all about keeping it
in the family...
THE JAPANESE, and indeed most Eastern cultures, promote family togetherness. This goes right from family generations living together to travelling together and taking part in recreational activities together. So it's no surprise that Honda have promoted 'togetherness in travel' as the theme for their FR-V medium-sized, five-door people carrier.
Sales of these C-segment MPVs are booming and in Europe 1.6 million such vehicles are expected to be sold in 2006. France leads the way followed by Germany and the UK, where around 200,000 medium sized MPVs are sold each year. The main sellers are the Vauxhall Zafira and the Ford C-Max with the VW Touran, Citroen Picasso and Renault Grand Scenic all competing hard for sales. The launch of the FR-V now allows Honda to compete in this MPV sector, especially in the fleet and business market.
Unlike most MPVs, the FR-V (Family Recreational Vehicle) has two rows of three seats instead of three rows, accommodating six passengers all seated within close proximity of each other to maximise in-car communication and togetherness.
It is a neat idea having a compact (in length) family car with a wide track. These two rows of three seats work pretty well, especially as the middle seats in both rows can be slid further back to increase legroom. The seats can be folded individually and the rear row can be fully folded into the floor to provide a perfectly-flat load area. This means that three can travel up-front with enough load space behind them to make the FR-V a really useful load carrier. Another example
of the clever seating is that a section of the centre front seat squab can be opened to create an extremely handy storage area that's ideal for any number of things including a laptop computer.
The only down side to the interior of the FR-V is that shoulder room
for three adults is a bit tight even though the centre seats can slide both fore and aft. The small seat squabs do not give much support on long journeys and the seat adjustment levers are right up against the door panels so they are difficult to use. However, despite the high 'command' seating positions, headroom is very good.
The high seating position also provides good visibility out of the vehicle and access to the high-level wide facia panel is reasonable for the driver, although some of the controls are fiddly to reach and use. The facia-mounted gearlever not only gives clear legroom for the middle passenger in the front row, but it is nicely positioned for the driver to reach and, a typical Honda touch, it is sweet and precise to use.
The levels of equipment are generous right across the range, with all models having front and rear electric windows, electrically adjustable and heated door mirrors, air conditioning, CD player, remote central door locking and ABS. The SE is the base specification on offer, and the Sport versions add alloy wheels, cruise control, front fog lights
and a leather steering wheel and gear lever knob. Priced from £14,900, the FR-V is something of a bargain Honda are not normally so aggressive with their pricing.
Engines on offer include a 1.7 or 2.0-litre petrol and the excellent
2.2-litre diesel but as yet there's no automatic transmission.
For me, the best value in the range for the private buyer is the 2.0
i-VTEC SE petrol variant, priced at £15,900. Right at the top of the range is the 2.2 i-CDTi Sport diesel version that costs £18,000 and which high-mileage company car and business users will undoubtedly go for. Although, realistically, the diesel gives an extra 10mpg over
the 2.0-litre petrol unit, only by covering significant distances will owners recoup the extra £1,400 price premium Honda charge for this engine.
Although the FR-V is aimed at young families, in reality Honda vehicles generally appeal to older buyers who like the brand value, reliability
and product quality. So the base 1.7-litre, 125bhp petrol model with SE specification and a 5-speed transmission at the very competitive price of £14,900 is really a very good buy. Okay, it's no ball of fire but it does the job pretty well indeed.
The 2.0-litre petrol engine powering my road test model produced 148bhp. It sports a 6-speed manual gearbox and drive is to the front wheels and proved very willing and flexible to drive. Top speed is 115mph and the 0-62mph dash takes a brisk 10.5 seconds, while fuel economy works out to around 33mpg. It performs really well in the mid to high engine speed range, so full use needs to be made of the gearbox to get the best out of the car.
As for handling, the FR-V manages a good balance between providing
a comfortable ride yet remaining responsive on fast open roads. The suspension soaks up the bumps and potholes without being too soft.
Overall it's a pretty likeable package, with clever seating, a sprightly engine and good build quality. Minus points are few: limited shoulder room for six adults and difficult to reach driver's seat adjustment controls. Overall the FR-V offers a fresh approach to carrying pass-engers efficiently and in comfort at a good price, and is well worth considering if you want something other than the mainstream offerings from Vauxhall and Ford. David Miles
Honda FR-V 2.0 i-VTEC SE | £15,900
Maximum speed: 115mph | 0-62mph: 10.5 seconds
Overall test MPG: 33.6mpg | Power: 148bhp | Torque: 141lb ft