Honda has come under fire with some of its latest cars for not offering a properly affordable base model.
That’s not an accusation you could level at the base 2023 Honda ZR-V VTi X on test here. With a drive-away price just over $40,000 it’s competitively priced, and a quick scan of its equipment list reveals you don’t miss out on much.
It sits between the small HR-V, which is only a four-seater, and the bigger new CR-V. And, it goes head-to-head with top-end versions of the Kia Seltos and Toyota Corolla Cross, and low-end versions of the Toyota RAV4 and Mazda CX-5 in Australia.
Confused? Think of it as an SUV designed to be small enough that it’s friendly in the city, but with enough space for small kids and all the junk that comes with them. Under the skin, a lot of the ZR-V package has been adapted from the Civic hatchback.
Is there a catch with the entry-level ZR-V, or has Honda nailed the base model formula?
There’s no room for negotiation in Honda’s new business model, what you see listed below is the drive-away price at every Honda Centre in Australia.
Our entry-level VTi X will set you back $40,200 drive-away, undercutting the next model in the range by $3000.
It lines up against the Kia Seltos Sport+ ($35,800) and the Mazda CX-5 G20 Maxx ($36,110). It also takes on the Toyota Corolla Cross GXL 2WD ($37,730) and the Nissan Qashqai ST+ ($37,890).
2023 Honda ZR-V pricing:
- 2023 Honda ZR-V VTi X: $40,200
- 2023 Honda ZR-V VTi L: $43,200
- 2023 Honda ZR-V VTi LX: $48,500
- 2023 Honda ZR-V e:HEV LX: $54,900
All prices are drive-away
The base ZR-V is a bit darker than the high-end hybrid we drove recently, and it lacks some of the soft-touch finishes, but the strong fundamentals remain.
The driver and front passenger sit in generously padded cloth seats with plenty of adjustment for tall drivers, and vision out is pretty good. The seats drop down nice and low to accommodate taller drivers, but anyone chasing a classic ‘commanding’ SUV driving position won’t struggle to achieve that.
Much of what you touch and look at feels high-quality. The steering wheel is wrapped in soft leather, the elbow rests are generously padded, and the buttons and dials for the climate control make a satisfying click when you use them.
Some base models feel designed to scold you for not spending more money on a pricier option by making elbow rests or the steering wheel unyielding; Honda isn’t quite so punitive.
Storage space is excellent. There’s a wireless phone-sized slow under the dashboard, dual cupholders under the dash, and a big, flat space under the transmission tunnel with two USB ports. The bin beneath the central armrest is massive, too.
Honda’s latest infotainment system is modern to look at, with crisp graphics and simple, slick menus. The maps finally look like an OEM product rather than an aftermarket system, although the wireless smartphone mirroring means you can easily sidestep the inbuilt software anyway.
Even the reversing camera is sharp and bright, unlike the foggy unit from the last car. Over-the-air updates mean the system can be updated throughout its life, too.
The simple driver’s display is clean and easy to understand on the move, but lacks the functionality on offer in Volkswagen Group products. You can’t get live mapping, for example.
Rear seat space is solid given the ZR-V isn’t quite as big as a RAV4 or CR-V. The large doors open nice and wide, making it easier for adults to climb in – or for adults to load kids in – and legroom behind taller drivers is decent for adults.
Dual USB-C ports and air vents are on hand, as is a fold-down central armrest. ISOFIX points feature on the outboard rear seats, and unlike the four-seat HR-V, the ZR-V has three top-tether points.
The middle top-tether is a ceiling-mounted one though, and the middle-rear seatbelt is ceiling mounted, rather than integrated into the seat.
Although the outboard rear seats are nicely scalloped, any middle seat occupants will be left high and dry on what’s a pretty narrow, awkward seat. At least the floor is mostly flat.
The slim bottle holders in the doors will come in handy on longer trips, and there are map pockets behind the front seats to stow books or iPads on long drives.
The boot is hit-and-miss – with just 370 litres of space, it’s one of the smallest in the class. It’ll still take a pram or golf clubs, but you have less space to play with around.
On the plus side though, it’s a very well thought-out space. The floor can be split in two to stop groceries sliding around, and the luggage cover (which is a proper, solid unit) can be folded in half and stored under the floor rather than clogging up your garage.
The base engine in the ZR-Z is a 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine producing 131kW of power and 240Nm of torque. It’s mated with a continuously variable transmission (CVT).
Claimed fuel economy is 7.0 litres per 100km on the combined cycle, although we saw closer to 8.5 litres per 100km on a week skewed to city driving.
This is a very comfortable car if you do most of your driving in the city.
Although the small wheels standard on the base VTi X look a bit dorky, they’re wrapped in tall tyres with squidgy sidewalls that do a great job soaking up whatever’s happening outside.
Even the range-topping VTi LX rides pretty nicely, but the base model on test here is even nicer on pimply roads, over city potholes, and in speed-bump-lined carparks.
With light steering and plenty of punch from the turbocharged engine, the ZR-V thrives in the confines of the city. It feels more like an oversized Civic (which it essentially is) than a lumbering four-wheel drive which pays dividends when it comes time to park, or to squeeze past parked utes on a narrow laneway.
Honda’s turbocharged 1.5-litre engine is a great little unit. It’s smooth and quiet when you’re cruising, humming away in the background almost silently at low speeds, but when you put your foot down it packs a solid punch.
Where the base engine in the Kia Seltos, or even a larger Mazda CX-5 feels undercooked, the turbocharged ZR-V has enough punch to squeeze you back in your seat. With four people and luggage on board, it accelerates confidently up hills at highway speeds in a way a lot of its rivals won’t.
If you enjoy driving, you’ll also appreciate the way the CVT automatic acts. Rather than awkwardly flaring the engine revs when you need to get a move on, it does an impressive impersonation of a regular automatic by slurring through fake gearshifts.
The steering is linear off centre, and there’s solid enough body control that you can drive the ZR-V like an oversized hatchback on interesting roads. It’s not quite as nimble as the lower, lighter Civic, but this is an SUV capable of having a bit of fun.
At highway speeds the ZR-V feels like a bigger car. It’s nicely settled over big crests and dips, and Honda’s driver assists are all on hand to nudge you back between the white lines, or to maintain a gap with the car in front, without feeling overbearing.
The lack of all-wheel drive (across the whole range, not just on this base model) will be a turn off for some. It’s possible to get the front wheels spinning off the mark in the city when it’s wet, and if you frequent the snow or areas with gravel roads all-wheel drive comes in handy.
There’s a bit of road roar from the tyres and wind rustle from the oversized mirrors at 100km/h on average Australian roads, although this base model is quieter than more expensive alternatives thanks to its different tyres.
ZR-V VTi X highlights:
- Adaptive LED headlights
- Active cornering lights
- 17-inch alloy wheels
- Rain-sensing wipers
- Hill descent control
- 9.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system
- Wireless Apple CarPlay
- Wired Android Auto
- 10.2-inch digital instrument cluster
- 8-speaker sound system
- Black fabric upholstery
- Dual-zone climate control
- Auto-dimming rear-view mirror
- Leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter
- Upholstered centre console with French stitching
- Front USB ports (1 x USB-A and 1 x USB-C)
- Rear USB ports (2 x USB-C)
- Rear air vents
- Space-saver spare wheel
- 60:40-split fold rear seats
The Honda ZR-V has yet to be tested by ANCAP.
Standard safety equipment includes:
- AEB with Pedestrian, Cyclist detection
- Adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow
- Driver attention monitoring
- Lane-keep assist
- Traffic Jam Assist
- Traffic sign recognition
- Front, rear parking sensors
- Tyre pressure monitoring
- 11 airbags
- Dual front, front knee airbags
- Centre airbag
- Front, rear side airbags
- Full-length curtain airbags
VTi LX and above get blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and a surround-view camera.
The Honda ZR-V is backed by a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty.
The base ZR-V might be missing a few luxuries, but it still delivers where it counts.
It’s comfortable and reasonably spacious inside, and features the same up-to-date infotainment technology as more expensive models. Although there are some cheaper plastics, it all feels high quality as well.
There are benefits to opting for the base model, too. The small wheels look a bit dorky but they make for a comfortable ride, and the efficiency benefits of the hybrid will take a long time to pay off given this VTi X is more than $10,000 cheaper upfront.
Is it the ZR-V you should buy? That isn’t quite as simple. The lack of blind-spot and rear cross-traffic assist will turn some buyers off, and the extra luxuries on offer in the model above mean you should think hard about forking out an extra $3000 for the VTi L.
Broken down over the course of a lease, it’s not all that much more money for more safety and convenience kit.
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