The Honda HR-V is a groundbreaking and quirky car in search of a market. Our readers find out if it's for them
This has to be one of the most perplexing cars we've ever tested. The Honda HR-V (or High Rider Vehicle) comes hot off the production lines of the niche-crazy Japanese who specialise in manufacturing gaps in the market, and then designing cars to fill them.

Its main ingredients? A four-wheel-drive system that applies power to the rear wheels when needed; the ground clearance of an off-roader; the stiffly sprung suspension of a road car; a slick gear change; a brazen roof spoiler; and styling so trendy it hurts.

There is certainly nothing like it around at the moment. The Land Rover Freelander might target the same market but it is a whopping pounds 3,000 more than the pounds 13,995 HR-V, while the cheapest Toyota RAV4 is pounds 2,000 dearer (and vile). No, the HR- V's true rivals are more likely to be oddballs like Citroen's Berlingo Multispace, Mercedes' A-Class, or the new Beetle - cars that cater to quirky lifestyles.

The HR-V certainly gets attention, especially in this colour. But while the exterior is a striking blend of squashed Volvo and Escort Cosworth, the interior space belies its bulky road presence. There really is very little room, especially for rear passengers - assuming they can dislocate their shoulders to gain access in the first place. Where it scores heavily over rivals is in visibility. You climb up into the HR-V and, once seated, you enjoy a tennis umpire's view of proceedings.

On the move the 1.6-litre engine struggles to haul you to its top speed of 99mph. But handling is similar to a normal road car's, with remarkably controlled body roll for a car of this height. Off-road, the HR-V has the wrong tyres, clutch, suspension settings and gearing to cope with anything more challenging than a dewy lawn.

I don't know about "Joy Machine", as the ad campaign dubbed the HR-V ("More mincing machine", one friend said), but the HR-V deserves to succeed. Just don't ask me what it's for.

Dr Neville Haile

65, retired geologist, from Oxford. Currently drives a Mercedes E-Class

"It's noisy compared to my Mercedes but some people might like the throatyness. It dances and rolls a bit on the road, acceleration feels OK but that might be a perception partly affected by the noise it makes - you think you're going fast but you're not. It's not a car I would buy as it's not really roomy enough and you can only get legless dwarfs in the back. Long motorway drives would be tiring in this. It's designed to look sparky but it doesn't seem to have the performance to match. It's not a serious off-roader."

Janie Hampton

47, biographer from Oxford. Currently rides a moped

Raj Balasubramanyam 24, novelist, from Lancaster. Currently carless

Janie: "I'm immediately prejudiced against this because it only has two doors, if you were genuinely going to use this in the country you'd need four. But I like the wing mirrors and the blue dash. It is cheaper than a new Beetle but any car over pounds 5,000 is horrendous."

Raj: "It's pretty funky, there's not much knee room for rear passengers and it was very bumpy, in fact I felt like sheep on its way to the abattoir in the back. It has a very attractive speedometer."

Michael Wender

36, head chef, from Ducklington, near Oxford. Currently drives a Volkswagen Passat

"The door sounded a bit tinny when you shut it. There's no legroom in the back and it's a bit expensive for a 1.6-litre car. The wing mirrors are good but they look horrific. I would imagine this being driven by a professional, single woman in a decent job, a town dweller. It's quite easy to drive but there doesn't feel like there's a lot of power. If it was full of people and their luggage it would be a bit slow, there's no acceleration at all really.The trim reminds me of a Marks and Spencer anorak."

Jacob Raven

27, solicitor, from Oxford. Currently rides a Honda CB500 motorcycle

"Compared to a saloon with the same engine size it's very noisy. Visibility is good, the mirrors are excellent. The lack of rear legroom is irritating, it's really just a car for single people. I don't think it's tough enough for off-road work, or trendy enough to be fashionable. I'd definitely hesitate to take it somewhere where you need a car with muscle. It gives an impression of cheapness, it just doesn't feel like a quality car. When you close the door there's a cheap sound. There are lots of four-wheel drives that look cool, but this isn't one of them." n

Road test

If you would like to take part, write to The Verdict, The Independent Magazine, One Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL, giving a contact phone number, your address and details of the type of vehicle, if any, you drive. For most cars, participants must be over 26, and have a clean driving licence.

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