested by ANCAP so doesn't have a score, but we'll update you if that changes, so stay tuned.

Ownership – What warranty is offered? What are its service intervals? What are its running costs?

The ZR-V is covered by Honda's five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty that also includes roadside assistance for the same period, as well as the previously mentioned Honda Connect subscription.

Servicing intervals are every 12 months or 10,000km, which is slightly below average in terms of mileage with many rivals capable of 15,000km or more before between services. Not likely a major issue for those who don't drive a lot during a year, but worth remembering if you plan on doing high kays.

Another element of Honda's centralised way of doing business is a capped price servicing plan that charges an annual flat fee of $199 for the first five years across its entire range, so you know you'll be paying $995 regardless of which model you buy.

The safety offered across the ZR-V line-up is impressive. The safety offered across the ZR-V line-up is impressive.


The Wrap

Honda may have chosen a difficult task for itself in entering the mid-size SUV segment with its first all-new model in 20 years, but it's a risk that's paid off. At least based on our initial impression, the ZR-V is a worthy contender in this segment and will hold its own against the likes of the Kia Seltos, Mazda CX-5 and Toyota Corolla Cross.

Whether or not it will become a popular model remains to be seen and will largely hinge on Honda's ability to convince buyers to take a chance on something new - and convince them of its value equation.

In terms of a sweet spot in the range, the entry-level VTi X would be our choice. While it does miss out on some features - such as the charging pad and wireless charging pad - it has the key elements in terms of the driving experience, clever design and a good safety package, which is what most buyers will be looking for.

Note: CarsGuide attended this event as a guest of the manufacturer, with meals provided.

Likes

Polish on-road manners
Efficient hybrid engine
Clear, simple model structure

Dislikes

Limited hybrid range - for now
Styling feels derivative
Below-average boot

Scores

Stephen:

4.3

The Kids:

4

$40,200

Based on new car retail price

VIEW PRICING & SPECS

Disclaimer: The pricing information shown in the editorial content (Review Prices) is to be used as a guide only and is based on information provided to Carsguide Autotrader Media Solutions Pty Ltd (Carsguide) both by third party sources and the car manufacturer at the time of publication. The Review Prices were correct at the time of publication.  Carsguide does not warrant or represent that the information is accurate, reliable, complete, current or suitable for any particular purpose. You should not use or rely upon this information without conducting an independent assessment and valuation of the vehicle.