Updated: May 29, 2016 12:01:10 am
The Honda BR-V is here, and it is not an SUV. Other crossover products from rival companies aren’t any good to flaunt the “SUV” tag either, but most of them appear to fit the description. The BR-V looks every bit a mature MPV (multi-purpose vehicle) than a pseudo SUV (sport utility vehicle).
The broad shape of the Mobilio is incontestably apparent and the BR-V’s profile doesn’t do anything to hide its roots. However, the car’s bold chrome front seems inconsistent with the rest of the design. And while the BR-V has gained a bit of height, it has also gained a fair amount of length. But, as a package, the BR-V makes for a good purchase.
I like the Mobilio; I always have. It was clearly one of the better surprises of 2014, when it was launched, and the petrol model was good fun — something that’s not considered very fitting for an MPV!
So naturally, I expected the BR-V to be make the driving experience as good as the Mobilio. I was wrong — it’s better. The front has been engineered to accommodate a wider track and while the BR-V rides on mostly the same suspension setup at the rear as the Mobilio, the fronts get a revised spring rate; the damping has been altered to aid dynamics and compensate for the added bulk. The overall ride is a bit on the stiffer side and when the load is light, the firmness is fairly noticeable. The upside is that when the car is loaded with four or more passengers, and some light luggage, it settles down and feels reasonably tolerant towards the lateral and vertical movements of the usual undulations on the roads.
However, the steering felt strange. It’s sufficiently quick and direct for a car of this size and bulk, but there’s a tendency to overcompensate during self-centering — the return action is a tad too sharp compared to the Mobilio and there’s hardly any progressive feel off-centre.
Honda’s petrol engines have always been praised for the way they sound and work. The Brio’s 1.2-litre is my favourite of the modern-day Hondas in India — get it north of 3,000 rpm and the sound from that little mouse of a car is genuinely pleasing! The 1.5 that the BR-V gets is the same motor that drives the City: 118 bhp and 145 Nm don’t make for heart-stopping numbers but they are adequate.
The BR-V isn’t about great 0-100 time, but the mid-range is strong. While the basic architecture of the gearbox is the same as the Mobilio’s 5-speed unit, the BR-V gets a six-speed manual transmission. The initial gears have been shortened and the first gear is as much as 12 per cent down on ratio, while the sixth is seven per cent higher. The Mobilio felt slightly more flexible in the third and fourth gears while the BR-V feels that from fourth gear on. The shift quality is quite notchy, however, and there’s a sense of reluctance from the gearbox in flowing through the gate smoothly.
The petrol also comes with an option of a CVT gearbox which has seven steps compared to five in the City. The automatic variant is more about convenience and it does quite fine in city driving limits — owing to the seven steps, there are more set points for the engine — but if you open the throttle, the typical rubber band effect of the CVT gets very evident.
The diesel BR-V shares its six-speed manual gearbox with the City but it runs a shorter final drive ratio to aid performance. The engine is, by now, quite a familiar one as it powers every product in Honda’s diesel portfolio. It’s a quick spinning 99 bhp, 200 Nm motor that gives good mid-range poke, but you’ll need to keep it over 1,800 revs to get any reward from it.
We were driving around in a slightly uphill section and decided to see how cleanly the torque pulls the car. We didn’t move until we’d given a heavy dose of throttle and crossed 2,200 on the rev counter. The shift quality, as with the petrol-engined car, is not as good as that of Hondas of the past — which is weird because you’d expect things to improve with better manufacturing processes and R&D outputs.
The chassis is bland but you can’t complain the way the BR-V drives — it’s quite flat, even quick to dart into corners and there’s barely any load shift that will scare you. One note of caution — while the brakes are sharp and bite well, the ABS system on our test car acted up a couple of times and we experienced tyres getting locked on one occasion.
Also, you’re advised to avoid turning into corners riding the brakes as it can unsettle the car and the rear may hop a little. Straight-line high-speed stability otherwise is quite good and the suspension, too, shows maturity going at speed, soaking in mostly everything without complaint.
BR-V has the updated look from Honda’s stable for its core business-end of things — the cabin. The Amaze was given a refresh recently and the BR-V borrows the cabin from it. It’s got a simplistic undertone to it and there are no fussy details anywhere. It’s not drab, but it’s not stylish either — there’s actually an evolved Jazz/City look about the interior. It gets most of the usual gibbons like music playback through multiple sources, single-zone climate control, rear AC vents, electrically folding outside mirrors, etc. Dual airbags are offered standard across the trims but there’s no parking sensors or reversing camera, which is desperately missed as this is a reasonably long car.
The BR-V scores big points on flexibility and practicality. The seats recline, slide and fold flat, plus there’s enough room for two above-average or tallish people in the first two rows. If, however, you’re on the taller side, you’ll find the third row a bit difficult to be in, especially after a few hours on the road.
The front seats are well-designed and offer good support. The rear ones, though, are thinly padded and lack under-thigh comfort; the cabin is a bit on the tighter side to allow three to be seated next to each other. Even the lower back feels tired as the seat-back design is flat and there’s literally no fixed lumbar support. The luggage space even with the third row up in position is decent for a couple of medium-sized bags.
For some time now, Honda has been showing up late to the party. It arrived late to the diesel gig, and it’s entered the SUV game late as well. That said, the BR-V is a smartly packaged car — it’s spacious (though not as wide as other cars in the segment), and has got mostly every feature that’s a norm in the market (other than the omission of parking sensors and reversing camera).
It’s got an unfussy automatic that will serve well in city traffic and the platform is sorted with a good ride-and-handling balance for a car of its size. It may not have the maturity and quality of the Hyundai Creta or the rugged appeal of the Renault Duster, but look at it more like an MPV, and the BR-V would suddenly rise in appeal. It’s what the Mobilio should have been.
Engine: 1.5-litre petrol / 1.5-litre diesel
Power: 118bhp @ 6,600rpm / 99bhp @ 3,600rpm
Torque: 145Nm @ 4,600rpm / 200Nm @ 1,750rpm
Gearbox: 6-speed manual or CVT / 6-speed manual
Claimed Fuel Efficiency: 15.4Km/l (16Km/l for CVT) / 21.9Km/l
Price: Rs 8.75 lakh onwards
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