The Mobilio MPV may be priced in the Rs 8.5 lakh-Rs 11 lakh range

Multi-purpose vehicles formed a fringe segment not so long ago among individual car buyers. Even Bollywood's best couldn't help push up MPV sales. Except for small pockets of popularlity MPVs were basically looked upon as taxis.

During the last three years that has changed and Indian car buyers have taken to three rows of seats with a vengeance. And that included ones who had a nuclear family, not just those who were part of the great Indian joint family. But, in the metros, space outside is as much a premium as space inside the car. And so compact MPVs have been the people movers of the urban middle-class, while the big ones like the Chevrolet Tavera and the Mahindra Xylo have been given the skip.

After the Toyota Innova, Mahindra Xylo, Maruti Ertiga, Nissan Evalia and the Chevrolet Enjoy, the next one to join the line up is the Honda Mobilio. This Honda MPV joins the race later this month, at a time when the sentiment amongst car buyers has improved and the auto industry is looking forward to the possibility of a return to growth.

So, what does the Mobilio bring to the buyer in the segment?

Honda has used the Brio platform to build its challenger in the MPV segment. That is good news because it brings with it the promise of low costs and optimised cabin space. Buyers would have had a taste of this already with the Brio hatch and the Amaze sedan.

As can be seen in the pictures that accompany this short review, the Mobilio has been designed to camouflage the platform's compactness. Though it is evident that for a family van, its proportions are not intimidating at all. Honda designers have also smartly given the shoulder line a kink at the rear door, to break the visual monotony of the MPVs design lines.

Outside-Inside

The Mobilio's wheelbase has been lengthened by 247 mm and almost 195 mm of that has been taken up for the rear door to make it easy for occupants to enter and exit the second and third row of seats. The Mobilio's ground clearance is a high 189 mm, but the low floor height and large, wide opening doors will be a big help for older passengers. The loading height at the rear hatch door is similarly at a convenient height.

The Mobilio's overall length is just shy of 4.4 metres, which is a little more than the Ertiga's and a bit less than the Innova. But when we stepped into the Mobilio, it did seem to have more space than would have seemed possible from its external dimensions.

At the front, the face of the Mobilio has elements of the Brio and the Amaze, but Honda designers have managed to give it an identity by slapping on a thick, prominent chrome grille, a fender with larger airdams and the raised roof. There is also going to be a RS trim with more robust elements and special features like LED turn indicators and unique set of alloy wheels.

Viewed from the rear, the compactness of the Mobilio is more evident, with the small hatch door and oversized tail-lamps. There is a lot of glass area all around the Mobilio, giving the cabin a well-lit, airy feel.

The cabin also carries forward some of the Brio genes, which means that there is a fair bit of plastic everywhere, though the quality of material used makes sure it doesn't look tacky or in poor taste. There are differentiators on the dashboard with the placement of the controls and the knobs. The steering wheel also features changes and additional controls.

The most attractive part of the Mobilio is cabin space. There is enough knee room in the second and third rows even for adults.Though it would still be a bit uncomfortable for adults sitting at the third row during long drives. Head room should be enough even for six-footers. The seat cushions should be good for long drives, except for the leather-like seats in the top trim, which felt too firm.

Performance

For the engines, Honda engineers have chosen the 1.5-litre i-VTEC petrol engine to accommodate the need for more power and torque in a larger vehicle like the Mobilio. So, unlike the 1.2-litre in the Brio and the Amaze, the Mobilio's 1,497cc, i-VTEC engine manages to deliver 119PS of peak power and 145Nm of peak torque. It is said to be capable of delivering 17.3 kmpl of mileage, a claimed segment best.

The other engine is the same 1.5-litre i-DTEC unit that is currently being offered in the Amaze. The engine is also offered in the same state of tune in the Mobilio, which means that peak power is 100PS and peak torque is 200Nm. Both the engines are likely to be offered only with the 5-speed manual transmission at the time of launch, though an automatic gearbox may make it later at least in the petrol version.

Living up to its image as a maker of fuel efficient cars, Honda claims that the diesel engine version will offer 24.2 kmpl as mileage, again supposedly a segment best. During our test drive, both the engines felt adequately peppy, though the diesel did seem more driveable on the highway. Cabin noise seemed to be better contained in the diesel, with tyre noise and a bit of gearbox whine being more evident in the petrol version.

The suspension of the Mobilio has been tuned to handle bad roads. The 15-inch wheels seem a bit small within the arches, but do a fair job of supporting the ride quality. The Mobilio's body roll is also well-contained and straight-line stability is excellent, though one can still get the feeling of being in a fairly light-weight vehicle. The steering weighs up at higher speeds and feels much better than in the Amaze.

Verdict

The Mobilio will makes its pitch highlighting its compact exterior and space optimised interior. Build quality, fuel efficiency, reliability and the promise of low running costs will be the typical Honda traits that will be assumed to be part of this new MPV too. Prices should be in the range of Rs 8.5 lakh to Rs 11 lakh.

Read the full review in Business Line's Auto Focus page next week.

(This article was published on July 5, 2014)
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