My wife and I live in Hong Kong, but usually take two short breaks each year in Taiwan. The main purpose of these are to see performances by Shen Yun Performing Arts Company. We go in February or March, is to see the Shen Yun impressive stage show and then again in September is to listen to performances by the full Shen Yun Orchestra.
We quite often hire a car and extend our stay for a few days to explore Taiwan. We did not hire a car last year but in 2016 we were in Taichung and the only car we seemed to be able to hire was a small family car ─ a Honda Fit. I usually hire bigger cars and looking at the vehicle specification I was not overly enthusiastic to the prospect, but after driving it for a few days and putting it through its paces in town, on freeways and up steep, twisty mountainous tracks I ended up giving it a thumbs up. On all driving terrains, I was impressed with its overall handling and performance and in particular the way it coped with the narrow mountainous track to the upper reaches of Yushan mountain.
This year we flew to Kaohsiung in the south of the island, stayed a night in Pingtung to take in one of the orchestral performances and then traveled to the southern tip for two days of relaxation and exploring. For this visit there was a choice between the Honda Fit and a slightly more costly hire, the Honda HR-V a two wheel drive sub SUV. After some iteration we finally booked the more expensive option, 1) to try a different model and 2) hoping that it would be an even better drive.
After booking I looked at the specification: front-engined, front wheel drive, with 1.8L engine, automatic transmission (with steering wheel paddle shifts), a 5-seater sub SUV hatchback, shod with 215/55/R17 tires. The specification sounded ok putting my mind to rest. I then read some reviews, which were generally positive particularly with regard to handling and in town diving, but a few of the reviews marked it down on “out-of town performance”. Some gave me a negative feeling and I discussed with my wife if we should revert to a “FIT”, but in the end we decided not to make a change as it might complicate the hiring process.
A few days before departure, I went to the local Honda dealer in Hong Kong and looked at the same model which is called a “Vezel ” in Hong Kong and I was quite pleased with what I saw, but I was told by the very helpful sales staff that it is only available in Hong Kong with a 1.5L engine, so they had no experience of driving the 1.8L version on sale in Taiwan, so they could not allay my concerns.
Arriving in Kaohsiung we collected an almost new HR-V. My initial impression looking round the car was good. Appealing to look at, a good range of instrumentation laid out as seen in Hong Kong and after making minor seat/steering column adjustments to suit my 5ft-6inch frame, I found the driving position comfortable, the firm seats gave good all round support, instrumentation is clear and well-marked. All equipment was positioned ergonomically and with the normal configuration I would expect. Lights/traffic indicators on the left hand stork, wiper controls (front and rear) on the right hand stork. Well positioned and comfortable, steering wheel paddle shifts. Release levers for fuel filler cap and bonnet (Hood) clearly marked and in easy access positions.
Buttons to the left of the steering wheel to switch on/off: economy mode, traction control, halogen headlight height adjustment, low tire pressure warning and rear distance sensors (why they provide this latter option is beyond me). The main instrumentation display includes, fuel gauge with fuel consumption indicator, rev counter (marked to 8000rpm with red line above 6,500rpm), speedometer dial marked to 220Km/hr. On the right hand side of the instrument panel are distance, A & B trip meters, an economy meter which monitor fuel usage, a fuel gauge, and digital clock. There are also displays for outside temperature and for gear engaged when using the paddle shifts.
We arrived at Pingtung, our first destination early in the afternoon and only traveled about 30Km on day 1. Much of the traveling was in town or in fairly heavy traffic. The HR-V is easy to drive, steering is accurate stable and responsive, the auto gear-shift layout is simple and straightforward with the normal inline operation of: Parking, Reverse, Neutral, Drive and Second (S) described as a lower range of ratios for better acceleration and increased engine braking.
The engine is started and stopped with a clearly marked Start/Stop button (very convenient to use). a brake park/release and a useful brake hold button are included to the rear of the main control lever. On the door armrest are the power window and door mirror adjustment controls.
All in all an impressive list of equipment for a sub SUV model.
On the audio/video side there were controls for radio and for separate USB input, but no screen was provided. A separate Garmin navigation device was included in the hire.
The car doors are locked/unlocked using a separate key fob.
Our trip to Taiwan coincided with the arrival of super typhoon Mangkhut, a category 4 typhoon and the strongest seen in the world in 2018, not a direct hit on Taiwan but it still packed a severe punch. The area in Taiwan hardest hit was near the southern tip of the island, exactly where we were heading on Mangkhut’s day of arrival, Saturday Sept 15. Our destination was Hengchun Township, the nearest town to the southern tip of the island! The name Hengchun means “Always Spring”, but it was not very Spring-like when we arrived.
Hengchun is about 95 Km south of Pingtung by freeway and then along a coastal road on the west side of the island. When we started from Pingtung it was raining occasionally with some accompanying gusts of wind, but nothing out of the ordinary. As we traveled south the weather became increasingly worse culminating in severe bouts of gale force winds whipping across the road and accompanied by torrential rain. On looking at the sea it was brown in colour, fully churned with huge waves lurching towards coast. The HR-V took it all in its stride, perfectly stable with the steering and suspension performing amazingly well, the 3 speed wiper option coped well under appalling conditions and I was pleased to have a rear window wiper available to allow vision through the rear screen – I was very impressed. This was a real test for the vehicle as well as for the driver and front seat passenger. We stopped once at Mad Dog Point to take some photos of the sea but the wind and rain was so strong, wife only took a couple of quick photos through the car window, before we decided to move on. We were pleased to arrive at the sanctuary of our hotel accommodation without incident. We sat it out at the hotel for the rest of the day and part of the next with strong winds and heavy rain bursts pounding at the windows. Watching TV late into the evening it showed quite a bit of devastation.
But by late morning on Sunday the weather was improving and we set off to see what the southern tip of the island was like – all of it is known as Kenting National Park. We drove through Hengchun town with some of its ancient city gates intact.
We then explored the “Gooses Nose” to the lighthouse. Traveling along the coast road we could often view the sea, we stopped for photos at the Thuanfan Rock and noticed that the sea was still very rough.
We continued to drive a little way up the east coast noting some interesting look-out options to explore. Just inland a bit, there are several forest and nature parks to choose from. We took a circular route into Kenting National Forest Recreation Area and stopped to visit a lake, but when the signs mentioned “watch out for poisonous insects and snakes” my wife got cold feet and we headed back to the safety of the car. We then looked for one of Chiang Kai-Shek holiday homes which is now a hotel. After finding it we had the opportunity to look around this 5 star hotel, with many original possessions of the man himself.
We then explored the “Cats Nose” took a few photos, visited a marina and sampled the local seafood after which it was time to head back to our hotel.
Before traveling north to Kaohsiung the next day we had a leisurely breakfast and took a few photos of the car.
Throughout our travels I tried various options. The paddle shifts were easy to use and smoothly moved the transmission down and back up through the gears, but if left in a lower gear it soon seemed to jump back up into auto drive. I did not have chance to try the paddle shifts on a sustained uphill drive so on this trip I never really resolved this matter in my mind. Also I had no need to use the S mode drive position, but I did switch the economy button on and off, but did not feel much difference in performance and finally left it in economy mode as it gave a smoother, less harsh engine sound. I did not do much close parking on this trip but I did not hear the rear parking sensors operate. I noted that there is a button to switch these on / off but I am not sure why such a button would be provided.
The return journey north was a straight-forward trip but it also reconfirmed my feelings about the car – very comfortable, easy to drive with positive handling and good in town and highway performance I reported my feelings to the hire company on returning the car.
All photos by Bill Cox / Epoch Times.