The compact family van or MPV market in India hasn’t gotten as massive as it has in Indonesia, but it certainly has been on the boil. There is already a fair spread of choice of MPVs all the way from Rs 5 lakh to about Rs 12 lakh.

Honda, which developed the Brio on a versatile platform that is capable of allowing both sedans and MPVs to also be built on it, is going to be the next contender in the family van segment. Even as the Brio was built, plans had already been drawn to build the Amaze sedan and the MPV, which we now know to be the Mobilio.

The Mobilio has apparently been primarily developed for the Indonesian market (where the MPV segment is the dominant segment), just like many of the other low-cost MPVs were. But, clearly the Mobilio can be very relevant in many other markets in Asia, which are similarly focused on the value and versatility that MPVs represent, India being one of them. The Mobilio is expected to be launched in India next year and will take on the likes of the Maruti Ertiga, Chevrolet Enjoy, Mahindra Xylo, and even the Toyota Innova and the Nissan Evalia. To get a first look at the Mobilio, Smartbuy travelled to Honda’s test track – Twin Ring Motegi – located a couple of hours by road outside Tokyo, Japan.

Design

The first striking feature of the Mobilio when I look at it in the flesh is how much of it seems to have been borrowed from the Brio’s design. That’s not surprising given the fact that the design of the Brio is so suitable for being used in a MPV. A cab forward design, a short stubby bonnet and a steeply raked A-pillar (windscreen) means that the design is eminently convertible into a MPV.

I was told that the Mobilio that was showcased at the Honda test track was a prototype, probably the same one displayed at the world premiere during the Indonesia International Motor Show in September this year. Though it is a prototype, external design features have probably been frozen and are unlikely to be altered. But, the journalists from India who had been invited by Honda to check out the Mobilio weren’t allowed to photograph the interiors. Company officials claimed that the cabin spec hasn’t been finalised and that the final production version could feature a completely different layout.

While the front of the Mobilio is very familiar except for the new bonnet grille, the rear is where all the changes have been bunched together. There is very little that is connecting the Mobilio’s rear to the other two vehicles on the same platform. The arrow theme does continue to some extent in the design that has been frozen for the tail-lamps. The rest of the rear profile is quite fresh, fitting and in fact a bit sporty too. There is an integrated spoiler at the tip of the roof panel and the over sized bumper extends all the way up to the base of the tail-lamps. But the tail-gate cuts deep into the bumper indicative of a low loading height and access to the trunk.

Car-like

One of the most interesting features at the side of the Mobilio is the quarter glass panel that hides a bit of the D-pillar at the rear and gives the vehicle a floating roof look (except it is in reverse). There is also the crooked belt line (Honda apparently calls it the lighting bolt belt line) which allows the rear two window glass panels to be larger and lowered compared to the front doors’ thereby increasing visibility and flow of light into the vehicle.

Honda has also chosen conventional car type hinged doors for the second and third row access, instead of sliding doors. This would be a good move, given the fact that MPVs with sliding doors haven’t really clicked in the Indian market, though they are more practical given our congested roads and parking spaces.

But the Mobilio is a fairly compact MPV, even more compact than the Innova, both in terms of overall length and height. The Mobilio is likely to be just short of 4.4 metres in length and less than 1.7 metres tall. Unlike a couple of Honda vehicles of the past like the Civic, which had ground clearance issues, the Mobilio should be able to sail over those huge speed breakers thanks to an above average (compared to cars) ground clearance of 185mm.

Practical cabin

The Mobilio will be a 7-seater MPV with three rows of seats. It is a 7-seater even though both the second and third rows are bench seats, because the last row is more cramped. The bench seat at the rear features a 50:50 split and the second row features a 60:40 split. A number of storage and seating configurations should be possible. The seond and third row passengers get a second aircon with dedicated vents right behind the centre console and the front. The dashboard layout again has a certain familiarity to it, with a few elements and a number of parts borrowed from the Brio and the Amaze sedan.

You can certainly expect the Mobilio’s cabin to also be quite spacious compared to its external dimensions and footprint, just like the Brio and the Amaze were surprisingly roomy. With all three rows being used the boot space available doesn’t seem very much, but it does look like the Mobilio’s trunk will be larger than the likes of the Ertiga and the Enjoy.

Honda officials say that the interior colour theme would focus on keeping the cabin airy and bright. The materials used for the interior panels will feature smooth soft touch plastic and that the second and third row seats will be fold, tumble and slide type for easier manoeuvrability. Given the lower height of the Mobilio, entry and exit into and from the vehicle should also be quite easy.

Bottomline

Honda has announced that the Mobilio will be offered with a four-cylinder, 1.5-litre i-VTEC petrol engine, which has been specially developed for the Indonesian market, but will certainly find application for an India-spec model too. But I think that Honda, given its renewed aggression in the Indian market, will also look to leverage its 1.5-litre diesel engine for this vehicle, after all this segment is dominated by demand for diesel mills.

But Honda may also want to consider the 1.2-litre petrol engine that is currently doing double duty in the Brio and the Amaze. The engine could be set to a slightly different state of tune to offer a bit more power, but that could still be sufficient for owner drivers who are largely going to be driving in the city. More importantly, Honda can possibly leverage economies of scale from sharing this engine between the three vehicles and that could help it price the lower variants aggressively.

The Mobilio should make it to India right after its introduction in Indonesia sometime during January next year. So, an unveil at the Auto Expo in February and a roll out by March or April 2014 should be possible. It will be worth the wait if you are looking for a versatile and compact MPV.

muralidhar.s@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on November 26, 2013)
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