Review and road test of the Honda FR-V (2004 - 2009)
GOD MADE ME CHUNKY
BY ANDY ENRIGHT
Okay, so the Honda FR-V may not score in terms of outright originality, Fiat doing the whole two rows of three abreast seating thing years before the FR-V was ever launched. Still, like many Japanese companies before it, Honda's genius has been in taking an unconventional and unformed design and turning it into a very appealing, reliable and practical production reality.
The FR-V proved a quiet success for Honda following its introduction and used models are now available if you're prepared to spend a little time tracking down your exact specification. They're usually very well looked after and this, coupled with Honda's reputation for mechanical reliability, makes the FR-V one of the best mini-MPV used buys around.
5 dr mini-MPV [1.7, 1.8, 2.0 petrol, 2.2 diesel (SE, Sport]
Perhaps describing the seating arrangement of Honda's FR-V mini-MPV as novel is pushing things a little bit far. After all, countless American barges of the fifties featured three abreast seating and Honda were even beaten to the punch in the mini-MPV arena by Fiat's quirky Multipla. Matra Simca's Bagheera sports car of the Seventies even featured a trio of seats across the car. Despite this, it's hard to think of many manufacturers who can match Honda for their sheer, relentless output of good ideas. The FR-V may not be the first six-seater in the market but it might just be the cleverest.
It was introduced at a time when the mini-MPV market was just maturing after its initial growth phase and smarter, slicker offerings such as the second generation Toyota Corolla Verso and Vauxhall Zafira were either being launched or were in their final development stages. Against increasingly tough rivals like these, Honda needed a car that offered a wider appeal than their existing Stream MPV, a model that keen drivers were enamoured to but which failed to really penetrate the mainstream market. What they needed was a hook, something that would differentiate their new model from the majority of the burgeoning mini-MPV contenders and they found it in the FR-V's interesting seating arrangement. Two engines were offered from the November 2004 launch - 1.7 or 2.0-litre petrol engines with the lauded 2.2-litre i-CTDI diesel powerplant following later in 2005. In late 2006, the 1.7 and 2.0-litre petrol engines were replaced by a single 140PS 1.8-litre unit. There were also minor trim changes made outside and inside.
What You Get
The FRV is chunkily good-looking in a way few mini-MPVs manage to pull off. The rising waistline gives it a wedge-like profile and the big rear light clusters and kinked line from bonnet into A-pillar are both deft styling touches. Based on the platform of the CR-V 4x4, the FR-V instead directs drive to the front wheels and a new flat floor has been developed that's a good deal wider than the CR-V's base. It's not quite as sporting in its feel as the Stream but the FR-V feels a good deal more modern, especially where cabin design is concerned.
The dashboard is a curious mixture of traditional clocks in a cowled binnacle and a decidedly avant-garde centre console with an infotainment screen and a gearlever sprouting from the dashboard. At first, it looks a bit of a clash of styles but it's actually very practical insofar as Honda have taken the best bits of analogue and digital display formats and have combined them to good effect. The handbrake takes a little while to get used to but forward visibility is excellent. The chubby rear pillars make three quarter visibility a little less happy.
As would be expected from a contemporary Honda, the FR-V doesn't skimp on standard safety features. All six seats have three-point belts while the centre front seat and both outer rear seats feature ISOFIX child seat fixings. Full length curtain airbags provide overall cabin protection and there are also twin front and side bags fitted. The seating system aids safety with the central front seat sliding 270mm further back than the outer pair, Honda recommending that the seat is put in this position when being used to seat a child.
As far as accommodation goes, the FR-V is a tight squeeze if you attempt to fit six blokes in it but it can cope at a pinch, so as to speak. Where it comes into its own is in offering the typical family of four or five room to spread out a little. Unlike many people carriers, the FR-V manages to rustle up some useful luggage space. The three rear seats all fold individually and also fold flat into the floor with one swift action which makes the FR-V a boon for those that want to pursue a few kid-free lifestyle activities at the weekends. This also means that you don't need to risk a herniated disc lugging the things into your garage. The centre front seat also folds flat to make room for long items to form a table. There's even a seat cushion extension with a storage drawer hidden beneath. Honda claims that the front seats can be folded to form a bed, although this seems a bit of a stretch.
What to Look For
If the rest of the Honda range is anything to judge by, expect the FR-V to be extremely reliable. Check the service book for main dealer service stamps and the FR-V should be a sound buy. Check the alloy wheels for kerbing damage and check the paintwork for typical multi-storey scarring. The interior of the FR-V is a lot better built than the mini-MPV norm and even the most horrible kids will have difficulty wreaking too much trouble inside. Being within easy reach of a parent also serves to keep the little 'uns in check. Honda offered an Easy Care option on the petrol FR-V which included all insurance and servicing in one payment so there's no excuse for petrol models not to be well taken care of.
(approx based on an '05 FR-V 2.0 SE Sport) A radiator retails for £142 whilst an alternator is £295 and a replacement starter motor will cost £225. Front brake pads are £45 for a pair whilst an exhaust system costs £380. A replacement catalyst is £440.
On the Road
Two petrol engines are offered as well as the 2.2-litre i-CTDi diesel unit. The petrol engines consist of a 124bhp 1.7-litre VTEC unit mated to a five-speed manual gearbox and a 148bhp 2.0-litre i-VTEC unit that's fitted with a six-speed 'box. Handling is fairly adept but not as sharp as the Stream mini-MPV this car replaced. It's not what you'd call sporting but then neither is it the usual roly-poly mess that most mini-MPVs call handling. The ride quality is reasonably good and the seats hold you in position effectively. The 2.0-litre i-VTEC engine will accelerate to 60mph in 10.5 seconds and run on to a top speed of 115mph. It's virtually silent at idle but rev it hard and it gets a good deal more vocal. Driven in a more circumspect manner, the 2,0-litre FR-V will return a combined fuel figure of nearly 32mpg. The CO2 emissions of 212g/km were never going to endear it to too many company car drivers, limiting its ultimate sales. That role fell to the diesel model, a car that can return an average fuel figure in excess of 47mpg.
The FR-V is an interesting proposition. It pays to have an extended test drive and to play with all the seating combinations to see if it will suit your requirements but with three very good engines and a personality that's a lot more engaging than the usual mini-MPV dross, this Honda is well worth a look if you're in the market for something nearly new.
Honda FR-V (2004 - 2009) review by ANDY ENRIGHT