But the first six-seater to feature a V-formation arrangement for maximum occupant comfort also promises to be a hit in the user-chooser sector, believes the Japanese company.
A Honda UK spokesman said: 'This car is only fractionally bigger than a Civic but it has a massive interior. We are expecting it to do well for us with the fleets.'
Sharing its underpinnings with the CR-V sport utility vehicle, the FR-V is available in all-wheel drive in its domestic market, where it went on sale this week. But European market examples will offer only front wheel drive.
The spokesman added: 'Moving the Accord upmarket has left a gap in our range and the FR-V will be used to plug it in a way we feel will be seen as innovative and interesting. It's the perfect addition to the line-up.'
As prototypes of the European range were unveiled at the company's research and development centre in Frankfurt, research and development president Yasuhisa Mackawa said: 'This is a car that has something for everybody. We believe it is a car for all reasons. It's all about attitudes to the car and the way people lead their lives.'
According to Mackawa, research in several European countries established that potential customers viewed the car as both attractive and dynamic. He said: 'We found that women like MPVs because they appreciate the practicality of their design, but men tend to be less enthusiastic.
They see them as vans for family transport and not particularly exciting to drive. So we have been pleased to find that most of the people who have seen the FR-V view its tall, wide, one-box shape as more akin to a car than a van.'
Chief engineer Masaaki Tsunoda added: 'We worked hard to achieve a style that looked solid and road-hugging, but we tried even harder to develop a new kind of interior that makes it easier for families to talk to each other.
'When families travel, everyone wants to share the experience, so we opted for a wide track, short wheelbase that allows the centre seat on both rows to be moved backwards, a feature that also provides greater shoulder room. We recognise that kids want to be up front with their parents, but the V-formation also puts them close enough to interact with passengers in the rear.'
Pricing is yet to be fixed, but Honda UK will pitch its newcomer against the Renault Scenic, Ford C-MAX and Volkswagen Touran.
Slater said: 'Annual production has been set at 80,000 units and 25% is earmarked for Europe. As the largest overseas market, the UK will account for 5,000 examples. We feel we have something of real benefit that can't be found in any other compact MPV, either in five or seven-seat form, so we expect the FR-V to allow us to make some progress against lower D-sector vehicles.
'The range will be priced toward the premium end of the market - it will be seen as particularly good value against the Grand Scenic but will cost less than the Touran.
'Our hope is to lure customers from high-specification Golfs and mid-spec Mondeos and we'll follow the practice set with Accord in not offering discounts, to help protect residual values.'
Available at launch with 1.7-litre and 2.0-litre petrol engines, by next May the FR-V will be using Honda's acclaimed 2.2-litre turbodiesel motor from the Accord.
Like the CR-V, the car is expected to come in S, SE and SE Sport trim levels and while UK specification details have not yet been finalised, it has been decided that front, side and full-length curtain air bags, climate control air conditioning and power windows will be standard.
Behind the wheel
Engineers at Honda have a reputation for building race-winning engines, but they've also come up with several novel ideas to put more space into small cars.
Their flat floor concept made the Civic feel bigger a few years ago and more recently, 'magic' rear seats have given the Jazz the lead in supermini packaging. Now another innovation is ready to win them praise in the burgeoning market for compact MPVs.
The V-shape formed when centre seats are moved back by a maximum of 270mm at the front and 170mm at the rear effectively increases shoulder room for everyone when six people sit in the FR-V, and the arrangement still leaves plenty of space for luggage.
With seats in the usual bench arrangement, the vehicle that's slimmer than the Fiat Multipla (and the C-MAX, surprisingly) appears to have a remarkably wide interior and the centre seat backrest folds to provide armrests, a table and storage.
As you'd expect, the FR-V uses a Jazz-type single operation to fold the rear seats (leaving a flat floor and a huge luggage area) and a Civic-style dash panel gear lever, which means there is no transmission tunnel.
As a result, the internal proportions seem van-like, but high-grade trim makes it feel like a limousine. In a short test drive around Frankfurt, the FR-V certainly felt more like a car than a van and seemed to be potentially relaxing long-distance transport.
My test model had the two-litre petrol engine, which was quiet at all speeds and smooth, six-speed transmission. Despite its size, this is a light car that has neat handling, is nippy in town and lively on the open road.
Because the two-row seating arrangement allows for a relatively short wheelbase, the car has a small turning circle and is easy to park. For a prototype, finish quality was impressive.
Honda is relatively late to the compact MPV party, but the packaging of the FR-V is unique and a smart alternative to the normal choice of either five or seven seats. This car is able to carry six people and 439 litres of luggage, and with three in the front, luggage capacity rises to 1,049 litres. That's likely to be reason enough for it to be of interest to the fleet and family driver.
|Honda F-RV||1,668||1,998||2,204cc i-CTDi|
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||123/6,300||147/6,500||130/4,000|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm):||113/4,800||140/4,000||250/2,000|
|Max speed (mph):||113||121||n/a|
|Fuel consumption (mpg):||35.5||31.7||n/a|
|CO2 emissions (g/km):||189||212||n/a|
|Fuel tank capacity (l/gal):||58/12.7|
|Transmission:||5-sp man||or 6-sp man|