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Honda Brio review

Driven November 2011

Honda Brio review

This is Honda’s Plan B for the small car market. It should have been Plan A really, but that’s all in the past. The Brio has been much touted and much awaited, and now, as it tries to catch a sales slump, Honda needs the Brio more than it has ever needed a new product.

Shaving some price off the City, and correcting the price tag on the Jazz using a product refresh as an excuse has worked. But that’s not what Honda wants. It wants to reclaim its glory sales days – from 2000 to 2007 – and the Brio, unfortunately for the competition, is the car that may just do the trick.

Honda had brought the Jazz to India just to test the small car waters, since it didn’t have a real small car in its stable back then – the Jazz was the closest it had to India’s idea of a small car. It didn’t have a sub-`-five-lakh car in the cupboard and things had to be started from scratch.

And as it turned out, it wasn’t such a bad idea. Honda’s proper small car concept broke cover at the 2010 Delhi Auto Expo and wowed most people with its sleek proportions. Thankfully, the gem of a concept gave birth to a good looking car. The Brio is unique; you won’t mistake it for anything else. Starting with the big headlamps, a tad oversized, and a thick chrome moustache of a grille.

On the brighter side, it looks purposeful and not just another cute small car. The profile is sleek, with clear, crisp shoulder lines. The rear is outstanding, with an all-glass hatch – nothing new but still unique among the current lot of cars. It’s a well-rounded rear (no pun intended) and you won’t mistake it for any other car.

The Brio is a good-looking automobile – not handsome, but the proportions are nice. At 3610mm, it’s slightly longer than a Hyundai i10, but it’s as wide as a Ford Figo or a Maruti Ritz. Interestingly, the Brio has gone for more lateral width rather than merely offering some extra headroom with a taller car. This has helped dynamics for sure, but it has also made the car very spacious. This is true even on the rear seat, where three is less of a squeeze than, say, in a Chevy Beat.

With lots of space comes lots of plastics. Honda has gone for a beige palette, which looks pleasant when it’s new and adds to the spaciousness, but also tends to become dirty in our conditions. But like most mass carmakers, it insists this is what buyers want in a car like the Brio.

The layout is clean and simple. The centre console is dominated by a two-DIN integrated FM music system – which appears tilted more towards the front passenger than the driver – with aux and USB output instead of a CD player. This is only in the S and flagship V variants. The steering wheel is stout and nice to grip and has controls for the music system.

The large speedo dominates the instrument cluster with a half tacho on the left and other warning lights on the right. The digital fuel gauge also displays fuel efficiency and trip details.

The seats are large and comfy – and possibly lightweight going by the thickness of the backrest. The headrest is integrated into the seat as one piece. Ditto for the rear window seat passengers. The Brio offers generous legroom for a car its size even with the front seats pushed back reasonably. Rear visibility is easily the best among small cars thanks to the all-glass hatch – almost feels like there’s nothing behind the rear seat.

The Brio features the same 1.2-litre engine as in the Jazz. Power and torque figures are also the same. Surprisingly, low-end torque feels better and you can pull the car even on inclines or over large speed humps from second gear without engine clatter. The iVtEC unit revs easily. The five-speed manual ’box makes quick shifts easy and snappy.

Building up speed on a fast stretch of road takes some work but once in flow, the Brio is an able cruiser. The only chink here is the high-speed wind noise inside what is otherwise a reasonably well-insulated cabin.

The suspension is well-tuned for our rough roads, although the typical Japanese light-weight build quality shows through in the shuddering. Maybe that’s something Honda could learn from the Swift, which is as European as a Jap car can get. But that doesn’t affect the overall dynamics of the car.

The Brio is a supremely stable set of wheels. The steering is a bit on the lighter side but it’s precise. Quick lane changes fail to unsettle the car despite the fact that the steering communicates better with the car than with the driver. This is good news for a sizeable chunk of our motorists who love weekend long drives but can’t do them just because they have a small family hatchback.

Interestingly, none of the Honda engineers went overboard saying the car is aimed at the young. Instead, they stressed that it is “small, urban, fast”. Take the latter with a pinch of salt but it definitely isn’t slow, and it very easily is the other two. We expect the Brio to start retailing at Rs 4 lakh, with the better-specced variants for as little as Rs 4.25 lakh.

Sounds reasonable for a small car this good but it’ll be an achievement for Honda – it has traditionally not been good with pricing in India. The Brio hits the market just before Diwali. Expect fireworks early this year.

 



Girish Karkera

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