New HR-V small SUV is an attractive value package

Honda's HR-V is a value-priced, fuel-efficient and practical sport utility vehicle that's easy to drive and smartly packaged with a rearview camera and USB port among the standard features.

Just 14 feet long, the new for-2016 HR-V earned an overall five-out-of-five-stars rating from the federal government for driver and passenger protection in frontal and side crash tests.

With a top fuel economy rating by the government of 28 miles per gallon in city driving and 35 mpg on highways with manual or automatic transmission, the HR-V — with fuel-optimizing continuously variable transmission — beats all other non-hybrid, gasoline-powered SUVs in mileage.

Best of all, the HR-V's starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $20,015 — $4,480 less than the base price for Honda's larger and popular CR-V SUV.

The base HR-V LX has two-wheel drive and a 6-speed manual transmission.

The lowest starting retail price, including destination charge, for an HR-V with CVT that a driver operates like an automatic transmission is $20,095. HR-Vs with all-wheel drive have the CVT and carry a starting MSRP plus destination charge of $22,065.

All HR-Vs come with a 141-horsepower, non-turbocharged, single overhead cam, four-cylinder engine that's also used by Honda's Civic.

In the test HR-V EX-L-Navi with all-wheel drive and CVT, this engine with Honda's i-VTEC system was responsive and gave the lightweight SUV decent scoot. But passengers and the driver could hear the engine, even at idle.

Peak torque of 127 foot pounds comes on at 4,300 rpm, and during hard accelerations, the CVT appeared to meter the power more than expected, even when the Econ button — for Economy driving — was turned off.

Paddle shifters that let the driver manually shift the CVT via electronic controls and lessen the CVT metering of power are available in the HR-V EX and are standard in the EX-L.

The test HR-V with AWD and CVT that was driven sometimes in Econ mode and sometimes with paddle shifters averaged a commendable 29 mpg, which is the government's estimate for the model.

Filling up the HR-V's 13.2-gallon tank at today's prices cost a mere $22.

The test HR-V moved along well and was an easy handler, with steering that needed only a light touch. The suspension kept passengers above most road bumps. Getting inside and onto the HR-V seats requires just a "turn and set" motion from all but child passengers.

The HR-V interior is particularly well done, with a nice arrangement of gauges and controls creating an upscale look that isn't expected in a $20,000 SUV. Even a display screen is standard in the middle of the dashboard of every HR-V. On base models, it is a 5-inch screen; upper trim levels have a 7-inch screen with more features, including ready access to Pandora audio.

The rear floor is nearly flat all across, and rear windows go down almost all the way. Rear-seat legroom is a surprisingly generous 39.3 inches. Even 6-foot-tall passengers can sit back there without their legs touching the front seatbacks. The rear seatbacks also can recline.

With the rear seats folded down — and they fold flat, not slanted — there is up to 58.8 cubic feet of space. They fold down in two sections, making it easier for the HR-V to carry both rear-seat passengers and cargo.

A few nits: Passengers with contact lenses in the front seat can be bothered by air flow from the row of three vents that are directly in front, in the dashboard.

The lever to unlatch the HR-V fuel filler door is under the driver-side dashboard, where the lever to unlatch the hood is typically found. This fuel door lever is not easily visible and not the easiest to reach unless you get out first.

Lastly, the HR-V exterior is pleasant but not exciting.

2016 HONDA HR-V

Base price:$20,015 (including destination)

Engine: 1.8-liter, I-4 (141 h.p.)

EPA rating (city/highway): 27/32 mpg (AWD)

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