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2016 Honda BR-V review, road test

26th Jul 2016 11:53 am

After the immense popularity of the Duster and Creta, Honda has brought in its own contender with an ace up its sleeve – a third row of seats.

  • Make : Honda
  • Model : BR-V
With every new model that’s launched in this segment, the segment itself gets harder and harder to classify. It’s no longer the ‘compact SUV’ segment, as that belongs to sub-four-metre offerings like the Brezza and EcoSport. And with rivals like the Hyundai Creta pushing the price well beyond the Rs 15-lakh mark, maybe we should be calling it the ‘premium SUV’ segment. The new Honda BR-V confuses matters even further. At 4,456mm in length, forget compact – it’s really a ‘mid-size’ SUV. And because it has a third row of seats, it should technically compete with even more expensive SUVs like the Mahindra XUV500. But then, Honda has priced it at a competitive Rs 8.75-12.90 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi), which brings it back down to earth again. So, just where does this rather unique SUV fit into the scheme of things, who is it for, and what’s going on under that familiar-looking body? Only a full Autocar India road test can give you the answers.
 
 
We mentioned that the BR-V was light, and that’s really paid off in the fuel economy stakes. Honda claims best-in-class fuel-efficiency, at least for the diesel, and with our real-world-tested city and highway figures of 13.88kpl and 20.04kpl, respectively, they are absolutely correct. A 42-litre fuel tank means you could potentially go 840km on a single fill of diesel. The petrol car too is impressive, and Honda says the CVT is actually more efficient than the six-speed manual. In our tests, the auto managed a respectable 11.01kpl in the city and 14.01kpl on the highway, reminding you again that this car does its best work in urban environs. We didn’t get a chance to do a thorough fuel test of the petrol manual, but given the car’s light weight, the motor’s flexible nature and the well-calibrated six-speed manual, we anticipate it 
to be very good too.
 
 
For the moment, the only infotainment system you can get on a BR-V is this one. It’s a decidedly old-school, dot-matrix unit with a rotary dial and a somewhat unintuitive control layout. Still, it does get USB, aux and Bluetooth functionality for both music and phone (no CD player though). But when the competition offers up a touchscreen with navigation, video playback and a rear-view camera, this feels like a bit of a letdown. Moreover, Honda has a colour screen-based unit in the City and Jazz, so why not here? The saving grace is that it works well, and the sound quality from the speakers is rather good too.
 

Lacks SUV appeal, but stands out for its unique seven-seat layoutThe BR-V is another example of the new Honda. This was once a pioneering company that commanded a premium and was full of innovation, but now it’s playing catch-up and ‘match-the-price’. That’s the sense you get with this car, except that in some crucial areas, it hasn’t caught up. Its performance isn’t class leading, it isn’t thrilling to drive and, most of all, its equipment list lacks some crucial items.But then, it’s got some aces up its sleeve, especially that last row of seats – it’s a unique proposition in this class, and one that will no doubt be a deciding factor for many. But that practicality has come at a cost, and that’s the looks. Though it tries quite hard, it just doesn’t give you the full SUV feeling. In image-conscious India, that’s a big misstep.So, it’s not a car you that will tug at your heartstrings, but it is a practical, reasonably priced and sensible choice, and for some, that will be plenty. Look at it for the sum of its parts and it does make a lot of sense. We just wish there could have been more equipment.

This will likely be the most contentious and polarising part of the BR-V road test, and it’s easy to see why. For a start, there are the underpinnings – it’s based on the same GSP platform as the Mobilio, Amaze and Brio, not the Jazz or City, let alone the CR-V. And though it’s been significantly modified for its role as an SUV – raised ride height, wider tracks and a wheelbase longer than even the Mobilio’s – this is still inherently a compact car platform. Being built on this platform, the suspension setup is as conventional as you’d expect – MacPherson struts up front and a torsion beam at the rear, and before you ask, no, Honda has no plans for an all-wheel-drive version, the BR-V will be front-drive only.

Then there’s the look. Honda has done an excellent job with the nose, simultaneously bringing it up to speed with the more modern design template of the City and Jazz, and also making it suitably tough and rugged looking. Beneath the flat, clamshell bonnet, the thick chrome grille leads into purposeful-looking projector headlamps, the grey plastic-clad bumper is sharp and rugged, and the whole thing is capped by the roof rails that give it that final SUV touch. Viewed head on, then, it’s got all the right stuff, but the moment you look at the profile, it starts to fall apart. Yes, the new 16-inch wheels and 60-profile tyres, added ground clearance and wheel-arch cladding try to impart that off-roader feel, but the car is simply too long in relation to its height and width. It looks too much like the Mobilio, and what really gives it away is the very recognisable kink in the second window that debuted on the Honda MPV, as well as an abnormally long rear overhang that extends far beyond the back axle. 

The rear is suitably new, with smart tail-lamps that meet each other in a band across the tailgate and a nice chrome strip, but it too doesn’t do enough to erase that MPV image from your mind.
 
 

The upshot of the extra length and longer wheelbase, of course, is interior space. This is the only seven-seat crossover in its class, and that could be a huge benefit for owners with big families. In terms of space, it’s as good as a Mobilio (which was pretty good to begin with) and then some. For instance, with all seats in place, you get 223 litres, and can still fit a few soft bags or even one big suitcase in a pinch, in the boot. The other great thing is that it’s a very flexible cabin. The middle row slides as well as folds, with an easy one-lever action. The last row doesn’t fold flat into the floor, nor can it be removed, but even though you don’t get a fully level loading bay, you can’t deny the huge amount of space that’s possible if you want to turn your BR-V into a van. Another practical touch is that the loading lip is really low, making it easy to lob heavy luggage into the boot, and with the spare wheel bolted underneath the chassis, it doesn’t get in the way.
 
On to the seats themselves, rear to front. They’re all wrapped in premium-feeling leather on top-spec VX versions, and though they seem slim, they’re actually quite comfortable and supportive. The third row is impressive, both in how much knee and headroom it provides – some leeway is required from the sliding and reclining middle row – and in the fact that you don’t sit as knees-up as you might imagine; thank the BR-V’s monocoque construction for this. It is, of course, strictly for two, and width back here is not that great. 
 
Width is better than you’d expect in the second row, given how narrow the car is, but it’s still not quite as good as what rivals offer. You do get two bottleholders in each door here, and overall, storage spaces are plentiful in this cabin. Headroom is ample, and even if you don’t slide the middle row all the way back to the full ‘luxury car’ setting, there’s more than enough legroom. There’s no AC vent between the seats like you get in a Hyundai Creta, but instead, an MPV-like roof-mounted AC cools the second and third rows; it’s actually more effective and doesn’t eat into legroom.
 
Hop into either of the front seats and you’ll feel like you’re in one of Honda’s sedans. The seats are snug and even with the driver’s seat raised all the way, it feels more like you’re driving a car than an SUV. Still, forward visibility is really good, although that can’t be said about the view behind; thanks to the small rear windscreen and how far back it is, reversing this long car can be a bit of a task. Cabin quality is on par with most other Hondas, which is to say the parts feel robust and well screwed together, but perhaps a little shy of Hyundai and VW’s lofty standards. The dash design is still a bit simple, but a big step up from the one you used to get in the Brio and Mobilio, the City’s three-ringed dials are employed here (backlit mercifully in white rather than garish blue) and the steering wheel is borrowed from the previous-generation City. It does feel great to hold though.
One area where the BR-V falls short is equipment. Sure, it gets two airbags and ABS as standard on all except the base petrol version (no ABS there), and yes, there are some welcome touches like keyless entry and go and projector headlamps. But by today’s high standard of automatic headlamps and wipers and self-dimming mirrors (none of which are available here), you really feel a little short-changed even on the top-spec cars.

Forget a touchscreen, what you get is a rather old-school audio system with USB, aux and Bluetooth and a monochrome, dot-matrix display. There is automatic climate control, but you get a very basic-feeling manual slider for the recirculation function. The biggest let-down, however, is that there’s no rear-view camera, nor are there parking sensors, and in such a big car with poor rear visibility, that’s a huge inconvenience.

The BR-V gets the same 1.5-litre engines as the City and the Mobilio – a petrol and a diesel, with the same power outputs as before. The petrol car is available with a CVT automatic and both engines get a manual, but this time, the petrol motor too gets a six-speeder, rather than a five-speed unit. 
 
Let’s start with the diesel version though, and the biggest surprise is that it’s a lot more refined now. Okay, it’s still a little noisy, especially past 2,000rpm, but seeing as how that was this motor’s biggest weakness, Honda’s done a good job of improving it in the BR-V. It’s a very drivable motor, and though the 100hp and 200Nm aren’t class best, you rarely feel wanting for more. Turbo lag is impressively minimal, and it revs up in a very stepless manner. The powerband feels nice and wide compared to other diesels in this class (and other Honda models with the same engine too), and though it lacks that exciting, punchy feeling, you will enjoy how linear it is. 
 
The petrol engine is one we’ve been familiar with for a long time, and in its latest guise, the 1.5-litre i-VTEC makes 119hp and 145Nm. As ever, it’s an engine that just loves to rev, and if you enjoy driving, you’ll want to do that at every opportunity, especially since it gets a second wind beyond 5,500rpm! It’s even nice and responsive off the line, although the mid-range feels a bit flat when you want a sudden jump in pace. The reason you might possibly avoid racing to the redline in every gear is that it can sound quite buzzy when you do.  This motor with the new six-speed manual is the best powertrain configuration for this car, not just for enthusiastic driving, but even for low-speed ambling. The added sixth gear means the ratios are now a little shorter and tighter stacked, but because of the way the engine’s tuned, you can still get most of your driving done in third or fourth. It’s really the best of both worlds.
 
The CVT automatic gearbox available with the petrol is quite a pleasant surprise. Provided you drive it in a civilised manner, there’s very little rubberband effect and it makes progress with impressive smoothness. It’s only when you push hard that it really starts to feel strained without sufficient acceleration; really lets that i-VTEC motor down. Sure, the paddles (a class first) are good at letting you hop between the gearbox’s seven ‘steps’ and the Sport mode makes pushing harder a marginally more rewarding affair, but all things said and done, this powertrain combo is not one to be hurried.
 
Considering its size, the BR-V is actually relatively light. The diesel manual weighs just 1,306kg, while the petrol manual and automatic weigh just 1,235kg and 1,238kg, respectively. While that should help fuel economy, it hasn’t really translated into incredible performance. The diesel, for instance, takes 14.5sec to get to 100kph, which makes it around 3-4sec slower than the competition, and even from a rolling start, it lags behind. The CVT BR-V’s 12.53sec 0-100kph time seems pretty decent, especially given how the gearbox gets put out of its element when you push it hard. Its kickdown times of 8.57sec for 20-80kph and 10.61sec for 40-100kph aren’t too shabby either, and even better the petrol manual version’s. But in acceleration from rest, it’s the manual that’s king of the range, with a 11.84sec 0-100kph time. 

Most Hondas these days lack that incredible driver appeal that was a key part of the company’s DNA for decades. Still, they are still quite agreeable to drive, and that’s true of the BR-V too. It’s helped in a big way by that car-like driving position and good visibility. The steering is quick and accurate and this SUV will track true around corners; it really feels like a sedan from behind the wheel. What lets it down is its massive girth that can be felt at all times; you simply have to remind yourself that there’s a lot of car behind you when you try to push it hard. Body control is pretty impressive for something so big, it has to be said, and that’s due to a suspension setup that’s a little on the stiff side.
 
Yes, the BR-V’s ride is a little firm, but like the other cars on this platform, it’s not too uncomfortable for it. Yes, you’ll get a bit of up-and-down movement over a really rough patch of road, but it’s really not bad enough to be a serious complaint. In fact, in most situations, it really handles a variety of surfaces quite well. It’ll smash out potholes quite impressively and it will stay quite flat out on the highway too; there’s even an impressive resistance to crosswinds. All things considered, the BR-V’s ride doesn’t have that excellent balance of the Renault Duster, nor does it have the soft, floaty ride of a Hyundai Creta (nor, thankfully, the associated body roll), and most owners will be quite happy with the comfort levels in here.
 
 

For the moment, the only infotainment system you can get on a BR-V is this one. It’s a decidedly old-school, dot-matrix unit with a rotary dial and a somewhat unintuitive control layout. Still, it does get USB, aux and Bluetooth functionality for both music and phone (no CD player though). But when the competition offers up a touchscreen with navigation, video playback and a rear-view camera, this feels like a bit of a letdown. Moreover, Honda has a colour screen-based unit in the City and Jazz, so why not here? The saving grace is that it works well, and the sound quality from the speakers is rather good too.
 

Lacks SUV appeal, but stands out for its unique seven-seat layoutThe BR-V is another example of the new Honda. This was once a pioneering company that commanded a premium and was full of innovation, but now it’s playing catch-up and ‘match-the-price’. That’s the sense you get with this car, except that in some crucial areas, it hasn’t caught up. Its performance isn’t class leading, it isn’t thrilling to drive and, most of all, its equipment list lacks some crucial items.But then, it’s got some aces up its sleeve, especially that last row of seats – it’s a unique proposition in this class, and one that will no doubt be a deciding factor for many. But that practicality has come at a cost, and that’s the looks. Though it tries quite hard, it just doesn’t give you the full SUV feeling. In image-conscious India, that’s a big misstep.So, it’s not a car you that will tug at your heartstrings, but it is a practical, reasonably priced and sensible choice, and for some, that will be plenty. Look at it for the sum of its parts and it does make a lot of sense. We just wish there could have been more equipment.

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