First Drive Review: Honda BR-V

  • May 03, 2016
2016 Honda BR-V Front Left Quarter

I was sitting on the banks of the Pichola Lake looking at Honda's new wonder - a vehicle that the company claims is the best in its segment and hopes potential customers will feel the same about it too. As the sun set, the gleaming Pearl Carnelian Red BR-V looked inviting - coupled to the excitement created by the company officials present and the beautiful location we were at, the car seemed to be living up to its hype.

After a short drive the next day though, first impressions of the Honda BR-V are mixed. It looks good, but there are too many things that make it look too similar to the Mobilio MUV - which it is incidentally based on - to make you feel this is something all new. This is not the case with any of the other cars based on the Brio platform - the Amaze and the Mobilio have their own identities. The BR-V on the other hand, at first glance at least, looks like a Mobilio which has been given a facelift and given some new accessories.

2016 Honda BR-V Front Dynamic

It is not exactly a bad thing; the BR-V has a handsome face - with the sleek headlamps, a re-imagined Honda signature wing-like chrome grille, aggressive front bumper with a silver faux skid-plate, clam-shell bonnet, etc. The side profile - with the black lower-cladding, large 16-inch aggressive looking 5-spoke alloy wheels, large doors, stretched windows with a generously large rear quarter-glass, and the roof-rails - is well proportioned. The chrome handles and the chrome strips at the bottom of the doors look quite nice for a change. Many other companies can learn a thing or two from the BR-V in this matter. Move to the rear and you get to see the other important sector where designers from the company spent a lot of time. The new tail-lamps which stretch from side-to-side (the centre part consists of reflectors only, though) makes the BR-V look wider.

2016 Honda BR-V Rear Left Quarter

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So let's settle this - the BR-V is not an SUV, no matter how much Honda may try to convince you, it is at best a crossover. It does sit higher than the Mobilio though, with a ground clearance of more than 210mm the BR-V is at par with the Renault Duster AWD. What you would not appreciate is how some things feel very downmarket - this is expected to cost close to Rs. 14 Lakh, ex-showroom, in the top-end diesel trim.

2016 Honda BR-V Interior Dashboard Driver Side

The Honda BR-V, at least on the top-level trims we tested during the brief drive, gets black-and-grey interior theme and Honda has assured us that this will be the case with all variants of the crossover. The top-of-the-line VX variant gets a leather pack - the seats, armrests on the doors, and the steering-wheel wrap are all leather. People familiar with the facelifted Honda Amaze will feel right at home when they sit in the front seats of the BR-V. The dashboard has been lifted directly from it, the only differentiating factor here being the black-and-grey theme (the Amaze is offered with a black-and-beige theme).

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The steering wheel with the multimedia control buttons, the '3D' instrument cluster, a slab-like face for the centre-console with piano black trim, rectangular A/C vents, silver highlights, the integrated multimedia console and the climate control system - everything looks familiar, in a good way. The piano black trim on the centre console is a dust and fingerprint magnet, and can disrupt easy viewing of the multimedia screen or the climate control display. I prefer the climate control system on the BR-V than the all-touch system on the Honda City, for the simple fact that this can be controlled easily without taking your eyes off the road. However, the manual-adjust lever for the re-circulation stands out like an eyesore, why not make that a button too Honda? Another thing that grinds my gears is the gear-knob with the baseball leather finish - it is not nice to hold and looks out of place.

2016 Honda BR-V Interior Front Seats Driver Side View

The seats are comfortable enough for short to medium duration drives, but can be painful if used for long inter-city journeys - there is no dearth of legroom, knee room, head room or shoulder room in the front two rows but short seat bases and thinner than usual seats mean that your thighs and bottom will be uncomfortable if you sit on these seats for hours on end. While some passengers may feel the heat, thanks to the uncomfortable seating, the climate control system can keep things cool in the cabin. As the BR-V is a big crossover, it gets roof-mounted A/C vents to keep the second and third-row seats cool. The system was effective enough even in the heat of Udaipur, where the maximum temperature on the day of the shoot was 43 degree Celsius!

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Honda is advertising the BR-V as a seven-seater SUV, to achieve this you'd have to find five adults with an average build and two children. The leg room on all rows is fantastic - we tested it out by seating 3 people, with an average height of 5 ft 8 inches, in a line from the front to rear and everyone had enough leg and knee room. You can slide and recline the front two rows to get the best seating position, captain seats in the second row would have been more appealing though - Honda is not offering captain seats on any of the variants of the BR-V, but accessories dealers around the country should be able to offer you alternatives soon after the crossover is launched. The third row of seats, as was the case with the Mobilio, should be used to seat children for longer journeys - they have proper three-point seatbelts too - you could also seat adults here if you want to see them cry like babies. Getting into the third row is easy as the second-row seats fold forward with ease with a use of a single lever. Even with the third deployed, the BR-V has a decent luggage space of 223-litres. This can also be improved if you fold forward the third-row seats, which frees up 691-litres of space.

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Features - this is a section where the BR-V is most disappointing. For a crossover that is going to cost you more than Rs. 10 Lakh, ex-showroom, the Honda does not offer a touchscreen infotainment system (some officials hinted this could be offered as a dealer-level fitment), rear-view camera, auto-folding mirrors, auto-dimming IRVM, auto-headlamps, cruise control etc. Some of these features could have been overlooked if the cost cutting around the car wasn't so obvious. The metal and the plastics flex on touch, the plastics on the inside feel rough and belong to a segment much lower, the sound deadening material used is inadequate, especially in the diesel variants etc. Is this the best that Honda can do? I don't believe so.

The saving grace for me about the BR-V is its ride and handling, especially of the petrol manual version.

2016 Honda BR-V Front Left Quarter Dynamic1

The Honda BR-V is offered with two engine options, both familiar motors - the 1.5-litre, 4-cylinder naturally aspirated petrol motor and the 1.5-litre, 4-cylinder turbocharged diesel motor - both of which are mated to six-speed manual transmissions. The petrol motor is also offered with a CVT and with paddle-shifters behind the steering wheel. For the geeks, the rated performance figures for the petrol motor are 117PS @ 6600rpm and 145Nm @ 4600rpm, while the diesel unit pumps out 99PS @ 3600rpm and 200Nm @ 1750rpm.

2016 Honda BR-V Diesel Engine Bay

While the diesel motor here may seem like it has oodles of torque available, the reality is that it is not that fun to drive. Below 2000rpm, the engine speed rises slowly - the added weight of the diesel engine (the weight difference between it and the petrol-powered variant is almost 70Kg) does not help acceleration - the turbo spools up as the revs climb just above 1700rpm and by 2000rpm you get this shove which restores your faith a bit. Your happiness is short lived when the engine runs out of steam mere seconds later. Now, from an enthusiast's point of view - this motor is a no-no, but so is the case with a buyer who is going to use the BR-V in the city. The turbo-lag and the general lethargic nature of the engine at lower engine speeds mean that driving it in bumper to bumper traffic is going to give your left hand and foot a thorough workout. Where this engine shines is at higher speeds on the highways, where you can slot the gear in the sixth cog and enjoy the benefits of an engine that stays closer to idle - this is a motor tuned to deliver fuel-efficiency over anything else. The diesel motor has an ARAI-certified mileage of 21.9kmpl.

2016 Honda BR-V Petrol Engine Bay

Step into the petrol variant, press the clutch and thumb the dark-red start/stop button and you feel like you have entered a different car altogether. The cabin is much quieter, you do not have to use the power of music pouring out of the 4 speakers available on board to drown out the engine clatter - because there is none. Unlike the diesel variant, the petrol-powered BR-V feels lighter, it feels more agile and it feels nicer. On the move, you begin to realise why Honda still makes and is known for its petrol motors - the free-revving nature of the engine means you reach the optimal power/torque levels of the engine much faster. The lighter weight not only helps the BR-V go faster but also corner better, the electric-assist steering helping the cause with its brilliant feedback - the column-mounted electric assist motor allows for greater feel, though the return is faster than normal. The new six-speed manual transmission - the first of its kind to offered with the 1.5-litre petrol motor in India in a Honda - allows for taller gearing as the speeds increase. This helps the BR-V petrol achieve an ARAI-certified 15.4 kmpl.

2016 Honda BR-V Left Side Profile Dynamic

Honda has tweaked the suspension of the BR-V, it is stiffer to compensate for the higher ride height - it makes for pretty good drive dynamics and high-speed stability. The 195mm-section 16-inch Michelin tyres on the test vehicles offered decent grip, this could be improved with the installation of better tyres. You could get a good deal if you change your tyres immediately after taking delivery, talk to your local tyre shop. The brakes, discs up front and drums at the rear, backed by ABS and EBD stops the BR-V well - the brake pedal feel is good. Adding to this, the BR-V is offered with two airbags as standard across the range, which is commendable.

2016 Honda BR-V Interior CVT Gearstalk

The BR-V petrol mated to the CVT is best used as a city runabout - be light footed for best results in terms of efficiency and comfort. There is absolutely no use going pedal to the metal as the only result is a rise in noise - the paddle shifts help shift to a higher 'gear' faster and reduce the noise, but that's it. The petrol i-VTEC motor mated to the CVT has an ARAI-certified mileage of 16kmpl. Honda has missed an opportunity here by not offering an automatic diesel variant of the BR-V, the combination of a diesel-automatic SUV has gained a lot of popularity across price points.

2016 Honda BR-V Rear Right Quarter Dynamic

The Honda BR-V is at best a grown up Mobilio. If Honda prices the BR-V in the Rs. 8-14 Lakh bracket, it runs into competition such as Renault Duster, Mahindra Scorpio, Tata Safari/Storme, Hyundai Creta and Nissan Terrano. There is a slim chance that people will take Honda's bait and consider the BR-V an SUV, but it does have the advantage of being a spacious 7-seater vehicle with efficient and reliable engines. Replace the Mobilio with the BR-V though, and the crossover has the goods to make potential customers believe this is the best vehicle in its segment.

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