Honda WR-V technology, drive review: Tailored for India

By Souvik Das | Updated Dec 05 2017
Honda WR-V technology, drive review: Tailored for India

The Honda WR-V does have its rough edges, but still makes a lot of sense for the Indian market, and grows on you gradually.

The Honda WR-V has been in India for a while now, and has been steadily picking up pace on the popularity charts. Apart from the fact that it is a compact crossover based on a hatchback (which is the one of the most popular segments in the Indian car industry), the WR-V brings with itself an interesting dose of technology - an Android-powered infotainment system, power folding mirrors, keyless start, a sunroof, and much more. Is it, then, the car to choose for all the technology that it includes?

The infotainment system
The Honda DigiPad infotainment system was first seen in the 2017 Honda City. The unit that adorns the top trim of the Honda WR-V is the exact same, presenting a 7-inch touchscreen display running on a dated version of Android. While that may not seem to be the most promising note to begin with, it is important to note that this is an infotainment system inside a car and not an everyday smartphone/tablet.

There are two ways to assessing the DigiPad. To begin with, you can immediately reckon that most in India will be very comfortable in using this system simply because it looks so familiar. Switch on the system, and you get three Home screens housing tiled icons, floating on the aging Android KitKat wallpaper. These tiles include options for Browser, Email, Phone, Music, Storage, Navigation, connectivity interfaces and an App section. Essentially, the entire arrangement is similar to that of an Android smartphone, with all the tiles that you would get on a phone, even the app drawer. This instantly makes the system very easy to use, and the DigiPad has so far had the most lenient learning curve among all the in-car systems that we have reviewed.

The other way to assess the system is in its redundancy. While the familiarity of the interface is nice, the entire system seems a bit dated. The icons are opaque tiles, the wallpapers stutter, and there is limited graphic flair to this system. Additionally, most car buyers often look for something more premium in their car’s technology package, and it might be a bit underwhelming for some to see what essentially is an Android smartphone fitted into a car’s dashboard.

However, we’ll go with the positive notes. The Honda WR-V provides the easiest access to all features in comparison to most of its competition. You can also connect the system to the Internet from the settings menu, by linking it with your phone’s Wi-Fi hotspot. This will allow you to use the system’s built in Internet browser to watch videos from YouTube, or read articles, when the car is static (particularly helpful in Mumbai). The interface is simple and intuitive, and is pretty easy to operate. However, the system has a lot of glitches.

The browser itself throws up inconsistent glitches when you attempt to browse the Internet - an error that we had faced with the DigiPad unit in the 2017 Honda City as well. Worse still, our unit of the DigiPad in the Honda WR-V refused to connect to Wi-Fi hotspots, and prompted an ‘unknown error’ to this issue. Even a full reset of the system did not help solve it. We certainly hope that this is a standalone issue, because the ease of connecting your car’s system to Wi-Fi and streaming videos while on the go is one of the key features here.

The Honda DigiPad system does not get Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, and only gets MirrorLink – a system that you may seldom use. In terms of the display, the 7-inch panel is not crisp sharp, but is vibrant and bright enough to look pleasant. The touch response is good, although the Hyundai infotainment system offers smoother scrolling. The occasional stutters make the DigiPad system feel like it is running on an old Android OS. For adjusting the display at night, you get a Night Display mode to adjust the brightness and view content without hurting the eye or having to adjust manually, every time.

The App Drawer in the Honda DigiPad system, contrary to what the name suggests, is not a hub for third party apps that you can run on this system. In fact, it does not get any third party app support. What it does is collate all the options into one window, including connectivity, music, telephony, navigation, email, browser and audio equaliser.

The connectivity options is where the Honda WR-V is the best in class. You get three USB ports in the car, along with 1.5GB of on board flash storage, an HDMI port, SD card slot and Bluetooth connectivity. It does away with the CD/DVD player that has so long been standard in cars, but you would not really miss that nowadays. The level of flexibility allows multiple people to connect to the USB ports for charging or media playback, and you can simply swap between the USB ports from the interface tile on the home screen to choose which device you’d want to remain active. You can also seamlessly switch from USB, to aux, microSD card, HDMI and Bluetooth from the same tile, and the DigiPad system just works perfectly here. This is where it certainly is the best in class – both in terms of the way the connectivity options are operated, and how extensive the options are.

The navigation system is provided by a third party provider, and while it may not be the most graphically suave, it is certainly among the most functional, easy to use navigation systems among infotainment units in the WR-V’s class. The system can recognise Indian roads and addresses really well, something that many providers often struggle with, offer both touch based and voice input of addresses, and give a 2D view of the road ahead, along with total distance to destination, alternate routes, expected duration of journey, arrival time and even traffic updates. The Honda DigiPad navigation system sporadically recognised congestions, and also offered alternate routes and shortcuts. It is highly intuitive, and was fairly accurate as well.

On to the last element about the DigiPad’s features – music playback. The music interface is quite decent, but nothing surprising. This is the story about most of the Honda DigiPad’s features – while they are functional, they lack a layer of graphical refinement or smoothness. Honda has chosen practicality and familiarity over style, and while that certainly works for us, many may end up wanting more.

The audio quality itself is about acceptable. The eight speaker audio system offers decent loudness, but sounds slightly muddled in terms of clarity. The mid frequencies are attenuated, and the system clearly favours the lows to suit the average Indian listening style. You can, of course, customise all of this from the infotainment system’s home screen, from the Equaliser tab. You can select among one of the presets, or manually adjust the frequencies. With the manual adjustment, the Honda WR-V provides acceptable audio quality, and is even among the better in-car audio setups in this segment, barring Tata’s Harman-built speakers featured in the likes of the Nexon and Tigor.

Multi-Information Display
The multi-information display on the Honda WR-V is a duochrome blue-white unit, which has two digital bar indicators for showing instant fuel economy and the fuel level. It is operable from the steering wheel itself, and shows two trip counters, distance to empty, average fuel economy for each trip counter, total distance travelled, temperature outside and the present time.

The entire way of operation is really smooth and uncomplicated. The neon blue colour LED backlighting on the instrument cluster looks snazzy, and reminds us of the fancy digital speedometer that we first saw way back in the Honda Civic, almost a decade ago. The chrome rings surrounding the large speedometer at the centre, and the tachometer and digital MID on either side, further make it look quite suave. The MID unit is smooth, functional, and adds a touch of continuity with the blue tiled icons on the main infotainment display.

Other electronics
The Honda WR-V is raking up sales in an SUV-crazy nation, and a lot has to do with the overall package that it presents. You get touch controls for the automatic climate control, which look quite smooth and modern. The air conditioning itself is a tad noisy, and does take a while to cool the car on a sultry afternoon. The touch controls themselves are intuitive, although you may take longer to get used to the touch control placements, particularly because we are more used to physical controls and toggles.

The steering-mounted controls are contoured nicely, and takes much lesser time to get used to than the AC controls. You get volume and track controls, entertainment source selection, MID operation buttons, telephony buttons, and even cruise control, which is a rarity in this segment. Another feature that the WR-V adds to this segment to stand out is keyless start/stop and entry, with the engine switch mounted to the left of the steering wheel.

The biggest stand-out factor of the Honda WR-V, however, is the electric sunroof. It is this feature that we expect will draw many to it, as presently, none of its competitors include sunroofs, even in optional packages. Honda’s play with electronics also include the already-mentioned HDMI port, and all of these combined give the WR-V a unique position in the market, with peripheral features that none of its competitors presently have.

Upon first sight, nearly everyone assumes the WR-V to be the Jazz. But, even a slight inspection brings out the differences, and that is where the Honda WR-V impresses even more. The WR-V stands taller than the Jazz’s decidedly oval design. It gets a more muscular front facade, a new chrome strip up front, and redesigned tail lamps that add a little more character with the C-shaped LEDs. You also get more defined body arches and lines, and more robust body cladding. You also get roof rails on the WR-V, which hint at the fact that the WR-V is more of a crossover than a hatchback.

All of these add more definition to the WR-V, and it certainly looks much better than the Jazz. It stands out much more than a Volkswagen Cross Polo, Hyundai i20 Active or Toyota Etios Cross, and closely competes against the Maruti Suzuki S-Cross. Inside, the WR-V borrows much from the Honda City - the angular dash, for instance. The bold black facade also looks quite neat when the electronics are switched off. However, the seat covers are a bit dull, with the dark and dull grey contrast fabric. Brighter colours would have certainly helped make the cabin look and feel more airy.

The Honda WR-V has a pretty well balanced suspension, and its higher ground clearance means that you ride taller than in the Jazz. While sharp dents on the road do unsettle it, you will mostly be seated comfortably as the WR-V has a pretty pliant suspension that is a tad on the softer side to aid city driving. The WR-V has a pretty good rear bench that is good enough to sit three, although the thigh support is a bit shallow. This leads to a bit of unrest in long journeys, although for the most part in city rides, you will be fairly comfortable. The front seats also offer decent support, and you would not feel much fatigue unless you’re driving for very long hours.

The 1.5-litre diesel engine that powers the Honda WR-V produces 99bhp and 200Nm of torque. While the statistics are fairly respectable, what disappoints is the amount of noise that this engine makes. The grumble is audible at all points, and we only wish that the NVH levels were better refined. While the engine power is fairly decent for ambling around the city and the occasional 100kmph sprint down the highway, you will notice the lack of power in the Honda WR-V once you attempt a quick overtake, or are winding up slightly steeper terrain.

On the highway, though, the engine does fairly well, and we drew fuel economy of 18.4kmpl, which is actually quite impressive. The steering wheel is yet again among the best in its class, offering decent feedback. It still feels a bit too assistive, but does not completely alienate you from the road. On overall terms, the Honda WR-V is a slick handler in the city, and only feels a bit strained on the highway. The suspension is well balanced, and the decent steering wheel makes handling quite easy.

The only real difficulty I found was the gear knob. While the shorter ratios were fine for quicker shifts, the knob itself is a bit too slim, and even after the full four days with the WR-V, shifting still felt a little strange.

The Honda WR-V is a strong proposition in the cross-hatch market. It looks fresh and strong, has a pretty inclusive infotainment system, a number of stand-out features, and decent ride quality as well. It is certainly among the best in its class that we have driven so far, although there certainly is room for improvement.

The slightly dated Android interface may not still be appreciated by all, although most would still like how familiar it is. The engine feels a little underpowered at times, and the interior colour scheme is a bit austere. With a few fine tunes in a future upgrade, the Honda WR-V can be even more loved.


New Honda City 2017  The Tech Inside  Digitin
Souvik Das

The one that switches between BMWs and Harbour Line Second Class.

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