I had almost forgotten that the BR-V had a third row of seats. During its tenure with me, these seats were always folded flat and it’s only when it was time to say goodbye to our long-termer after eight months and around 6,200km that I thought I should wiggle my way into the last row to tell you how good or bad it is. The extra two seats are, after all, what set the BR-V apart from its rivals. It’s the only seven-seater in its class, but is that reason enough to buy one? Like me, the majority of mid-size SUV buyers don’t think an extra row of seats is a ‘must have’. If that was the case, the Creta wouldn’t be outselling the BR-V 6:1. But, for the record, I’m happy to report that within its 4.5m-long footprint, Honda has done an outstanding job of scooping out enough space for a pair of fairly usable seats. And by fairly usable I mean, adults can do short runs without losing circulation in their legs and children too will be comfy enough to not get cranky, even on long drives.
The BR-V’s flexible seating is a showcase of Honda’s packaging expertise, and, over the months, I’ve marvelled at how cleverly the cabin has been designed to deftly balance space and comfort. You would think that stuffing an extra pair of seats would compromise the middle row, but, apart from a slight dearth of under-thigh support, the seat design is so right. Outside visibility is simply fantastic, which is not what you expect from an SUV with such a low stance; in fact, you can even look over the front headrest. The seat height, the optimal position of the armrest and a backrest that reclines are conducive to spending long hours sitting behind a chauffeur. But, a bit of bother is the rather excessive cushioning in the lower back area, which doesn’t quite let you sink into the seat the way you do in a City.
While I didn’t make use of the BR-V’s phenomenally flexible seating to the fullest, the massive boot (691 litres with the last two seats folded) came in handy on the occasional outstation trip.
It’s on these long drives that I started noticing things more closely and not all were good. The knitted roof liner started looking scruffy and the dashboard plastics looked scratchy with age. The worst bit, however, was the clunky infotainment system, which feels unworthy even in a hatchback. Shuffling through the functions isn’t easy (there’s no touchscreen) and the Bluetooth connection was particularly poor. Another area Honda has stinted costs is with the cabin lighting. The lower portion of the dashboard is unlit, so when it’s dark, you have to hunt for the USB port, which isn’t easy in an all-black cabin. The gear lever base isn’t backlit either; you have to rely on the indicator in the instrument cluster to tell you what gear you’re in.
The BR-V’s cheap interiors bear the legacy of Honda’s Brio platform, which has been criticised for its
built-to-a-cost feel and is one of the reasons why the BR-V isn’t attracting more customers.But there are good things about a Honda legacy too. Like the 1.5 i-VTEC engine which is the best 1.5 petrol in the country. Period. Mated to a CVT, performance is a bit blunted, but once you get used to the convenience of the automatic, you won’t complain. In fact, my daily office run of 8km and 11 traffic lights has convinced me that nothing beats a CVT for responsiveness and smoothness. The transmission is alert and jerk-free, which is perfect for stop-start traffic. The driving position is spot on (like on most Hondas) with good all-round visibility, so you always feel in control. And because you can see the edges of the car quite easily, parking isn’t much of an issue either. It’s compact enough to make wiggling into the stacked parking slot in our office easy. But, I have to say, I did miss a reverse camera while backing up the last few inches to the wall.
No doubt, the BR-V’s low stance, peppy petrol motor, CVT transmission make it more of a
city car. So, would it be out of its comfort zone on the highway – where a true-blue SUV with a torquey diesel, high stance, and long-travel suspension feels more at home? A long drive from Mumbai to Nashik and back via Talegaon answered some of those questions.
The ‘rubber band’ effect of the CVT was particularly annoying on the highway, especially while overtaking. Floor the throttle and the revs shoot up rapidly, but without a corresponding increase in speed. It’s this disconnection between engine revs (and noise) and a corresponding increase in speed that makes CVTs so uninvolving for anyone who likes to drive. The BR-V gets paddleshifters which lock onto predetermined ratios and lets you drive it like a manual for the most part, but it still didn’t give me the mechanical connect I’d want from a gearbox.
That’s not to say overtaking was a challenge. There’s no delay in response and the rev-happy 1.5 motor has a strong top end to slingshot you past traffic. Running constantly at high revs, I expected the BR-V to guzzle fuel, but even after a hard charge to Nashik, the fuel gauge dropped to just a notch below half tank, and when we brimmed the car, it swallowed only 23.2 litres on the drive, which equated to a not too thirsty 11.5kpl. In fact, the overall fuel consumption we achieved was 11.2kpl, with a worst figure of 8.2kpl in traffic.
Fun to drive it may not be, but the BR-V certainly is very easy to drive. It’s more of a city slicker than a highway cruiser and, in fact, the fantastically versatile interiors make it a better family car than an SUV.