Rewind a couple of years. A conventional 'badi gaadi', the 'big' car everyone wanted, was a sedan. Now, however, preferences have clearly changed. Everyone wants to be seen in an SUV, sitting high off the ground and not give two hoots about the pothole-ridden roads.
Manufacturers are more than willing to oblige as well. Over the past few years, our market has been bombarded with compact and sub-compact SUVs, priced on par with the conventional three-box sedan. Honda is slightly late to the party with the BR-V. Nonetheless, it wants to take on established rivals, such as the Hyundai Creta and the Renault Duster. Well, can it? Let's find out!
Does it look like a Mobilio on steroids? Umm, not entirely. The face and the rear look nothing like the Mobilio. However, the side profile, especially that kink in the window line, makes it look awfully similar.
The Honda BRV shares its platform with the Amaze compact sedan and the Mobilio MPV. We're glad it shares just the platform and not the looks. The face looks inspired from the new Accord, incorporating neat elements, such as projector headlamps with LED light guides and a thick double slat chrome grille. We like the finer aspects such as the detailing in the headlamps, the aggressive creases on the bumper and the silver skid plate. All these work well together to give the BR-V a likeable front profile.
The side and the rear are slightly bland in comparison. The 16-inch alloy wheels look great in isolation. However, pair them with the sheer length of the BR-V and it tends to look lost and rather small. We think a set of 17-inch alloys, like the Creta, would've filled in the wheel arches beautifully and given the BR-V a more balanced side profile. It gets a healthy dose of creases here as well and does remind one of the Mobilio.
The matte-black cladding, flared wheel arches and the roof rails grab a lot of attention. They do their bit to lend the BR-V the rugged appeal that its potential customers want. I for one, love the connected tail-lamps. Look closely and you will find LED light guides in them too.
Honda has played the length card with the BR-V. It is by far the longest vehicle in its class. However, it isn't as wide. The Honda is 45mm narrower compared to the Creta, and a full 87mm narrower compared to the Duster. While this was a boon in certain narrow bylanes of Udaipur, we wish the car was slightly wider. The added width would have not only liberated more space inside but also contributed to giving it a butch stance.
To sum up, the 'van meets SUV' design is a mixed bag. It looks great from certain angles, such as the front three-quarters, but ends up looking drab and mini-van like from the rear. Honda has somehow managed to stitch it all together into one neat package.
Does it feel like a big Honda City on the inside? Yep. Pretty much. The design and the materials used are similar. The top-spec version that you see in the pictures gets good quality leather upholstery and adjustable headrests for all seven seats. Not just that, the steering wheel, gear knob and the side rests (on the doors) get draped in leather as well. We like the all-black colour scheme, the piano black centre console, and the dull silver accents strewn across the cabin. However, a beige-black combo, especially for the dashboard, would've helped liven up the cabin and made it more palatable to its intended clientele.
All three rows are accommodating, even for someone of my size. The front seats are well contoured and hold most frames nicely. The seat compound itself is slightly hard, which is better over longer journeys, but an irritant over smaller ones.
Space in the second row is generous. I am close to 6 feet tall, and I can comfortably sit behind my own driving position. Moreover, it can recline and tumble down to allow entry and egress into the third row. While legroom and headroom aren't an issue, we wish the under thigh support was better. We have to blame the small seat base for this.
Once in the last row, you'd notice that headroom is surprisingly adequate. Of course, as is the case with third rows in most cars, one tends to sit with the knees pointing towards the roof, with next to no under thigh support. A couple of people can be comfortable in the last row, but not for too long.
Complaints? Well, first, there simply isn't enough room for three people in the second row. The S-Cross, for example, fares much better in this regard. Second, the feature list is spartan compared to what the competition offers. Even Honda's own hatchback, the Jazz, seems better equipped. Features include keyless entry and go, automatic climate control, a music system that would look out of place on a Brio, and roof mounted rear AC vents. We wish Honda hadn't been stingy with the feature list. For example, something as basic as parking sensors that are expected on a car that is 4.4 metres long, is missing. Also, there's a single 12V socket in the car to charge the cellphones. The second and the third-row occupants better carry a power bank. Goodies such as a touchscreen audio system and a reverse parking camera would have made the BR-V a much more rounded package.
Boot space is rated 223 litres with all three rows in place. If you are travelling full house, the boot will barely accommodate a few backpacks. Tuck the third row away, and you have 691 litres of space at your disposal.
To sum it up, we like how the BR-V is a comfortable runabout for six people. If you can excuse the slightly iffy quality of plastics on the dashboard, the Honda seems like a lovely proposition for a family that likes to travel together.
Engine and Performance (3/5)
BR-V translates to Bold Runabout Vehicle. Honda says the platform isn't 4WD ready and we can safely rule out the possibility of the same. It gets two engine options, both being tried and tested under the City's hood. What's new? The petrol motor now gets a six-speed manual like the diesel. There's a CVT on offer with the petrol motor, but no automatic diesel.
1.5-litre i-DTEC (Diesel)
Is it as noisy inside as the Amaze? Thankfully not. The diesel BR-V's NVH levels are at acceptable levels. The number game isn't in the BR-V's favour. With 100PS of power and 200Nm of torque on tap, it is far from being the most powerful in its class.
Power builds up linearly only past the 1700rpm mark. There's no sense of urgency in the power delivery - it happens in a calm, unhurried manner. In case you want to have some fun with it, be sure to keep it on the boil at all times. However, the engine gets awfully loud at high revs and a fair bit of vibrations creep into the cabin as well. We'd recommend a light right foot when you're driving this one. It'll help the BR-V hover around its claimed efficiency of 21.9km/l.
1.5-litre i-VTEC (Petrol)
The four-cylinder engine makes 119PS of power and 145Nm of torque. It is amongst the most refined engines in its class. Like most i-VTECs, this one enjoys being revved as well. Push hard through the gears and the BR-V will surprise you. It feels light on its toes and picks up pace quickly. Honda has done a fantastic job with the new six-speed manual. The throws are short, and the ratios are well spaced out to let you exploit the motor properly.
Low-end grunt is particularly good. You can amble about in one gear higher, and the motor doesn't mind it one bit. Step on the gas and it pulls cleanly. So yes, you can be lazy with the gear shifts and get away with it. In case you want to be lazier, pick the CVT variant. The slushbox is tuned for efficiency, which means it will upshift as quickly as possible. When driven sedately in 'Drive' mode, you will find the 'ECO' lamp glowing almost all the time. There are paddle shifters as well, which let you take charge of the gear changes yourself. That said, the gearbox behaves like a typical CVT. It gets whiny a bit too often and feels lethargic to respond to throttle inputs, especially when pushed hard. Why should one buy the CVT, then? If you spend a big chunk of your driving time crawling inside the city, the automatic transmission is nothing short of a blessing.
Ride and Handling (4/5)
The BR-V's ride is forgiving and absorbs most of the undulations our roads will ever throw at it. It is stiffly sprung, but not up to the point where the ride becomes jarring. At low speeds, the 210mm of ground clearance and the India-friendly suspension dismiss the potholes and broken roads without a hiccup. The ride is slightly bouncy at the second and third row but is tolerable for shorter journeys.
Handling has been the Japanese carmaker's forte for long. The steering weight and feel are just about right. It is wonderfully light at low speeds letting you chuck the thing around with a finger. However, the turning radius is gigantic thanks to the length. Taking a U-turn is a task in itself. Other than that, the BR-V is sure-footed and doesn't mind being thrown around a series of bends. There's enough feedback that gives you the confidence to push it through the corners as well.
Braking duties are taken care of by disc brakes at the front, and drums at the rear. Braking power is adequate and the SUV doesn't nose dive a lot under heavy braking and manages to maintain its line as well. Safety is taken care of by dual airbags that are standard across the range.
The BR-V has got the basics right. It has seven seats, rides well and has proven engines. However, that's where the good bits end. Everything else is lukewarm at best. Honda could have (and should have) loaded the BR-V to the gills with features, like Hyundai did with the Creta. It doesn't set benchmarks, just blends in with the crowd. Pick the BR-V only if you need the seven seats and do not want a Mahindra in your driveway.