Road tests

New Honda ZR-V hybrid 2023 review

The new Honda ZR-V crossover has arrived to take on the Nissan Qashqai and Kia Sportage

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

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Honda’s new ZR-V has the fundamentals needed to make it a compelling C-segment SUV option. It’s spacious, well built and has very impressive real-world efficiency, so is easy to recommend. But while the ZR-V is good, it’s not great, lacking the flair and polish that makes the new Civic so impressive. 

If you’re in the market for a mid-size SUV, which an awful lot of buyers in the UK are these days, Honda’s just brought to market an intriguing new option to rival the top-selling Nissan Qashqai and Kia Sportage. Called ZR-V, Honda claims its new SUV offers a compelling combination of an efficient hybrid engine, spacious interior and excellent build quality, offered up in a simple and highly specified range. The most popular of which is destined to be the mid-level Sport model we’re driving here, which kicks off at £41,095. 

All British market ZR-Vs feature Honda’s e:Hev powertrain that combines a 2-litre petrol engine and two electric motors powering the front wheels. Configured in a generator-style layout, the petrol engine is largely used to power one of the two electric motors via a small battery pack, with that second electric motor working to fill gaps in performance and smooth out the powertrain’s operations. It’s a complex system on paper, but in operation is simple and extremely smooth, like driving an EV with a petrol engine whirring away in the background.

Powertrain numbers can be tricky to pin down because of this inbuilt complexity, but the 181bhp and 315Nm of torque produced by the main electric motor are the most relevant in terms of portraying the ZR-V’s on-road performance. More impressive, however, is the 50mpg we recorded on our test, even when pushing that hybrid powertrain quite hard. 

The ZR-V Sport model we’re testing here is well equipped with all the key features such as built-in satellite navigation, dual-zone climate control, 18-inch wheels, LED headlights and wireless phone charging all standard. For high-end inclusions like a Bose sound system, panoramic sunroof, leather seats or a head-up display you’ll need to plump for the Advanced model. 

As you might have noticed, the Honda ZR-V looks a little more rotund than most contemporary Honda models, something that portrays this specific model’s focus on the American and Chinese markets. It looks more buddha than bobcat.

The payoff is very impressive interior space and a commodious boot, with 380 litres with the rear seats up expanding to 1,291 litres with them down. Up front, the ZR-V’s interior has sound fundamentals with a driving position that straddles those of a traditional hatchback and an SUV, with excellent visibility and a clean, easy-to-use infotainment system. But when it comes to design and overall build quality, you can sense that the ZR-V has a less precise approach than some of its range-mates. Material quality isn’t brilliant, and some of the design choices such as the odd centre console don’t feel well thought-out in the same way as in some of Honda’s other models. 

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In town driving and at low speeds the Honda ZR-V’s e:Hev powertrain finds its sweet spot, with the electric motor offering instant torque from the go-ahead and a surprisingly high proportion of low-speed driving able to be carried out without any reliance on the petrol engine. It’s also here that you’ll appreciate the precise steering and good visibility – this is a very easy car to drive, and not by accident but through a selection of very deliberate decisions made by Honda’s engineers and designers. 

Things start getting a little more compromised as speeds rise, though. The relatively firm ride and heavy steering make it feel secure on motorways, and the engine’s clever direct drive keeps things efficient at a steady pace, but the powertrain needs to be worked in order to keep up with fast-moving traffic, compromising both its efficiency and refinement. Ask for even more performance for an overtake or steep uphill section and things can get a little hectic as the engine flurries away under the bonnet to give the e-motor as much performance as possible. 

To help make the ZR-V more engaging in such scenarios, Honda steps the engine speeds up incrementally as you accelerate but in practice this feels a little weird, almost like you’re driving an off-roader stuck in low-range. While on the topic, it’s also worth mentioning that the ZR-V is definitely a crossover in body and soul, so there’s no all-wheel drive option and absolutely no emphasis on off-road driving. 

For buyers looking for a reliable, spacious and easy to drive SUV that’s also efficient and well equipped, the ZR-V ticks all those boxes. At £39,495 for the entry-model, it’s not cheap, but with impressive standard kit and only marginal price rises to the Sport and Advance grades, the value proposition gets better the further up the range ladder you go.

Against its rivals, the Honda ZR-V offers an impressive combination of practical traits that, paired with the right finance deals, should see it become one of Honda’s best sellers. Yet if you’re looking for something with a bit more pizazz, the ZR-V falls slightly flat, and with so many close competitors just being good sometimes isn’t enough.

Model: Honda ZR-V Sport
Price: £41,095 (approx)
Engine: 2-litre 4cyl hybrid petrol
Power/torque: 181bhp/315Nm
Transmission: Single-speed with selectable direct drive, front-wheel drive
0-62mph: 7.9 seconds
Top speed: 107mph
Economy/CO2: 48.7mpg/131g/km
On sale: Now
Senior staff writer

Senior staff writer at Auto Express, Jordan joined the team after six years at evo magazine where he specialised in news and reviews of cars at the high performance end of the car market. 

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