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2 Rows Of 3, High Quality, Flexibility
If Kids Views Count, Honda Is On To A Winner
Delayed Diesel Doesnt Help
Rating **** out of 5
Child-centric doesnt have to mean dumbing-down.
In Britains blighted education system we know that some misguided teachers have ruined the education system by embracing the idea that all children must win prizes.
The new Honda FR-V is trying to win sales also by unashamedly sucking up to children, but that doesnt necessarily mean that standards are slipping, quite the reverse in fact.
Sure, it looks nice, but its the inside that matters in this market, and the Honda can take on the best. The FR-V has six seats in two rows. Thats not an original idea, the ugly-duckling Fiat Multipla has had this for years, but this means that children can sit up front.
Honda seems to have hired a script writer from Politically Correct Inc to describe this.
Honda also recognised that family communication, and in particular parent-child communication, is important and this layout lends itself to easy passenger interaction. And what child hasnt wanted to sit up front with the grown-ups. The FR-V allows just such a possibility, at the same time enabling parents to keep a watchful eye, says Honda.
Tie My Kangaroo Down, Sport
Oh dear. Strap em in and keep em quiet, I say.
The FR-V, it stands for Flexibility Recreation and Versatility of course, is a high quality variation on the compact MPV theme. This burgeoning sector, led by the likes of the Citroen Picasso, Opel/Vauxhall Zafira, Ford C-Max and Renault Megane Scenic, offers car buyers much more than family saloons ever could. But by their very nature - useful, flexible, vehicles which promise to carry the maximum-number-of-people-and-their-stuff - they tend to be on the boring to benign side of exciting. The Honda FR-V though does look more attractive than the average MPV, with dynamic styling, sweeping nose and headlights, and a steadily rising waistline.
The result is a crouching form that delivers a sporty dynamic in marked contrast to the MPV norm, says Honda.
The most important thing about the FR-V is its flexibility and packaging abilities for up to 6 people and their luggage. Some MPVs - like the Renault Grand Scenic and VW Touran - offer up to 7 seats in three rows, but this destroys the luggage carrying capability. Six seats seems a great compromise because with only two rows, the boot space is always there. If there are only four people, the middle seats can be slid back, to offer greater, limo-like comfort. If todays job is load carrying, a simple dive-down rear seat mechanism opens up the load area in seconds.
Honda claims that it has designed the aggravation out of clearing the rear of the car for maximum carrying capacity.
Opening up the load space in a compact MPV is often a time consuming process, requiring lots of steps, and often somewhere to keep seats once removed from the car. Not so with the FR-V: achieving maximum cargo space takes just three simple steps.
1. Ensure both front centre seats are slid forward;
2. Push down rear seat headrests;
3. Collapse the seats.
Theres no double folding of seats, no fiddling with seatbelts, no walking round the car, no lifting out of heavy seats; just simple rear seat dive-down, says Honda.
The cabin is well-made and neatly designed. The gear change is set in the dashboard, rather than in the space between driver and passenger, and this leaves room for the middle seat, which was big enough for an adult. There is no automatic version because Honda says there is little demand in cars like this. The hand-brake is set in the lower dashboard under the gear-lever.
Initially, the FR-V will be available with two petrol engines a 123 bhp 1.7 litre with a 5-speed gearbox, and a 148 bhp 2.0 litre, six-speeder. A 138 bhp 2.2 litre diesel will join the line-up next summer. The lack of a diesel is bound to be a depressant on sales. Honda says it simply doesnt have enough diesel engine capacity. Like most Japanese manufacturers, Honda was slow to catch on to the European love affair with diesels, and is paying the price in lost sales, although it must be said that the companys newest diesels, like the one powering the Accord, are top examples of the genre.
The base-model FR-V costs £14,750 and comes packed with standard equipment. On the highways and byways around Jerez in southern Spain, the FR-V was a competent performer, soaking up irregular road surfaces with ease, with little body roll. On the highway, the 1.7 litre felt underpowered and was noisy at cruising speeds. The 2.0 litre model performed well, and would be my choice until the diesel arrives. The Sport version includes alloy wheels, cruise control, leather steering wheel, fog lights, and electrically retractable mirrors.
Hondas warranty is for 3 years and 90,000 miles, and it offers a terrific 5-year £330 (470 euros) service package and a £1300 (1,860 euros), 3-year insurance deal. The FR-V is on sale across Europe now.
Neil Winton November 20, 2004
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