DRIVEN: 2018 Honda HR-V RS first impressions, new Variable Gear Ratio steering system sampled

The Honda HR-V has well and truly withstood the test of time. Originally launched here in February 2015, the Hi-Rider Revolutionary Vehicle (in case you forgot what it stood for) pretty much sailed through to 2018, topping the B-segment crossover sales chart and leaving most of its rivals green with envy. In fact, the HR-V is Honda Malaysia’s second most popular model after the City, accounting for a full 30% of the company’s total sales.

Some phenomenon, isn’t it? Even after all those years, demand remains bullish. But how do you up the ante? Or rather, how much better can the HR-V get? Not by a whole lot apparently, as you’ll find out in a bit. Let’s just say, if it ain’t broke… After all, the HR-V was indeed the model that sparked the subcompact crossover craze in Malaysia.

In a superficial market, style is paramount, because nobody wants to be seen driving an ugly car (read: Chevy Orlando, Fiat Multipla), no matter the practicality. The HR-V had already hit a home run in that regard, but looks-wise, it lags behind the more eye-catching Mazda CX-3 and head-turning Toyota C-HR. With the HR-V RS, the gap is now narrower than ever before.

The new variant supersedes the V-spec as the range-topping model, with ample emphasis on style and sportiness. To clarify, RS doesn’t stand for Really Sporty. It’s actually short for Road Sailing, a moniker Honda gives to its vehicles that have a sporty look “from all angles.”

While Road Sailing doesn’t quite sound as sexy, the car itself is rather fetching, especially when viewed up front. The new Passion Red Pearl paint also helps elevate appeal, although the shade graduates to vermillion when struck by sunlight.

The HR-V facelift range features a new front end, starting with a chunkier grille with winglets that taper outwards atop the new, full LED headlights (high beam and turn signals are also LED). The headlights are now slimmer, but get reflectors instead of projector LED modules from the outgoing model. The lower intake benefits from a honeycomb-type grille, next to which are LED fog lamps arranged in horizontal fashion, much like the CR-V.

At launch, the RS will be the sole variant to ride on 18-inch dual-tone alloy wheels, shod with 225/50 profile Continental UltraContact UC6 tyres. These rubbers are slightly wider than the 215/55 profile fitted to lesser variants, which ride on the carry-over 17-inch hoops. Also making its debut on the facelift is Honda LaneWatch, which displays a video feed (on the head unit, fed via a camera under the left wing mirror) of the blind spot when signalling left.

Round the back, a new tailgate garnish in dark chrome connects the two tube-style LED tail lights. The plastic mouldings around the car have also been painted in gloss black, and this includes the lower lip and reprofiled rear bumper.

Usually at this point we’d be elaborating on the interior, but all details pertaining to change will have to be put on hold till the launch date. The best we can do is leave you to your imagination with this photo, although a few differences in trim, equipment and upholstery can be expected. The well-loved Ultra Seats, which allow multiple configurations for haulage, is retained.

Mechanically, the HR-V is unchanged, so the existing 1.8 litre SOHC i-VTEC engine continues propulsion duties. The four-cylinder petrol engine produces 142 PS and 172 Nm, and all that power is sent to the front wheels through a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) with paddle shifters. There’s no guarantee of the 1.5 litre turbo‘s debut here, but maybe the HR-V hybrid will. Just maybe.

On the drive, there wasn’t much we could do to holistically evaluate the updated HR-V. The teaser test drive event was held at a secured location and consisted of the usual acceleration/braking test and slalom course, so expect the full review to be up sometime after the launch. However, the premise allowed for a quick sampling of the new Variable Gear Ratio (VGR) steering system, which is only available on the HR-V RS.

Essentially, VGR is an adaptive steering system that changes the gear ratio and amount of steering angle according to the vehicle’s speed. At the low speed slalom course (about 20 to 30 km/h), the steering wheel feels lighter and consequently quicker, making the HR-V feel a tad more agile than before. This is where VGR feels most pronounced, and it should make city driving and parking less of a chore.

DRIVEN: 2018 Honda HR-V RS first impressions, new Variable Gear Ratio steering system sampled

At higher speeds, VGR increases the gearing ratio, which makes the steering less sensitive to small and sudden input. This imparts a better sense of stability, so I’d imagine long distance driving to be less tiring. Again, this can only be corroborated once we get our hands on a registered loaner, but the theory is as such.

In the double lane change exercise, we drove the older HR-V against the new RS and found the steering response to be rather similar. The course, which was designed to simulate an emergency lane change at 60 km/h, proved that both cars fared very similarly, although the RS feels just a tiny bit quicker to respond. As for performance and NVH (noise, vibration and harshness), the facelifted HR-V hardly feels any different from before, and it’s still decent by any standards.

In terms of safety, the entire range will now get six airbags (previously available on the top V trim only), emergency stop signal (ESS), vehicle stability assist (VSA) and hill start assist (HSA). Unfortunately, the City Brake Active System (CTBA) autonomous emergency braking will not be available.

The full road test of the updated B-segment crossover will be brought to you soon, after its launch sometime in September. To date, over 2,000 bookings for the car have been made. In the meantime, tell us your thoughts on the HR-V RS. Is it as you had expected, or more? And will it be enough to stay on top?

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