2019 Honda HR-V Sport; Cars.com photo by Christian Lantry

First offered as a 2016 model, the Honda HR-V has been one of the most space-efficient subcompact SUVs you could buy. It still is, but the SUV’s Sport trim level, which is new for the 2019 model year, doesn’t appreciably elevate the driving experience.

Related: 2019 Honda HR-V Drops Stick, Raises Prices and Adds New Models

Sport models get gloss-black body trim and mirror caps, a honeycomb-style grille, larger wheels and a chrome exhaust finisher. The cabin, meanwhile, gets a black headliner, contrast seat stitching, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear selector, and metal pedals. (See the 2019 HR-V’s trims compared here.)

Those changes aside, the HR-V Sport still uses the same 141-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and continuously variable automatic transmission (the manual transmission has been dropped for 2019) as all the other trims. The drivetrain provides decent acceleration off the line, but it strains when you want to accelerate quickly — and that was without any luggage or other people onboard. Passing power is modest, too, as the engine delivers more noise than acceleration. The CVT’s Sport mode, however, delivers quicker acceleration from a standstill and keeps engine rpm higher.

Honda has launched some new turbo four-cylinder engines since the HR-V’s debut, and I kept wondering what the SUV would have been like had Honda put its 174-hp, turbo 1.5-liter four-cylinder from the Civic under the HR-V’s hood. Perhaps the HR-V Sport would have had a level of power befitting its name.

The HR-V Sport steers well — it has a variable-ratio power-steering system that other trims don’t get — but turn-in sharpness could be better; like the Nissan Kicks, there’s a slight delay between when you turn the steering wheel and the car responds. Competitors like the Hyundai Kona have sharper steering.

The Sport gets 18-inch alloy wheels (1-inch larger than the wheels on other trims) and, when it’s fitted with all-wheel drive like our test car was, different stabilizer bars than other HR-Vs. On the road, the Sport’s suspension tuning strikes a good balance between body control and comfort; the ride is taut and controlled, but it doesn’t feel harsh like the Kona can or busy like the Kicks.

2019 Honda HR-V Sport; Cars.com photo by Christian Lantry

A comfortable driver’s seat and good visibility are HR-V highlights. The Sport slots between the base LX trim and mid-range EX, and it mixes mid-level materials like fabric-wrapped upper door panels with entry-level features like manual air conditioning. The air conditioning dials are basic, but I prefer them to the touch-sensitive A/C controls on EX and higher trims.

The HR-V’s roomy backseat and cargo versatility are two of its best attributes, and few competitors come close to matching them more than three years after the SUV’s launch. The backseat is very comfortable with good legroom and thigh support, and the bottom cushion can flip up for carrying tall cargo, or the backrest can fold flat to extend the sizable cargo area.

Passenger comfort and cargo space are two things you typically sacrifice when buying a subcompact SUV, but the HR-V is the exception to the rule; it lives like a larger, compact SUV but with city-friendly dimensions. Now, if only the new HR-V Sport were actually sporty.

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