The Honda ZR-V is a brilliant family SUV with a clever hybrid system

The ZR-V is essentially an SUV version of the Civic, one of our favourite new cars on sale today

Honda ZR-V
Honda’s ZR-V is a superb family SUV - if your budget can stretch to it

Cruising into the vaguely discernible gap between its HR-V and CR-V models comes yet another similarly named SUV from Honda, writes William Scholes.

This one is called ZR-V, which makes it a better Scrabble hand than the other two, if nothing else. Like every other Honda we’ve driven recently, it’s not only a very fine car but also one that leaves you feeling like you need to justify its price.

In truth, there is a ZR-V-sized gap in the Honda line-up. The latest CR-V has grown a little and been pushed upmarket – you’ll need £46k to get into the entry model these days – which left Honda with nothing to take on that vast part of the new car market occupied by the Kia Sportage, Hyundai Tucson, Nissan Qashqai, Ford Kuga and any number of other serious rivals for your family’s cash.

Honda’s smallest SUV, the HR-V, shares its running gear with the Jazz supermini and although an accomplished enough vehicle it isn’t quite substantial enough to take on the Sportage et al.

Honda ZR-V
The ZR-V shares much with the latest Civic hatch, including its hybrid drivetrain

Which is where the ZR-V comes in. Think of it as an SUV version of the Honda Civic, which is one of our favourite new cars on sale today. However excellent the Civic is, and however much I believe anyone in the market for a family car should immediately put it at the top of their wishlist, the evidence is that pretty much everyone – well, more than half of customers for new cars, according to industry statistics – wants an SUV.

Like a Civic, but taller - and heavier...

All the goodness that makes the latest Civic such a brilliant car – including its hybrid drivetrain, slick handling and lovely interior – has made its way to the ZR-V. The taller, heavier (by around 150kg) car doesn’t have the vim and energy of the hatchback Civic though – part of that car’s driver appeal lies in just how low it makes you feel you are sitting, and how it corners with such precision and immediacy – but it is a lot nicer to drive than a Sportage or Qashqai.

Honda ZR-V
The Honda ZR-V isn't the most distinctive looking family wagon on sale today, but it is an excellent all-round package

The suspension deserves an honourable mention here, managing to be comfortable while not so soft that the ZR-V’s height and weight overwhelms the chassis. Many similar vehicles end up with unnecessarily firm suspension.

Honda has made sure that all the goodness that makes the latest Civic such a brilliant car – including its hybrid drivetrain, slick handling and lovely interior – has made its way to the ZR-V

If there’s a weakness in the Honda’s credentials as a driver’s car, it’s found in the brakes ­– and not, perhaps surprisingly, in the hybrid drivetrain. The hybrid system is to blame, though, for the lack of finesse and response that the brake pedal offers at the top of its travel, which is where the ‘regenerative’ braking – that process whereby the car harvests energy for the battery – happens.

Push through that and you get the regular hydraulic, friction brakes, and a much more satisfying response.

Honda ZR-V
The Honda ZR-V's back seat is more than a match for family hauling duties

It’s only worth mentioning such a minor gripe because the rest of the ZR-V is so well sorted. The 2.0-litre hybrid drivetrain is a lovely thing, set-up to lean on its electric power more than you might expect, but also capable of satisfying bursts of acceleration, while being smooth and responsive at all times. It’s nicer in the Civic, though…

Honda ZR-V
The Honda ZR-V's dashboard is essentially the same as that of the Civic - no bad thing

Still, it’s economical for a car of this size, even when driven enthusiastically. Real-world fuel consumption in the high-40s mpg, nudging 50mpg, should be easily achievable.

Honda ZR-V
Though its boot is perfectly acceptable, the Honda ZR-V doesn't have the largest capacity in its class

When it comes to balancing boot space with rear passenger room, the ZR-V follows Honda’s practice from the Civic and HR-V of being firmly on the side of human occupants. There’s an abundance of room in the back for even tall children and adults, but at 380 litres, the seats-up luggage volume is on the disappointing side. It’s less, in fact, than the Civic hatch, and in a different league to the voluminous Skoda Karoq (520-588 litres) and Kia Sportage (540-591 litres).

There are three ZR-V trim levels, with prices running from £39,395 to £42,895. All are well equipped, shot through with quality and feel like they’re built to last. The ZR-V is another highly accomplished Honda – though I think I’d still choose a Civic, and save myself £5k…