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The BR-V offers better build and crossover design

S Muralidhar | Updated on January 20, 2018

Brave new hope: The Honda BR-V is a people mover with panache. S MURALIDHAR

The Honda BR-V is a people mover with panache

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Honda joins the compact SUV race; hopes to woo buyers with third row of seats and better cabin quality

From a position where it seemed poised to capture a larger share of the Indian car market a decade ago, Honda's inability to do so was almost self-inflicted due to a lack of relevant models and powertrains during those years. "That platform is too expensive for India", or "We don't have access to diesel engines right now" are the kind of explanations we have heard in the past.

Of course, during the last few years, some catching up has happened with Honda bringing in a slew of models in quick succession.

But, as much as cars like the Brio, Amaze and the new Jazz have helped Honda, there are others like the Civic and the CR-V which have been discontinued or continue to suffer low volumes due to the lack of diesel engines. The City is the one model that holds steady despite competition.

The cars based on the Brio platform have been a good fit for this market due to the versatility and affordability of the platform and the fact that the 1.5-litre diesel engine was available. It has spawned three models already - a hatch, a sedan and a compact family van. It is time now for the fourth model - a compact sport utility vehicle - which will then enable Honda to plug another empty slot in its portfolio.

The new BR-V also joins the line-up at a crucial time when the popularity of the SUV body style is at an all-time high amongst Indian small car buyers.

Design

At first glance, the BR-V seems like a bit of a mashup with elements of a family van and an upright SUV thrown in. The fact that it is longer than you would expect (though, we are guessing it will be a joy for many to discover that it seats 7, and not 5), makes it seem a bit van-like. The design language is strongly oriented towards Brio platform vehicles with more of the Mobilio's lines only when you look carefully. There are shared parts you can identify. The slopping bonnet also takes a bit away from its SUV character. So, the Honda BR-V has its good angles and not-so flattering angles. But, to give Honda designers their due it would be fair to say that the rest of the BR-V is still very SUV like and looking good. Exterior fit and finish quality is excellent and the paint job elevates the overall perceived quality of the body.

The double-layered bonnet grille, big airdam, body side cladding and skid plates, and the design of the front fender take your eyes away from the bonnet. The windscreen is also steeply raked, but the roof straightens out and boosts the SUV flavour of the design. The rear design also gets some novelty with the tail-lamps getting a connected look somewhat like what a few American convertibles have.

The tailgate cuts deep into the rear fender offering a low loading height.

Overall, the design of the BR-V is a good attempt at camouflaging the platform similarities. The waistline is low, so the greenhouse in the car is sizeable, offering better visibility and light in the cabin.

Cabin

Though there is considerable legroom in all the three rows, with the third of course being a bit lesser, the shoulder room is lesser than the other compact SUVs due to the narrower design of Brio platform vehicles. But, surprisingly, the third row manages to seat two adults in a fairly comfortable position.

The second row seats also get reclinable backrests. Boot volume is a low 233 litres with all seats in use, but a huge 691 litres with the third row folded. The seats themselves are not too narrow or thin, but they don't offer generous amounts of space or support either. The squabs are also a bit soft - maybe appreciated by drivers and occupants in the cities, but could be a bit tiring during long drives.

Compared to the Mobilio, the new BR-V's cabin is a step up in perceived quality. The dashboard layout is simple, but clean. The test mule we test drove was the top trim and so some of the inserts and elements may not be available in the lower trim variants.

Again shared parts were visible, but there is still a lot of newness to the cabin, with a variation in layout and specific elements. The centre stack features a new media and com interface, and new auto aircon controls.

Switches and knobs feel good to use and are neatly integrated. The fact that Honda has learnt from its previous vehicles is evident in the way some of the elements like the shiny black cladding on the centre stack have changed for the better. Some premium features like auto headlamp and rear parking assistance are still missing.

Performance

The new BR-V gets the same two engines from the Mobilio and in the same state of tune. But the powertrain is different, because the BR-V gets a 6-speed manual gearbox and a CVT instead of the 5-speed manual in the Mobilio. We are guessing that the gear ratios would have been changed too. The petrol engine gets both the manual and the CVT, while the diesel gets the manual alone.

One of the standout features of the diesel engine is the new mapping that enables almost complete elimination of turbo lag. The other, is the way the NVH has been contained in the cabin. Idling rpm level is about 800 and most of the 200Nm of torque seems to kick in from about 1,400 rpm. The gearbox shift quality is excellent. Though there are times when you feel the 100PS of peak power is just a bit short, it would not be much of an issue for most users.

Our second test mule was the petrol engine paired with the CVT gearbox. This is one familiar engine for us and the character of this powertrain is very likeable. Mapping and ratios are focused on efficient operation, but you also get a sport mode and paddle shifters if you want to get a bit aggressive with your driving style.

The BR-V's kerb weight is almost the same as that of the Mobilio. So, the 119PS of peak power available doesn't seem low or weak, with the free-revving engine offering a sizeable mid-range to work with. The rated fuel efficiency for the diesel is 21.9kmpl, the petrol manual is 15.4kmpl and the CVT is 16kmpl.

Bottomline

The ride quality of the BR-V felt like it was a bit biased towards a softer, more accommodating set up. It could have been firmer, but the good news is that it doesn't lead to body roll. It's nearly 4.5-metre length and narrow track doesn't make it the best vehicle to be taking on a corner at high speeds, but there is no lack of confidence at normal highway speeds and in straight-line stability.

The BR-V feels like the flagship of the Brio platform vehicles from every angle. It is going to poach from other vehicles in Honda's portfolio, though that shouldn't worry the company.

We hope Honda prices the BR-V aggressively in the ₹ 7.5 lakh to ₹ 12 lakh range to take on the competition in this fast growing segment.

Published on April 28, 2016

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