Honda’s new mid-size SUV feels familiar and comforting in a segment with brands trying to one-up each other
In the lush green hills outside Udaipur, we showed up to get a taste of the Honda Elevate just as the skies opened up to a heavy downpour and stayed that way all through our time there. At times like these, the comfort that familiarity offers is often underappreciated. The Elevate is a brand-new car from Honda, but like every other Honda, you immediately feel at home the moment you step foot in it.
The Honda Elevate finds itself in an extremely crowded space, and more importantly it is very late to the party. Established rivals and contenders exist here from every other mass market brand in the country. The Japanese carmaker, late as it is, has chosen to do what it does best and deliver an SUV that is quintessentially Honda in every aspect. The SUV then doesn’t try to incorporate every feature under the sun. Nor does it have a large selection of engine and transmission options for buyers.
Let us start with the design. True to its name, the Elevate sits elevated over the ground with a class-leading 220mm of ground clearance. It eschews a flashy design in favour of straight lines and handsome proportions that are sure to age well. There are well-crafted details too. Things like the large, vertical grille, details in the headlights and taillights, muscular haunches, squared-off nose and the 17-inch alloys give definition to what is, at least in profile, everyone’s mental image of a high-riding mid-size SUV. A number of journalists at the drive were of the opinion that the Elevate looks bland. I disagree. It is the sort of design that grows on you as you spend more time with it. It certainly did for me.
More of the same continues on the inside. And that’s a good thing. While the dash layout itself might be very conventional, everything is put together very well and seems built to last. The cabin has a fairly simple brown-black colour scheme that looks good without being flashy. The switchgear, especially for the air conditioning, has a wonderful tactile quality to it while the touchscreen infotainment system is slick and easy to use. Ergonomically, the Honda Elevate is well thought through and every control is perfectly positioned. It is easy to get into a great driving position with even the pedals perfectly positioned (something that isn’t always the case with so many cars) and the infotainment tilted towards the driver, at the right angle. With the Elevate based on the same City platform, there is a fair amount of commonality in parts and that’s easily seen on the inside. Again that’s not a bad thing at all with the familiarly good quality steering wheel, levers, indicator/wiper stalks and window switches carried over.
The seats themselves are very comfortable, with good support. And the large window area does bring in some amount of light into what is otherwise a darker cabin. The second row, while not being very wide, has the perfect amount of cushioning and support with generous storage spaces in the doors. Visibility out of the cabin in the back is good despite a high window line. The sunroof is not a panoramic unit and that does make it feel a little shortchanged when we compare the Elevate with the competition. That
said, the cabin has loads of cleverly designed storage spaces that are always at an arm’s length. Similarly, the boot space is a class-leading 458 litres with a loading lip that’s not too high. It’s the things that don’t immediately stand out in a brochure or marketing material that Honda really excels at. The result is a very comfortable, well-engineered cabin that meets the needs of both the driver and the passengers.
Other omissions in the features list include auto wipers, a 360-degree camera, front parking sensors and ventilated seats. There is wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay with switchable wireless charging (to double up as storage when not charging a device). The semi-digital instrument cluster looks like it is from a last-gen car but the digital half offers useful information about ADAS. Even if it is a little dated, the instrument cluster is well executed and does its job well with all useful information available at a glance.
This brings us to the ADAS suite in the Honda Elevate. Called Honda Sensing, it is also offered on the Honda City and includes auto emergency braking, lane keep assist, road departure warning and prevention, and a lead car departure warning. Additionally, there’s auto high beam as well which automatically switches between high and low beams.
There’s the sole 1.5-litre i-VTEC engine with the option of a CVT automatic or a six-speed manual. Unlike in the City, there’s no hybrid option here and the engine does seem to lack outright performance. The CVT is buttery smooth and easy to use in the city but as soon as you want to get a move on, the rubber-band effect of the gearbox makes its presence felt. More annoying is how loud the engine gets as you move up the rev range. While the i-VTEC engine is very tractable, there isn’t a lot of power lower down in the rev-range, which means that you end up revving the engine hard to make good progress. If I were in the market for an Elevate, I would stick to the manual gearbox. The shifts are smooth, the clutch is light and you get a lot more control with the manual. There isn’t a lot of torque on offer (145Nm) and that means that hill climbs like the one we were doing outside Udaipur, especially with the CVT, aren’t particularly enjoyable. But that said, if you are looking at the the SUV for city use and can live with low power and torque on offer, the Elevate is easy to drive like few other cars in thesegment. Also, it might just be a lot more fuel efficient than its turbo-petrol rivals in the real world.
Once you look beyond the engine, the Honda SUV starts to make more sense. The ride and handling package on the Elevate is seriously good. It handles competently, takes care of bad roads without a fuss and the light controls (steering, pedals and gear lever) make it relaxing to drive in the city. As speeds go up, the steering weighs up and the ride remains pliant but firm. Through the corners, it stays planted with very little body roll. And when you do need to come to a stop in a hurry, the disc + drum setup offers commendable stopping power.
To sum it up, the Honda Elevate delivers everything that you’d expect from a Honda SUV. It looks good without doing anything flashy, the interiors are pleasing to the eye and are extremely well thought out, it is easy to drive, rides and handles well, and gets just about enough kit. Pricing will be key to how well the Elevate does, but I reckon Honda loyalists will lap it up even if it is positioned towards the higher end of the segment.
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