April 22, 2018, 1:25 am
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TRIPLE REVIEW: HR-V, VITARA, JUKE: Crossovers have more function, value than sedans

CROSSOVERS are called such because they are like slices of two different pies on one plate. 

One pie, the stance and tough character of the sports utility vehicle. The other pie, the speed and size of a hatchback or sedan. And by every engineering measure, all crossovers are built on sedan platforms.

As the automotive spectrum expands, vehicles specialized to specific target markets become popular but it will be sales volumes that make it lucrative for car makers. In this triple review, we drive but do not compare the Honda HR-V, the Suzuki Vitara and Nissan Juke.

All cars in this review can be considered as premier variants—each one having its own style and character, fan base and class defining traits. All are confident, emboldened vehicles serving common purposes but with different approaches.

All cars are really fun to drive having their own performance nuances. All have exceptional chassis and suspensions, capable engines and eye catching designs. They target the same market of 30 and above, Gen-Xers and millennials possibly and has created a full-blown war of attention among this group. The demographics may look alike, but the acceptance is completely different.

Again this is not a comparison. 

It is just a presentation of facts and impressions on the three vehicles with three different drivers in almost similar driving conditions.

Honda HR-V: hybrid or hi-rider?

AT one end of the crossover spectrum is the Honda HR-V, a fan-favorite subcompact SUV. 

It clearly shows the lineage of the CR-V and that Honda DNA. In my book, Honda was the first company to introduce the crossover when the first Civic-based HR-V was launched nearly two decades ago. Styling shares so much of that styling heritage with the Civic and City. The transitions between the HR-V and City’s interior is very similar, in fact in many instances, it’s as if the HR-V is simply a more athletic City.

Officially it is the Hi-Rider Recreational Vehicle, but some Honda sites refer to it wrongly as the Hybrid Recreational Vehicle. After introducing it in 1999, the HR-V disappeared from the market for 10 years, reappearing only in 2016.

Honda’s choice to develop the HR-V is spot on. Keeping dear the values that define the brand, creating an innovative and fresh transporter with an active look and performance, but always keeping in mind the real people and families and how they drive. This resurrection of the HR-V is Honda’s shot in the arm, providing youthfulness into their line-up and a fresh taste of what made the brand endearing to the Gen X who adore it—it is quite nostalgic and familiar in feel. The drive uncannily firm yet accurate. Just like the Civics we’ve gone accustomed to.

Based purely on impressions when presented to groups of people during the test drive, the HR-V is targetted to a younger driver. So we asked a novice driver, Deriq to give his impressions of the coupé-like HR-V.

“I love the cabin shape. The front is powerful and the look from the side is strong. There are so many lines that define it, like finely sculpted surface detailing.  It is full of character, yet so very Honda. For me there was an immediate emotional appeal,” Deriq, 20 a film student from the University of the Philippines.

On the road, the new HR-V drives distinctively and reacts quickly. It is self-assured and poised, point it to where you want it to go and it goes. Its motivation from a 1.8 liter SOHC from the Civic mated to a continuously variable transmission. This means reasonable performance and fuel economy. 

On a city drive the HR-V is amazingly composed but when pushed it is pulsating. The engine quiet and quite perky with 142bhp delivered in low gears exceptionally fast, the need arises the 172Nm of torque will come in strong and quick.

The rear door handles are hidden in the C-pillar. The antic was first done by Nissan. The distinctive, sharply defined shape reminds one of a bigger European SUV, as the dropping roof runs the length of the body. Its overall design is purposeful, providing a sense of movement and agility, even at standstill.

“ It think it drives efficiently. I like how it handles and the cabin quietness,” Deriq adds.

Suzuki Vitara: It’s back!

IN the middle of this spectrum is the Suzuki Vitara, a returning champion to the crossover arena. 

The Vitara was once the darling of the small SUV segment (crossover was not yet a category definition then) because it had the prowess of a real 4x4 and the looks of a hatch on steroids. It was launched in the Philippines in the five-door JX variant and sold really well. Were it not for shoddy servicing and a dearth of parts before Suzuki Japan took over Philippine operations, the Vitara would have been a more permanent fixture. Thus its return was well accepted, as reflected in its current sales volume.

The HR-V though is like the Vitara—both came back to the Philippine market, but Vitara took the “it’s back” line first. When the Vitara disappeared, and only the hunky Grand Vitara remained, its fans were at a loss.

But now all seems well again. The Baby Boomers who had the Vitara (along side the Daihatsu Feroza) are happy that the well loved mini-SUV is back. But with one thing sorely lacking—real 4x4 capabilities that endeared it to its fans. Yet despite it being a genuinely capable off-roader, only 4x4 king and Top Gear editor Beeboy Bargas probably made full use of the multiple axles. And now with all its off-road abilities left out this urbanite, on-road sub-compact crossover is pulled by its front wheels and does not pretend it can do what its ancestor did very well 30 years ago.

I only rode the Vitara with my son Greg, who made most of the reviewing duties. But what struck me to no end? The center mounted analog clock. Yes, a clock, with hands and a face. 

That analog clock defined my day. Happily.

Though the overall shape of the Vitara is more boxy it is pleasantly modern and refined. The well-executed cabin has the right feel and quality of plastics—unlike its utilitarian father. Also unlike the Vitara of old which was made in Japan, this one is assembled in Hungary. That spells a lot of difference because clearly the left hand drive European specifications are important in terms of safety, emission and so on. All of the controls are intelligently laid out.

If you’ve owned or driven a Vitara before you know that the seats are perched high. During the earlier generation, this much appreciated perspective—giving a commanding view of traffic—was all good for the 4x4 stance. There are multiple adjustments available to the driver to
move the seats to get to a comfortable seating position. Steering adjusts for tilt and telescopes too, so finding a comfortable driving position is quite easy. 

You may forget the tall seat height once on the move though. The sporty feeling and the commanding view now becomes more sensible. Since there’s only one engine available—a 1.6-liter gasoline powered with variable valve timing. It  peaks at 115hp at 6,000rpm and pulses with 156Nm at 4,400rpm. Again, only one gearbox—a six-speed automatic transmission.

“I drove the Vitara from Manila to Pagbilao then back to Laguna. I used the stretch of the ACTEX to Batangas, passing into San Juan to Candelaria then exiting back to Maharlika Highway as many areas in the new Lucena Highway were still unpassable. The Vitara impressed me with its stable highway and surprisingly dynamic driving feel. It was difficult to try to keep to legal highway speeds because it had enough power to give,” Greg, the only other writer and reviewier in the Information Technology and Motoring beat reported. 

“It is an honest and reliable car on city streets too. But I measured an average of around 18km per liter for my highway drives but only a modest 7km/L in Manila and around Calamba, Lipa and Los Baños,” Greg reports.

Nissan Juke: Love it. Or not.

And on the other end of the crossover space is the love-it-or-hate it Nissan Juke. 

The unique styling seems to come from nature—the big bulging eyes and wide wheel arches are like a frog ready to jump. The design is not new to Nissan, having pursued the “urban experience seeker,” as its concept line, the Juke’s “extraterrestrialness” is a strong come-on for many. And turn-off for some. One of its most unique design points is it looks like a two door, with its wide doors and hidden door handle on the C-pillar. 

Nissan was first to popularize on this concept with the Nissan Terrano, but the idea came earlier from a Lancia vehicle, the model of which slips my mind. The HR-V copied the hidden door handle theme successfully. Care to note though that in the styling department, it is the Juke in unique in the Nissan line up with those recessed-into-the bumper headlights. Save the the shape of the rear tail light which is shares in design with the Maxima and the 270Z, like a love child of the two cars, the crossover’s face is truly its own.

And Nissan bullseyed a specific demographic with the Juke—the oldest of the crossovers in this review. I was still working at Nissan when regional planners were introduced to a selection of a the next ten years model line up. That was in 2009. The next year Nissan launched the Juke at the Geneva Motor Show.

The importance of that story is the fact that Nissan had (for all markets) its crosshairs on 30 year-old guys. And according to its studies, the funky design will appeal mostly to males. So we asked a female to comment on the Juke.

“It is really strange. Not ugly, just strange. I get stares from people, kids and other women when I am behind the wheel of the Juke. Some of my friends do not like it, but also do not hate it. I found it fun and an attention seeker. It is a happy carry , and the Juke can deliver the smiles per gallon,” says Menchie, a young mother and on the lookout for a daily drive. 

Under that tall curvy hood is a 1.6-liter mill that delivers for 114hp and 154Nm. The engine is mounted low which helps keep the center of gravity down. The numbers may not look as much but because of the weight distribution and sufficient spacing between the wheels, it does feel like that. There is a turbocharged 1.5-liter which I suspect will be available in the Philippines under a Nismo sport trim, but also with just an engine upgrade. During the test drive, my son Greg and I drove it back to Manila from up North for 8 hours. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed driving it.

The interior is put together very well with excellent plastics and an equally unique design to match its outward looks. With the tight fit and finish there is also that array of unexpected features that belong on more expensive models—I love the center console, which is more like a modern sculpture. 

After testing these three crossovers, I have come to one conclusion. Why even build a sedan when a crossover has more function and value? – Raymond G.B. Tribdino
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