It’s been 10 years since these shores last saw a new Honda HR-V, back then marketed under the more catchy title of ‘Joy Machine.’

Although these days we’d be more inclined to refer to these things simply as ‘crossovers,’ the press materials that accompany this new HR-V are strewn with images of shiny people running towards the aquatic horizon with a brightly-coloured polystyrene board shoved under one arm.

Clearly, Honda are hoping their return to a segment they abandoned a decade ago will result in a resurgence of unfettered cheerfulness.

Certainly those of a surf-riding persuasion will find stowing their marine paraphernalia easy, thanks to arguably one of the most practical interiors on the market today.

Hoiked wholesale from the Jazz, Honda’s clever Magic Seats give the option of flipping up the bases to carry loads up to 1.2 metres tall, or folding the seat backs forward to extend the already capacious 470-litre boot into a van-rivalling 1,533 litres.

On top of that, there’s the option to fully recline the front passenger seat to allow objects up to 2½ metres in length to be wedged aboard, plus an additional hidey-hole under the boot floor.

This generous nature continues elsewhere in the cabin, too, with a driving position that offers a huge range of adjustment, even for very tall drivers, although those in the rear might find headroom a little meagre by comparison.

Practical touches continue with a handy storage area within the centre console, complete with USB and charging ports, a clever slot to accommodate the now ubiquitous smartphone, and a substantial glovebox – above which is the largest air vent ever devised by man.

The HR-V eschews conventional climate controls in favour of a touch-sensitive slab forward of the gear-lever, while above this resides Honda’s new yet somewhat aftermarket-esque Android-based media system.

On top-spec models, this comes pre-loaded with a Garmin navigation app which, although perfectly capable, exudes a disappointingly low-rent character thanks to its Teletubbies-style graphics.  And while the rest of the system offers perfectly serviceable phone and music functions, in operation it’s all rather sluggish and includes a penchant for dumping you out at a generic Android screen if you venture too far into the configuration options.

Much smarter, though, are the ringed instruments – the central of which glows green to reward eco-friendly driving, or can be daubed in a colour of your choosing – although we think Honda missed an opportunity to include a digital readout in the otherwise blank centre of the speedo.

Powering all of this is a choice of either a 1.5-litre petrol engine with 130PS or, as we tested, a 1.6-litre diesel with 120PS.  Performance is broadly similar between them, the diesel hitting 62mph in 10.1 seconds, with the petrol following just over half a second later.

On the road, the diesel feels the stronger performer of the two, thanks to its greater reserves of torque.  There is some initial lag, but with 300Nm arriving at just 2,000rpm it doesn’t last long, and the six-speed manual gearbox offers a clean if slightly mechanical shift action that makes it pleasant enough to row through its admittedly rather tall ratios.

It does make a bit of a racket, though, particularly as you venture further into the recesses of the rev range, but this aural torture is at least offset by impressive economy – we had little trouble recording an average of just over 60mpg during a week’s testing.

Also a touch on the vocal side is the suspension, with large bumps and man-hole covers readily transmitting their arrival into the cabin, although for the most part the HR-V rides well.

Body roll builds only gradually, and never becomes alarming, although we noticed a tendency for it to settle rather abruptly once steering input was unwound.

The HR-V can certainly be hustled through a series of bends, but its natural state errs well towards an attitude of safe, dependable understeer.  Given Honda’s description of an ‘engaging drive,’ I think we had slightly higher expectations for it.

Prices for the HR-V start at £18,495, although if you want the full experience with Magic Seats, satnav and a panoramic sunroof, you’ll need to budget for over 24 grand, while our range-topping diesel test car tipped in at £26,580.

A joy machine?  Perhaps not.  But a practical machine?  Definitely.

Tester’s Notes

  • Probably the most practical interior we’ve seen in years
  • Home of the largest air vent ever devised by man
  • Widely adjustable driving position
  • Android-based infotainment system is a poor effort for a company like Honda
  • Instruments crying out for digital speed readout
  • Diesel engine noisy and laggy
  • Manual gearbox has nice shift action but tall ratios
  • Suspension noise intrusion needs improvement
  • Body settles abruptly
  • Not as engaging as expected
  • A touch pricey
  • 60mpg on test
Entry-level Price £18,495 Price as tested £26,580
Engine 1.6-litre 4-cyl turbodiesel Transmission 6-speed manual
Power 120PS @ 4,000rpm Torque 300Nm @ 2,000rpm
0-62 10.1 secs Top speed 119 mph
Economy 68.9 mpg CO2 108 g/km
Dimensions 4294 x 2019 x 1605 (LxWxH) Kerb Weight 1404 kg