Review: Honda ZR-V e:HEV offers SUV capability with sporty sedan feel - and it's great with fuel

Honda ZR-V e:HEV
The Honda ZR-V e:HEV. Photo credit: Tarmac Life

By Dave McLeod of Tarmac Life

Fieldays is a popular agricultural annual event held in Hamilton. Not only is it filled with everything a farmer could want or dream of, but it's also become a bit of a car show for NZ distributors to display their wares - farmers drive cars too.

Admittedly, Honda's sleek new ZR-V SUV and Fieldays don't exactly go hand in hand, but as I found out, it was the perfect vehicle to make the trip there and back from Auckland - more on that soon.

As some of you may already have read, Honda NZ launched the ZR-V with a dream theme, and the brand's founder and biggest dreamer of all, Soichiro Honda, would certainly approve. He was a workfloor mechanic that dreamt of building vehicles (and indeed a corporation) with a sporty yet luxurious bent and the ZR-V fits that brief to a tea - probably green tea in fairness.

New Zealand has two ZR-V models to choose from, the Turbo with a 1.5L Turbo Engine and Auto CVT, and the e:HEV Sport, which I managed to get my hands on.

In terms of looks, it's got a nice and long sculpted bonnet that draws your eyes to a 10-slat, piano-black grille. The grille itself is a bit 'gaping-mouth' but above it sits the Honda badge with a blue surround to let you know it's an e:HEV. The headlights are sleek and LEDs with a new signature to its DRLs.

My review model came in what Honda calls 'Nordic Frost Pearl': it's got a kind of Nordic blue feel about it and is one of the hero colours. With an overall size of around 4.67m in length and about 1.67m tall, it sits sweetly between the HR-V and the CR-V, offering space without filling up the garage.

The wheel arches are colour-coded in Nordic Frost Pearl and surround 18-inch feet wrapped in performance tires; the sills and door handles are also colour-coded and the roof line slopes down to the rear like a sporty SUV should.

The rear comes with a roofline spoiler, a blue Honda badge, 'smoky' LED lights and twin exhaust tips, while the kicker tailgate opens up to 370L of luggage space (10L less than the Turbo). A cool feature of the tailgate is the delayed 'walkaway' closing: a push of the button means you can gather your stuff and simply walk away, the tailgate closing when you leave - very handy.

Honda ZR-V e:HEV
Photo credit: Tarmac Life

Under the bonnet is Honda's upgraded e:HEV twin motor system. The 2L engine acts as a generator that powers a small battery which sends it onto an electrical motor that drives the wheels. It may sound complicated but as a driver, all you have to do is fill up with fuel (it even takes 91) and the e:Hev system does the rest. The system gives you 135kW of power and 315Nm of torque, and as it's mated to an eCVT, the fuel economy is 5.5l/100km and emits 126g of carbons per km - all with an EV driving feel.

The ZR-V's sporty-lux theme flows into the interior too, with supportive leather-appointed furniture (heated for those in the front) and a driving position that gives you the sensation of driving a sedan - it's very un-SUV like. The trim is primarily soft-touch with chrome and gloss finishes, and it's roomy too, with a great use of cubbies and stowage.

Unlike the Turbo option, the gear selection PDNR is done via push buttons and the drive modes (there are three) via a toggle switch. You get a wireless charging pad for your phone and both USB A and C ports for additional charging.

Infotainment comes courtesy of Honda's familiar and orderly screen system with Apple/Android compatibility, a 12-speaker Bose audio system (which sounds really good) and Garmin Navigation.

Being an e:HEV, along with the usual apps and aids, you get a real-time view of how the energy is flowing through your ZR-V and of course, how you're doing in terms of efficiency - I actually got very close to the 'claimed'.

The instrument cluster is a mixture of digital as well as analog, with gauges for petrol and battery levels, power and speed rates and a small image of the ZR-V in the centre that shows when you're braking and indicating - which oddly, I really liked.

The steering wheel is leather-wrapped and heated, there are numerous buttons for controlling adaptive cruise, audio and communication and behind it are NSX-inspired paddles that adjust the brake regen intensity.

Honda ZR-V e:HEV
Photo credit: Tarmac Life

On the move, the first thing you notice is just how smooth and quiet the ZR-V is: seriously, pins dropping would be easy to hear (if there wasn't any carpet in the ZR-V). Our roads are notoriously unkempt right now, but even on the performance rubber, the ZR-V was undeterred.

As outlined before, the driving feel is EV-like, with only the electric motor moving the wheels and as such, off-the-line sprints are enthusiastic, great for on-ramps - and traction feels confident, even in the crappy wet weather we are currently experiencing.

The lower seating position in the front (the rear is more SUV-like) means the view out front is of the sculpted bonnet, and the world seems to go by that little bit faster: however, in true Honda style, visibility all round is very open.

Honda ZR-V e:HEV
Photo credit: Tarmac Life

Now about that Fieldays venture. Getting up early in the morning to head to a big paddock in Hamilton is not my idea of fun, but with the heated seats and steering wheel, my fave tunes on the stereo and the adaptive cruise set to (ahem) 100km/h, the drive south was dreamy - or maybe I was still half asleep.

Honda's suite of advanced safety aids ensured no blind spot was left behind and with the fuel gauge claiming 950+km, range anxiety wasn't even worth mentioning.

Once free of Auckland (and having stopped for a bacon sarnie at Pokeno), the SH1 opens to 110km/h and the tarmac is actually less open-pored, meaning I managed to get to the Mystery Creek turn off before I was even aware, although the long line of traffic was a good indicator. Having such a considerable amount of range up my sleeve, I decided to keep heading south, take the next exit and double back - a genius move as it turned out and took a solid 20 mins off my ETA, according to Google.

Parking in a field would have probably worried me had I been in a Civic, but the elevated ride height in the ZR-V was again no issue, and with 360-degree camera views and gumboots at the ready, I hit the event with enthusiasm.

The return trip was much the same, although I didn't take the long way or stop for a buttie, and I arrived home with well over half a tank of fuel to play with - feeling very smug.

Honda ZR-V e:HEV
Photo credit: Tarmac Life

The Honda ZR-V e:HEV really is a dream to drive, offering SUV capability but with a sporty sedan feel. It's easy to navigate around in, quick off the mark and great with fuel - a real positive with prices set to go up.

Why you should: It's a unique style of hybrid that drives like an EV but doesn't need charging. It also feels like sedan when behind the wheel.

Why you shouldn't: The engine coming on when it chooses may unnerve some and sitting low in an SUV defeats the object of buying one, right?

What else to consider: The closest to this hybrid configuration would be the Nissan X-Trail or Qashqai - and both are more traditional SUV in style.

Tarmac Life