First Drive Review: Honda Brio V (MT) Also Read - Huawei Nova 6 5G renders surface online with dual selfie cameras and a punch-hole display

Small cars are the bread earners for most carmakers in India – this is a fact that is clearer than the windshield they don. However, Honda has taken not two or four, but over 14 years to introduce their first ‘small car’ for India – the Brio. Before you get back at me with the Jazz which was launched in 2009, let me tell you it is not a small car – it is a mini-MPV – check one out yourself if you don’t believe me!  Also Read - Honor Vera30 Series with Kirin 990 and 5G support will go on sale during Q4 2019



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Coming back to the Brio then, this car was born in a ‘concept’ form at the 2010 Auto Expo. It surely did not look as complete as the Toyota Etios concepts that stood on the adjoining exhibit at the ‘Expo, but the Honda embryo promised a car that would be as lively and youthful as the definition of the word it was named after. It was launched in its production trim in Thailand a few months back. But for India, the Brio has undergone rigorous testing and customisation and is finally ready to take on the enormous small-car competition in the Indian car market. 



Design 

The Brio packs in some of the most familiar Honda design bits and then some. Following Honda’s current design language are the headlamps which look quite similar to the ones on the Jazz – including the black outline that separates the headlight barrel from the turn blinkers (see detail). The grille on the new Brio is quite small as compared to the Jazz or the City. In fact, it’s a little longer than the registration plate that sits a few inches below it. The grille also wears the trademark chrome moustache that we have seen on new Hondas lately. 

First Drive Review: Honda Brio V (MT)

The bonnet bears subtle creases which give the surface an aerodynamic appeal. Adding to this are the winglets at the bottom of the front bumper, which – Honda says – has helped bump up fuel efficiency by reducing drag (see detail). The front bumper itself gets two pronounced creases – one at the top section, above the registration plate and one at the lower section, above the winglets. Between these creases, lies the wide and broad air dam, which not only helps in efficient engine cooling in the hot and humid Indian conditions, but also underscores the ‘wide body’ design of the Brio when seen upfront. Also contributing to this cause are the flared wheel arches.

First Drive Review: Honda Brio V (MT)

The upper crease from the front bumper extends throughout the body of the Brio to define the shoulder line; while the lower crease extends over the bottom section of the doors to add some flair to the overall design – call it Honda’s take on ‘flame surfacing’  to make the Maruti Suzukis in its segment look outdated. Since the Brio is more of a city-car for small families, the front doors have been given more real estate as compared to the rear ones. Complementing the front doors are the aerodynamic rear view mirrors (see detail) which add their tiny bit to the fuel economy. The rear door windows get a plastic appliqué towards their C-pillar end (see detail). However, it would have been great to see it double up as a door handle like the European Civic hatchback or the Indian Chevrolet Beat. Adding more character to the side profile are the pronounced wheel-arches which do not look empty even with the longer suspension travel for India and the puny 14-inch rims (see detail).

First Drive Review: Honda Brio V (MT)

The tailgate of the Honda Brio is what will make or mar the customers in the Honda showrooms – thanks to the polarising effect it will have with its unusual design. The radically designed windshield acts as the boot-lid – like the good old days of the original Maruti Suzuki 800 (SS80) – but this one is larger, way larger. In fact it is so big that you can see all the four corners of the large boot through it (see detail) – so the next time you check into a shopping mall, you won’t have to pop the boot for the security guard to run a check. What it also means is that prying eyes have a clear view of everything that’s stashed into the Brio’s boot and a possible theft is just a strong-punch away. However, the blokes at Honda are quick to point out that the glass has been pressure tested to rigidity and breaking into it won’t be an easy job. 

While the inclusion of a parcel tray could solve this issue to an extent, it will take a toll on the added visibility that this glasswork offers. Speaking of which, the extra-large rear windshield is particularly helpful while backing-up in tight parking spots (see detail) – especially the ones with poles, blocks, sleeping dogs etc. However, the lack of a rear wash-and-wipe and a defogger on such a large windshield (even on the top end model) is disappointing. Personally, I feel that this design looks quite youthful and is a welcome change as compared to the rest of the hatchbacks in the country with security being the one concern. 

First Drive Review: Honda Brio V (MT)

The radical design of the tailgate is complemented further by the equally mod taillights (see detail). While their asymmetrical, trapezoidal design has absolutely no resemblance with anything else in the Brio, they do play an important role in giving the small Honda its distinction and highlight the wide-body design of the car.

Overall, the design of the new Honda Brio is very fresh, innocent and youthful. It has enough amounts of lines and creases to give Hyundai’s ‘fluidic sculpture’ design a run for its money, without going overboard. While the good paint quality and a choice of classy colours give the Brio an upmarket feel as compared to most of its competitors, the radical design – as always – would be something you will either hate or love with no in-betweens. However, Honda designs are known to age well and hopefully the Brio will too.

First Drive Review: Honda Brio V (MT)

User Experience

Honda has always managed to package a large cabin space even when the outer dimensions suggest otherwise. The Brio is no different. It has all the essential elements that you would expect inside the small car, but they have been designed to provide maximum seating and cargo space. The ergonomically contoured dashboard features a three-tone colour scheme with a black upper surface, beige door panels and flooring and a Hyundai i10-esque, textured, brown plastic surround for the entire instrumentation, audio system and driver-side air-conditioning vents. While the vents get thin chrome rings around them, the A/C knobs and the audio system switches get a silver finish. 

First Drive Review: Honda Brio V (MT)

The audio system essentially is the same head unit you get in the Honda City. So the redundant audio-CD is out and the present AUX/USB is in. It is mated to a decent sounding four-speaker setup. Both, the double-DIN head unit and the four round speakers, follow standard sizes and therefore upgrading to a better in-car entertainment system shouldn’t be an issue. The audio system gets steering-wheel mounted controls too, but like the Swift, there is no Bluetooth / phone connectivity. The steering wheel looks much similar to the ones you find in the Jazz and the City so Honda owners looking at the Brio as a second car should instantly feel at home. The instrumentation cluster follows the trademark three-pod Honda design (see detail) and provides analogue readouts for the speedometer and tachometer and digital readouts for the fuel gauge, odometer, trip computer and real time fuel economy. The tell-tale lights include an ‘Eco’ indicator which gauges the throttle position and glows when you are driving at an economical speed. 

The door handles are quite slim as compared to most other cars and feel a tad clumsy to operate (see detail). As I mentioned earlier, the front doors have been given prominence over the rear doors in terms of size – therefore, as you saw in the earlier photo, ingress and egress is easier in the front than in the rear. Get inside the car and you instantly notice how low the seating is – reminds me of the first generation Honda City. The lower seating has granted better headroom without the need of engineering a tall-boy design. However, the exclusion of a seat-height adjustment could hamper visibility for shorter drivers. 

First Drive Review: Honda Brio V (MT)

What the Brio lets you adjust though is the steering rake angle and the inclination of the front seat’s backrest. The front seats get integrated headrests (see detail) like the ones seen on the Hyundai i10 and are designed for minimising impact to the passenger’s neck in case of a low-speed tailgate collision. The backside of the backrest has been wisely designed with concave contours to increase knee room for the backseat passengers. While these backrests are still quite comfortable, your back will get kneed quite often if tall adults board the rear bench. All the five seats are quite comfortable nevertheless and feature thick cushioning and spring rates that are specifically optimised for Indian driving conditions and consumer needs. Thanks to the Brio’s wide body and the flat rear bench, seating three adults isn’t too difficult, but I doubt how comfortable they will be over distance longer than usual city commutes.

First Drive Review: Honda Brio V (MT)

Other creature comforts include a cup holder for the rear bench; two cup holders for the front seats which are illuminated by the centre console lighting; body coloured door pockets (see detail); seat pockets; electric windows with auto-down for the for the driver window (see detail); electrically adjustable ORVMs; beam adjustment for the headlight (see detail); vanity mirrors for the driver and passenger (see detail); and wiper and headlight/blinker stalks which are placed in the correct positions for a right drive car. Safety comes in the form of i-SRS driver and front passenger airbags which are standard on the S and V variants. The i-SRS airbags boast of a ‘spiral’ construction as opposed to the conventional airbags. The new design allows the airbags to open faster, with a lesser impact and stay inflated for a longer duration. Thankfully, we didn’t get a chance to test this aspect of the Brio.

First Drive Review: Honda Brio V (MT)

Coming to the controversial tailgate again, the Brio’s rear end packs in quite a lot of boot space for a car in this category – thanks to the wide body and the depth provided for the boot. However, we’ll refrain from comparing it to its competitors until we have finished our extensive road test. The boot-lid is quite light weight and it’s better to be gentle when closing it. 

First Drive Review: Honda Brio V (MT)

Overall, the experience in the Brio is that of cars that are a segment higher than itself. It easily mimics the sort of feeling you get inside a Honda City, with high quality materials, the simple yet fresh design and the right amounts of chrome, black and beige. If the success of the City is anything to go by, the Brio should definitely win a lot of hearts. Quite frankly, it makes most of the current small cars look outdated and low-rent.

First Drive Review: Honda Brio V (MT)

Performance

Start the engine and it quickly settles into a very silent idle. It’s the same 1.2-litre petrol engine that you get in the Jazz, but in the Brio, it runs a slightly lower state of tune – with 88PS of power and 109 Nm of torque dialled in at a lower, 6,000 RPM and 4,600 RPM respectively (the Jazz produces 90 PS @ 6200 RPM / 110 Nm @ 4800 RPM). Make no mistake though, as the Brio is over 100 kg lighter than the bigger Jazz and therefore, boasts of a better power-to-weight ratio. The engine maintains its characteristic sprightly nature and has a wonderful, sporty exhaust note when you rev its guts out. The electronic restrictions are quite evident when driving pedal-to-the-metal as the rev-limiter tends to kick in even when the engine is quite eager to rev higher. Honda has managed to reduce the NVH levels to a large extent, thanks to the extra insulation on the hood (see detail). However, you do hear a slightly higher road/tyre noise in the back seats. There are a wee-bit of vibrations of the flooring too – especially when driving on concrete / coarse roads surfaces.

First Drive Review: Honda Brio V (MT)

The Brio’s handling has taken a toll, thanks to the cushy suspension. There is a tremendous amount of body roll when the Brio is pushed around corners. However, with four people in the car, the handling should be a tad better. The cushy suspension also translates into a bouncy ride when hitting undulations in the road surface at high speeds. However, treat the Brio like a city car and things act absolutely normal. It takes on the broken roads with utter ease and forwards very little of it into the cabin. While the MRF ZVTVs are as skittish as they were on our test Swift, they offer enough grip when driving around in the city. Add to it the fact that the wheels are shod with ABS on the S and V models and you have a decent level of safety when it comes to sudden braking. 

First Drive Review: Honda Brio V (MT)

The Brio behaves quite well in the city traffic. The engine offers a decent amount of low end power to make your way through the slow moving traffic even with the air-conditioning switched on. However, the 1.2-litre mill in its current state of tune, does suffer from a drab mid-range and therefore overtaking a long vehicle will require a downshift. The Brio’s gear shifter is butter-smooth, and though not as silky as the one in the Swift, it does feel better than most other cars in its segment. The electronic power steering is very light in the city and quite well weighted at higher speeds. Couple that with the 4.5 meter turning radius of the Brio and its relatively small dimensions, and you have a car that’s easy to manoeuvre even in the tightest of roads. We took our test mule around the tiny village roads of Vishakhapatnam (pictured above) and the car handled the terrain that tight roads with ease. Thankfully we didn’t have a short driver at the wheel else we would definitely killed a chicken or two on the back-roads. 

First Drive Review: Honda Brio V (MT)

Speaking of which, the large windshield and the windows have been designed to give the driver maximum visibility. The low set window-line and ORVMs and the curved A-pillar do their bit towards increasing visibility into corners. However, with the lack of height adjustment for the seat, shorter drivers will need to spend more time with the car to master the judgement of the Brio’s wide-body dimensions. 

Overall, I like the way the Brio drives, but I would have liked the suspension to be slightly stiffer and the steering wheel to be more direct.

First Drive Review: Honda Brio V (MT)

Conclusion

With the revised pricing for the Jazz and the City, Honda has already proved that petrol cars still manage to sell in high numbers if priced right. The Brio too, will have to do the same. With no diesel engine in its arsenal, the Brio will have to play its cards right to take on Toyota, Maruti Suzuki, Hyundai and Ford. Honda has got its calculations right and has presented the much awaited Brio with a decent set of creature comforts and safety features in a premium package. All it needs now is a right price tag when it goes on sale by the end of September. If it manages to do that, Honda will have blown the death-knell for a lot of petrol small cars that currently rule the Indian car market.

Click here to view more photos of the Honda Brio’s Exteriors

Click here to view more photos of the Honda Brio’s Interiors