Review: Honda Brio automatic
The cute little runabout gets an automatic gearbox... just what the doctor ordered
Indian manufacturers don’t really seem to be applying any method to the madness. Why are we saying this? Well, look around: while cars beyond Rs 20 lakh, (almost always chauffeur driven) come with automatic gearbox options, there’s nothing much for the self-driven 'aam aadmi' who goes mental driving in crazy city traffic. Surely an easy-on-the-wallet automatic option would help. There’s only the Hyundai i10 and the Maruti A-Star in the sub-Rs 6 lakh category. Honda knows this and has decided to bring in the Brio automatic, which borrows the City’s five-speed automatic gearbox. And as slushboxes go, it’s a pretty good one.
The gearshifts are smooth and effortless. You can also slot the gearbox in D3, 2 and 1. As the names suggest, this means the gear won’t go beyond third, second and first respectively. Slotting into 2 and 1 is ideal, say when you're coming down a hill and you want to keep the gearing short to use engine braking. D3 is great when you want to spin the engine high into its rev range and access the vast reserves of power at the top.
Add to that the compact dimensions and light steering and you see why we think this is a hassle-free car for town use. The steering is accurate and weighs up nicely. The Brio’s taut suspension and agile nature means this is as close as you'll get to go-kart chuckability while driving a city hatch. The 88bhp 1.2-litre i-VTEC engine reminds you why we love Honda petrol engines so much. It’s silky smooth, loves to rev and has a nice meaty roar when you close in on the redline.
On the highway, despite its compact dimensions, the Brio always feels as composed as some large sedans. Even the roughest road surfaces have their work cut out when it comes to ruffling the Brio’s suspension. Little enters the cabin at higher speeds.
But the best part, thanks to the flexible gearing, is that we were going in excess of 110kph with the engine spinning at a lazy 2,000rpm and the ECO light still on, which means you should get decent economy as well. The on-board fuel meter showed 12.9kpl overall, but we’ll reserve our judgment on that until a full test.
Where we were disappointed a bit was on acceleration. When you urgently need power for a quick overtaking move over that slow-moving state transport bus and you shove the accelerator all the way into the floor, there's a ferocious roar from the engine, but for a long couple of seconds, nothing much happens down at the wheel end of the business. It's adequate, but you wish it was quicker. It’s better to use the shifter manually and go down a gear (or two) to D3 to keep the engine on the boil. It appears the Brio automatic prefers relaxed driving to being an enthusiast's weapon of choice.
It's only available in the 'S (O)' and 'V' versions of the car, so it costs upwards of Rs 6-6.5 lakh on-road, Delhi. You do get a fully loaded car for the price, though. Things like alloy wheels, ABS and airbags along with a brilliant audio system are part of the deal. But there are still a couple of things missing. There's no dead pedal, which is a gross oversight. And there's no climate control even on the top end, which robs the car of a plush feel. That's a shame since the cabin is excellent, both on quality and style.
In the end, it’s a Honda, it’s a bit expensive and it’s still fun to drive. It does have noticeable transmission lag, but you can always pretend there’s a giant turbo causing all the trouble. Works for us every time.