Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Honda FR-V – now it is gone

Time I think to reflect on the Honda FR-V. On the whole I enjoyed driving it even though it was far removed from the type of car I would choose.

One thing that I wasn’t expecting was the performance, maybe not hot-hatch fast but certainly brisk. The engine was as good as one would expect from Honda and coupled to a 6-speed gearbox with delightfully close ratios and a snappy action. Mounting the lever on the dashboard might have been done in the name of leaving the floor clear but it also put the lever exactly where it should be – level with and less than a hand span away from the steering wheel. How many people, I wonder, will zip along in their FR-Vs revelling in the crisp performance as they keep the revs up? Alas, anyone who does will find a fly in the ointment – the engine does seem slow to respond to a closed throttle. Come off the accelerator to change gear and the revs will not fall away as quickly as you would hope.

Two final things should be said in praise of the engine. One is that it is a quiet companion unless you are wringing it out. As my long suffering passenger observed, you are aware that there is an engine running somewhere but it never intrudes. The other thing is the engine bay. Many people complain that modern engine bays are just acres of plastic trying to look like an engine. That is not how things are in the FR-V; you can see the engine and all the major components. As far as I can tell anything you might need to access (to check fluid levels, for example) is easily accessed. It is a joy to see an engine so honestly presented. Of course being a Honda you’ll never actually have to repair it but you could if you had to.

Returning to the subject of enthusiastic driving, the FR-V handles better than expected. The steering, I thought, felt a little odd with slightly inconsistent weight you could never be quite sure if the neat, leather-wrapped steering wheel was going to be light or heavy to the touch. Weighting aside the steering was accurate and responsive and the handling almost never gave cause for concern. Almost because I did manage to provoke a twitching lurch from the rear – but it had to be provoked and most drivers won’t be so silly. Other than that you couldn’t fault it, remarkable given the sheer height of the thing and even more so when you consider that it rode comfortably too.

Something should be said about the in car entertainment. I was initially critical of the sound it made but careful adjustment of bass and treble sorted that. The radio seemed reluctant to find any stations unless manually tuned to the correct frequency but that might be operator error. When I loaded 2 CDs into the in-dash player I could listen to the second all day but nothing would persuade it to give me CD1 without first ejecting the other disk. Finally, as a listening environment the FR-V leaves something to be desired. At speed there is a lot of white noise, a combination of road and wind roar – it isn’t especially loud but it will drown out softer pieces of Bach and Beethoven. The Scissor Sisters, however, come through loud and clear.

I found the leather seats quite comfortable but I would have preferred slightly more under-thigh support. I did wonder if the seats had been made slightly shorter than ideal to make the legroom seem more generous. That said, I did a couple of long journeys without aches and pains and I also did plenty of enthusiastic driving without fearing that I’d slide right out of the seat.

Somehow I knew I wouldn’t dislike the FR-V but I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did. Designing a successful small MPV can’t be an easy job but Honda has certainly succeeded. If you want something as compact as a Civic but with more space and greater versatility the FR-V could be just what you need.

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