I can't say that I have ever had a Howa but a very close personal friend whom I shoot with often has owned many. My friend is a professional roo and pig shooter and shoots every night. He certainly loves and does own more expensive rifles but for his job he only uses Howa's.
His previous Howa's have all been sporter models with synthetic stocks in 223 and fitted with Nikko scopes. He would shoot these rifles with hand loads and would easily make the required head shots each and every time. He would simply shoot the rifles until the barrels would wear out and then he would move on to another Howa.
For his current rifle he has moved up in the food chain and got himself a stainless heavy barrel 223 with a laminated stock and once again he is more than happy with it's performance. Fitted with his trusty old Nikko he shoots five shots under half inch at 100 meters without any problems.
His current rifle is now about four months old and shooting like a dream and he loves it. As for the other rifles he never had problems with any of them until the barrels began to wear out from too many rounds through them.
And for the record as I said before he does own several other more expensive rifles including Remington's, Weatherby's and some very interesting custom rifles
but for work it's the Howa that gets pulled out of the gun cabinet because it's cheap and shoot great. If he drops it I'm sure he will cry less than if he drop's that MkV.
Go to the range and talk to people who own them and see them shot and even ask to have a shoot. Ask other shooters face to face what they think of them and then you can decide what works for you. Yes you can always buy a more expensive rifle and step up a model but when do you stop. Your the one who will spend the money and at the end of the day you need to be happy with your decision with not a decision which has been forced onto you. Yes the Tikka's are good so are the Remington's, Savage's and Weatherby's but they are all extra and they in turn don't rate against many custom rifles. Get the advice, shoot the gun's and then buy what you can afford and want to spend.
Either way good luck with it and I hope whatever you get shoots well for you.