If you watched Top Gear's excellent festive India special, you will have learnt at least two important things. Firstly, never order your lunch from Clarkson. Secondly, if you regularly had to travel 12-up along an apocalyptically unpleasant Indian dual carriageway aboard a tuk-tuk, you too would be falling over yourself to get in a Tata Nano. It must seem like the apex of automotive excellence.
Apparently, the Indian new-car market grew by more than 30 per cent last year. Yes, 30 per cent. So while mainstream car dealers in Western Europe weep rivers of salty tears and Renault, to name one big player, has axed half its British range in the face of crumbling sales, there's a veritable gold rush going on in the emerging markets. Honda thought the Jazz would do the trick in India, but was hopelessly optimistic with its pricing. The Brio is its new ‘sub-compact' riposte, measuring a fairly tiny 3.6m in length, and manufactured with a high degree of localisation in Honda plants in India and Thailand. Prices start at £4,700 (approx).
It's rubbish, right? Nope, I really enjoyed it. Granted, I had the world's shortest test drive at Honda's Motegi track, but it was enough to establish it as a clever and robust little car. Mine was in Thai-spec: no heater, just cold air ventilation. Imagine. The base model also does without ABS or airbags (but then so does a tuk-tuk), although you do get them and other niceties like electric mirrors, keyless entry and USB and aux inputs further up the food chain. In our fantastically over-specified world, it's a strangely welcome wake-up call.
Otherwise, this is a proper little shrunken Honda. The cabin is overwhelmingly beige, but perfectly well made, it's roomy enough (apart from the tiddly boot), the ride is OK, and the 87bhp, 1.2-litre VTEC (the Jazz unit) makes light work of the Brio's 920kg kerb weight. It'll average 53mpg. I can imagine dodging the potholes quite happily in one of these, though I'd have the airbag and anti-lock, thanks.
Remember, Honda hit the jackpot selling the original Civic in the post-oil crisis USA of the early Seventies. The Brio suggests it hasn't lost its common touch.
1198cc, 4cyl, FWD, 87bhp, 82lb ft, 53mpg, 121g/km CO2, 0-62mph in 12.3secs (est), 920kg
from £4,700 (in India)
A super-cheap car it might be, but there's no lack of imagination here. It's not a rival for VW's brilliant Up, but kicks the Nano's butt