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2023 Honda ZR-V VTi L review (video)

For the first time in 20 years Honda has released a brand new core model in Australia. Introducing the Honda ZR-V. It is the latest entrant in the busy medium SUV arena, parking between the smaller HR-V and the larger CR-V.

The Japanese brand is known for its reliability and innovation, and more recently, it’s premium price tag. We’re keen to find out if the ZR-V has what it takes to help Honda move up the premium ranks and justify the price hikes.

2023 Honda ZR-V VTi L-rear

2023 Honda ZR-V VTi L: Specifications

Engine: 1.5-litre turbo four-cylinder
Output: 131kW@6000rpm / 240Nm@1700-4500rpm
Gearbox: CVT auto
Drive type: Front-wheel drive
Wheels: F & R: 18×7.0, 225/55
ANCAP: Not tested
Tare weight: 1439kg
Power-to-weight: 10.98:1 (kg:kW)
Official consumption: 7.4L/100km
Our consumption: 7.2L/100km
Fuel tank/Fuel type: 50L/95 RON
Power efficiency: 17.70kW:L/100km
0-60km/h: 4.43 seconds*
0-100km/h: 8.73 seconds*
60-110km/h: 5.68 seconds*
1/4 mile: 16.47 seconds at 144.6km/h*
Max acceleration: 0.611g*
100-0km/h braking: 39.36m in 3.15 seconds*
Max deceleration: -1.136g*
Decibel at idle: 38*
Peak decibel at 60-100km/h: 88*
Starting price: $43,200

*Figures as tested by Driving Enthusiast on the day. Manufacturers’ claims may be different

2023 Honda ZR-V VTi L: How much does it cost?

Before we draw the figures, the ZR-V range is offered in four variants; the VTi X, VTi L, VTi LX, and the e:HEV LX. Petrol variants (the VTi X, VTi L, and VTi LX) feature a 1.5-litre VTEC turbocharged engine, and the e:HEV LX exhibits a dual-motor hybrid system with a 2.0-litre, naturally aspirated, direct injected petrol engine.

Prices kick off from $40,200 for the most affordable VTi X and peak at $54,900 for the e:HEV LX (excluding on-road costs). We are testing the VTi L, which retails from $43,200.

There are 20-odd competitors in the medium SUV market under $60k, and the ZR-V’s price is above average. It’s most popular competitors like the Toyota RAV4, Mazda CX-5, Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage, Mitsubishi Outlander, Nissan X-Trail and Subaru Forester, all offer lower-priced entry level models than the ZR-V.

The ZR-V comes with a five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty, and five years of free roadside assistance. Servicing is required more frequently than average, at 10,000km or 12 months. Honda offers $199 capped-price servicing for the first five services if completed at a Honda service centre.

2023 Honda ZR-V VTi L-interior

2023 Honda ZR-V VTi L: Interior & packaging

Open the door of the ZR-V and you’re greeted by Honda’s commitment to practicality and ease of use. The interior is very functional, with an emphasis on user-friendly controls and ample storage spaces. We love the clutter-free design, which makes it a simple layout to navigate. It’s the safe option for those who become overwhelmed with too many buttons and busy interfaces.

As usual from Honda, the quality of materials used also feel sturdy. But inside, there is no great sense of luxury to the level that it aligns with the not-so-budget price, and sets it apart from the competition.

2023 Honda ZR-V VTi L-seats

Interior tech is structured around a 9.0-inch centre touch-screen that protrudes high on the dash, and a 10.2-inch digital instrument cluster. 9.0 inches is a tad smaller among today’s standards, but given the climate controls have their own dedicated buttons outside the screen, we have no complaints with its size. The menus and layouts are quick to read and high in resolution. A special mention also goes to the clarity and simplicity of the instrument cluster. We love how clean and easy to read the two large dials are with the less relevant info around them.

You get wireless Apple CarPlay but sadly only wired Android Auto. This omission would be a straight-out deal breaker for us tech-heads. Up front, there is one USB-A port and one USB-C port, and the rear gets two USB-C ports.

Interior space is surprisingly roomy for a mid sizer – vbut aren’t they all these days? You also get a decently-sized centre console, handy storage nooks, and ample legroom in the rear. Also usual from Honda, the front seats feel somewhat hollow and unsupportive through the centre. More shaping and lumbar support please, Honda.

2023 Honda ZR-V VTi L-rear seats

If a large boot is high in importance to you, the ZR-V can swallow a couple of large suitcases, and a couple of small ones. But comparatively, it measures far short of all other popular models. At 380 litres, the RAV4’s 542L, the X-Trail’s 585L, the Forester’s 498L, the Tucson’s 539L, the Sportage’s 543L, the Outlander’s 485L, and the CX-5’s 438L all tower past the ZR-V. Also, the rear seats are not on rails to expand the boot – an increasingly common offering in other SUVs.

Moving onto external design and the ZR-V sports a conservative and sleek aesthetic; standing out in a segment where visual appeal can be a deciding factor for many buyers. Contours are smooth and minimalist, which is rather distinctive for Honda and the rest of the market. An interesting lack of chrome bits or chunky plastic add-ons takes Honda into a more elegant design era. A new black vertical front grille design, ‘invisible’ windscreen wiper arms, more conformed headlights that do not trail up the bonnet, and a heavily slanted rear end strike a note with us. Though, design is always personal.

2023 Honda ZR-V VTi L-boot

Every ZR-V comes standard with a comprehensive list of tech, including 11-airbags, front and rear parking sensors, auto emergency braking, active lane keeping aid and lane departure warning, forward collision alert, driver attention detection, adaptive cruise, road sign recognition, active cornering lights, and tyre pressure sensors.

Other standard highlights include a keyless fob proximity entry, an eight-speaker sound system, adaptive LED headlights, 17-inch alloy wheels with a space-saver spare, dual-zone climate control, rear climate vents, height adjustable front seats, and electric folding side mirrors.

For $3k more, our test VTi L picks up ambient interior lighting, black leatherette seats, heated front seats, bigger 18-inch alloy wheels, heated door mirrors, a hands-free powered tailgate with walk-away closing, rear privacy glass, combination LED taillights, and metal paddle shifters.

2023 Honda ZR-V VTi L-console

2023 Honda ZR-V VTi L: Powertrain & handling

Under the hood of the ZR-V, the all-petrol, 1.5-litre VTEC turbo engine we’re testing boasts a capable 131kW and 240Nm. We timed 0-100km/h in 8.73 seconds. It’s pretty quick considering its tiny engine capacity, and compared against many of its mid-level rivals.

In the driver’s seat, it feels like the vehicle gets car up to speed rather quickly without much effort. This is helped by broadly accessible toque brought on by the turbo. It also makes the ZR-V feel exceptionally light on its feet as you don’t need to push up the revs to get up to speed fast. It’s only when you command strong acceleration with your foot, the engine suddenly starts to sound harsh and loud.

The engine is paired with a CVT automatic gearbox, which is not the most athletic of choices, but it does help with uninterrupted power flow. This transmission also has artificial steps, or ‘step-shift’ that is activated during full-throttle acceleration to make it feel and sound like a conventional gearbox with gears.

2023 Honda ZR-V VTi L-instrument cluster

Given there is a more fuel-efficient powertrain on offer, this petrol engine scores within expectation when compared to market trends. Officially, it burns 7.4L/100km. Our testing over 550km of driving exposed an even better average of 7.2L/100km. Though, it only needs to power the front wheels. Some competitors need to contend with the higher fuel usage that comes with offering AWD. Thankfully, it can run on the cheaper 91 RON petrol as well.

If you want a medium SUV to take on the rugged bush that is hairier than a flat dirt road, the ZR-V is not the pick for you. It only has an ‘economy’ driving mode (and ‘sport’ mode in the VTi LX and e:HEV LX); no off-road mode. It also has a mediocre 186mm of ground clearance, a space-saver spare wheel, and that front-wheel drive setup will have you losing traction quickly on mud or sand.

2023 Honda ZR-V VTi L-handling test

Back on the sealed roads, and the ZR-V provides a brilliant balance of agile handling and a comfortable ride. No complaints here. Up front are MacPherson struts mounted to a lightweight aluminium front subframe, and the rear goes with fully independent multi-link suspension that mounts onto a new rubber-mounted subframe that Honda claims helps to reduce noise. And it does. Going over bumps is a notably quiet affair; and the ZR-V’s track disturbance and weight transfer caused by bumps are kept to a minimum.

The steering also feels natural, secure and easy to manoeuvre at low speeds. Straight-line stability feels strong at higher speeds, too. It feels like a Honda in that it’s enjoyable yet thoroughly sorted.

2023 Honda ZR-V VTi L: Key attractions/reasons to buy

  • Unique and modern design: The exterior is elegant and goes for a smooth, minimalist style. It looks fresh among its rivals.
  • Surprisingly brisk performance: For a 1.5L turbo that is. The engine doesn’t have to work hard, with the ZR-V weighing just 1439kg, resulting in more than respectable performance for its segment.
  • Interior quality and presentation: Ease of use and clearness of the interior and digital menus is among the best in our view.
  • Honda goodness: There is a perceived peace of mind and resale values are good from the reliable brand of Honda.
  • Fuel economy: The official rating is 7.4L/100km but it is pretty easy to score lower than than in the real world, which is very unusual.

2023 Honda ZR-V VTi L-length

2023 Honda ZR-V VTi L: Key considerations before you buy

  • High entry price: The ZR-V has the most expensive entry price in its class without any aspect of the car doing anything significantly better than its peers. Apart from ‘being a Honda’.
  • No AWD: While mid-size SUVs are hardly known for or relied on for their off-road capability, doing without at least the option of AWD could turn away some buyers.
  • Small boot: At 380L, it is the smallest among the top eight most popular medium SUVs in Australia.
  • No wireless Android Auto: It does come with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, but only the Apple one is wireless.

2023 Honda ZR-V VTi L: Specifications

How does it rate against its rivals?
  • Price
  • Quality look & feel
  • Interior tech
  • Powertrain performance
  • Ride & handling
  • X-factor (does it stand out in its class?)

Final word

The new Honda ZR-V is a quality medium SUV in isolation. We especially like the elegant, clean external design, the ease of use and familiarity you get from all Hondas, and the added boost of a turbo. But when you pin it up against the market, the ZR-V does not do anything better than the competition. That would be okay if the asking price wasn’t high. Yet it is, even without all-wheel drive.

Mark Davis

Mark's fascination with cars originated long before he was allowed to get behind the wheel himself. To him, cars are more than just a mode of transport; especially the ones that adopt purposeful innovations while preserving the joy of driving. With a master's degree in IT, he brings a tech-savvy perspective to our car reviews, particularly as the automotive industry embraces digital advancements. Mark joins Driving Enthusiast as a road tester after more than a decade at PerformanceDrive.

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