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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 February 2019

The good, the bland and the ugly: Honda launches three models

Honda’s HR-V, CR-V and Pilot prove a mixed bag on a tour of Abu Dhabi

If you were being cruel then you might say that Honda launching three new or ­refreshed models at once in this country is because none of the trio – the CR-V, HR-V and Pilot – has the personality to hold the spotlight on its own. Yet there might well be something to the “Power of Three”, as Honda has labelled it.

That’s because a triumvirate of strange Honda-related ­happenings occur while I am navigating a route that skates around the ­circumference of Abu Dhabi – from Saadiyat Island, along the Corniche, to Hudayriat ­Island, then on out to Al Falah and back to our starting point via Yas Island – in those three cars.

First, on the Corniche, is a ­reminder that new is an extremely relative concept when it comes to Honda’s entry-level crossover, the HR-V. Yes, this year marks the first time that the second generation will be available in the Middle East, even though buyers around the globe have been fully able to snap it up since 2015.

The HR-V has more distant ­history: the first generation, which looked permanently shocked owing to its sizeable headlamps, lived and died from 1999 to 2006. It was a boxy, visual nightmare, yet ­somehow possessed an ­idiosyncratic charm. And what do we pass as we trundle up the Corniche? A ­slightly tired-looking first-gen HR-V in a vomit-tastic shade so ­horrible that I blank it from my mind ­approximately four seconds later.

At that point, I am seated in the CR-V, which has changed very little since I last drove one, in its 2017 incarnation. The only feature update from the previous model year to the 2019 CR-V is a hands-free power tailgate (also on the Pilot) and minor colour tweaks that are too dull to detail here.

So we will skip that, and get back to the comparative highlight of the trip – the 2019 HR-V. It is a refreshed ­version of the model on sale ­outside the region last year, with a mini stack of upgrades. Sadly, it doesn’t give off nearly the same amount of recognisable, weird ­charisma as the first-gen HR-V – take off the Honda badge and most casual observers would struggle to ­differentiate it from numerous ­crossover competitors. Indeed, the ­aforementioned unkind types might say it’s merely a ­shrunken version of the ­popular CR-V SUV.

That wouldn’t be entirely fair, though, because it is by far the easiest on the eye of the trio that I am ­driving, which, in this company, stands it in good stead.

The HR-V rattles along ­pleasantly enough, too, thanks to the UAE version being available with only the larger 1.8-litre engine – a 1.5-litre is included in the range elsewhere in the world.

The interior isn’t a particularly ­picturesque place to be, however. There are a few too many ­grotty, hard-plastic surfaces inside and the 6.8-inch display, which comes as a touchscreen on the EX and LX trims (but not on the DX), doesn’t smack of up-to-the-minute modernity. One of its trumpeted highlights, a ­panoramic sunroof, isn’t all that ­useful in the Emirates, either, turning the HR-V into a mini greenhouse on wheels. And we shall be nice by not focusing too hard on its whiny, continuously variable transmission.

The second Honda oddity I see comes as we near Hudayriat Island. ­Cruising through the sunny ­backstreets of Al Bateen, a familiar outline looms into view – a classic Honda Gold Wing bike is parked in a ­lay-by. I start to wonder if all of this is a cunning plan by the ­Japanese ­manufacturer or some strange mirage brought on by a surfeit of new-car smell.

And as we parade through a new tunnel that sweeps us towards Yas Island, the third and final Honda happening, well, happens. An old Accord, in a retina-scorching purple, is parked between road cones at the side of the carriageway. Uncanny.

At that latter juncture, I am ­behind the wheel of the final model that I sample, the Pilot, which is ­­absolutely the most grotesque of the bunch and, ­undisputedly, is also the most enjoyable to drive. A new front end, with a shorter nose, hasn’t helped the looks, then, but the ­3.5-litre V6 gives this big ­eight-­seater proper punch, with a ­normal ­six-speed automatic gearbox. Not a CVT to be seen here, thank goodness.

Its wheel and infotainment system are taken from the Honda Odyssey, and the touchscreen – the only truly contemporary one that I see on this triple-threat trip – allows access to my favourite feature. Cabin Talk amplifies the voices of front-seat ­occupants via a microphone, which is probably intended to help you yell at your children, but it’s way more ­rewarding to try silly sound effects and echo-embellished ­crooning. Daft fun all round.

After celebrating its 70th ­birthday last year, Honda’s unit-shifting ­continues apace, yet in terms of visual identity, it seems to have hit ­something of a nadir.

That’s not helped by the two finest cars on its roster, the Civic Type R and the NSX, currently not featuring in UAE showrooms – take this as our plea to make this a late new year’s resolution, if you please, Honda.

Updated: February 3, 2019 08:44 AM

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