The Honda BR-V is here, and let’s get the main thing out of the way — it is not an SUV. Other crossover products from rival companies aren't any good to flaunt the true ‘SUV’ tag either, but most of them at least fit the description on appearance. The BR-V looks every bit a mature MPV than a pseudo SUV. It’ll be fitting to say that the Mobilio is conspicuous by its absence here. The broad shape of the Mobilio is incontestably apparent and the Honda BR-V’s profile doesn't do anything to hide its roots. Looks are subjective and I don't much like to voice my displeasure or excitement on the way a car is styled in a very elaborate way, but I must point out that the BR-V’s bold and chromed front has a sense of incoherence to 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 which negates the impression of vertical dimensional advantage of the car. But, in its entirety, as a package, the Honda BRV makes good sense.
I like the Mobilio; I always have. In fact, during the ‘Best of 2014’ evaluation tests at the Buddh International Circuit (BIC) with the magazine I used to work for, and still contribute to, AutoX, I remember having a bright smile and sharing happy notes about the Mobilio — the 1.5-litre petrol variant, mind you. It was clearly one of the most surprising cars of the lot — after all, it isn't expected of an MPV to perform and achieve the limits like it did.
So naturally, having that experience in the back of my mind, I went in expecting the Honda BRV to be somewhere around the same level of driving fun. It’s better. The front has been engineered to accommodate a wider track and while the BR-V rides on chiefly the same suspension setup at the rear as the Mobilio, fronts get a revised spring rate and the damping has been altered to aid dynamics and compensate for added bulk. The overall ride is a bit on the stiffer side and under light load, the firmness is fairly noticeable. The upside is that when the car is loaded up with 4 or more passengers, and some light luggage perhaps, it settles down and feels reasonably cultivated and tolerant towards the lateral and vertical movements due to usual undulations on the roads.
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 global engineering and development team responsible for the BR-V reckoned it might be due to the increased output of the power-steering’s electric motor which is now column-mounted compared to the Mobilio’s pinion-mounted setup.
Honda’s petrol engines have always been praised for the way they sound and work. The Brio’s 1.2-litre is my favourite in the modern-day Hondas that we have — get it north of 3,000 and the sound from that little mouse of a car is genuinely pleasing! The 1.5 that the Honda BRV gets is the same motor that drives the City. 118bhp and 145Nm don't make for heart-stoping 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 6-speed manual transmission. The initial gears have been shortened and the first gear is as much as 12 percent down on ratio, while the 6th is 7 percent higher. The Mobilio felt slightly more flexible in the 3rd and the 4th gears while the BR-V feels that from 4th 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 Honda BRV petrol also comes with an option of a CVT gearbox which has 7 steps compared to 5 in the City. The automatic variant is more about convenience and it does quite fine in city driving limits — owing to the 7 steps as 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 Honda BR-V shares its 6-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 99bhp, 200Nm motor that gives good mid-range poke, but you’ll need to keep it over 1800 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 literally 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 only improve with better manufacturing processes and R&D outputs.
The chassis is bland but you cant complain the way the Honda BRV 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 best 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.
The Honda BRV 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’re 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 mostly all the usual gubbins 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 Honda 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 any taller than Lady Gaga, you’ll find the third row a bit difficult to be in if the clock ticks over a couple of hours on the road. The front seats are designed well and support you nicely in mostly all crucial places. The rear ones though are thinly padded and lack under-thigh comfort and 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 quite decent for a couple of medium sized bags.
Honda has been coming late to the parties. It came late to the diesel gig, and it’s entered the SUV game late as well. That said, the Honda BRV 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 not as an SUV, but more like an MPV, and the BR-V would suddenly rise in appeal. It’s what the Mobilio should've been.
Honda BR-V Specifications:
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