Sometimes urban traffic in India is a real downer. A slow crawl to and from work in Mumbai is all but expected, and drive in Bangalore for any length of time and you’ll experience what being immobile in a car for long periods feels like. Traffic is something we’ve gotten used to. Nothing we have can, however, fully prepare you for the gridlock you experience in Jakarta; easily the number-one entry on the traffic jam charts.
Now it’s common knowledge that travelling from the centre of Jakarta is no 15- or 20-minute drive. Total travel time, to and fro, could exceed six hours, and that’s on a good day. So, taking the advice of our friends at Autocar Indonesia, we decide to stay on the city’s outskirts. All we have to do now is navigate 12-odd-km of a city ring road before we hit the highway – easy-peasy. To give ourselves even more time with the Mobilio, we decide to leave at six in the morning. Maybe we can beat the traffic. But that’s wishful thinking; the jam to get out of the city starts a mere 10 minutes into our drive. MPVs, cars and trucks fill all five lanes of the ring road, two service lanes included, and around corners, we see traffic piled up for miles and miles. All that at six in the morning!
Very quickly, I sort of understand why most Indonesians prefer to own MPVs. The logic is pretty clear: if you’re going to spend hour after hour in your car, it better be as comfortable as possible. So in Indonesia, very few people buy tiny hatchbacks, and small- and medium-sized sedans are all but unheard of. People carriers like the Toyota Innova and Avanza and the Suzuki Ertiga rule here. Indonesians, like us, also love travelling with their extended families, so a third row of seats is important as well.
The MPV making the most noise recently is Honda’s Mobilio – a car that’s already a runaway success here in Indonesia. And it’s not difficult to see why. First impressions of the car are really good. It’s nice and light to drive in traffic, there’s sufficient grunt from the engine, even at slow speeds, and body control isn’t sloppy, so you aren’t really aware of the considerable 4.4-metre length of the car. I’m itching to delve deeper into Honda Mobilio’s repertoire of talents, but we’ve been crawling along in this jam for the last couple of hours, and there really is no end in sight.
Not going anywhere fast, we execute a leisurely pit stop and shop for supplies. Indonesia has some really good coffee and so I select a local brew from Java, politely avoiding the infamous Luwak. There’s also time to get a closer look at the Mobilio which, despite being a big and bulbous MPV, is pretty attractive. Honda has used bold lines and smart details to amp it up, and it seems to have worked.
The most recognisable bit, the nose, has been substantially altered from that of the Brio and Amaze. It gets new details in the headlamps, a larger bar of chrome across the grille and Honda has used a new, more aggressive chin to transform it rather nicely. What also lends the nose a tough, go-anywhere look are the bits of matte-black plastic. While many of the lines that rake the flanks of the Brio remain, there’s a clever Opel Meriva-like alteration to the window line. Looking for all the world like a lightning blitz, this detail effectively drops the otherwise climbing window line – smart thinking.
The Mobilio, however, looks the most attractive from the rear. The wider base, attractive wrap-around rear windscreen and ‘floating’ D pillar work so well together, they even help hide the big rear overhang nicely. Completing the look are the larger 15-inch wheels that help give the car a more planted stance. What’s also inescapable is the sheer size of the thing, especially considering this car is built on the same platform as the Brio. It is a full 776mm longer than the hatch at 4.4 metres long and the 2,650mm wheelbase is substantially larger than that of the Amaze. The challenge with such a long wheelbase, of course, is rigidity, but Honda says it’s paid particular attention to this. What’s interesting, however, is that unlike cars like the Maruti Ertiga (built on an even longer 2,740mm wheelbase), the Mobilio does not have strengthening ribs on the roof. A more roll-resistant suspension setup and more powerful brakes make up the rest of the technical upgrade for this car. The good news is that anti-lock brakes could be standard on all models in India.
Equally impressive are the spacious interiors. MPVs are all about space, and Honda, master of packaging, has managed to eke out every cubic centimetre. The two key features that make a huge difference are the slim line seats and the packed-close-to-windscreen dash. Space on the inside, as a result, is not too different from that of the Ertiga, despite the Honda having a smaller wheelbase. There’s plenty of room up front for even extra large-sized adults and legroom in the rear is surplus as well. This is especially true if the second-row seats have been taken all the way back on their rails and reclined; yes, these seats give you almost the same amount of flexibility as captain chairs. Thigh and back support on the second row is also pretty good. The third row, however, isn’t as comfortable as the Ertiga’s. Stepping in is easy enough due to the big rear doors, but the seat is placed a bit low, so you sit with your knees up.
Also disappointing is the fact that the dash has been carried over from the Brio with few enhancements. The car we were driving came with a really basic-spec black dash, no steering-mounted audio controls and no chrome trim either. Honda, however, is expected to spruce up the Mobilio for India. A two-tone dashboard and more chrome are obvious upgrades, a double-DIN touchscreen audio system with Bluetooth is likely, and leather seats and climate control could make it here too.
Where the Mobilio really impresses is from behind the wheel. The further we get away from Jakarta, the more the traffic thins, and finally, I’m able to stretch its legs. Whereas this MPV shares most of its other mechanical bits with the Brio and Amaze, the petrol engine actually comes from the City. Making a fizzy 117bhp at a high 6,600rpm and a healthy 14.8kgm of torque, this engine comes with a Torque Boost Resonator in the inlet. What also helps low engine speed responses is the fact that the Mobilio has much shorter gearing due to its higher Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW). So a mere tap on the throttle gets the car moving smartly. Always ready for action, Honda’s 1.5 is very responsive and the Mobilio gathers pace really quick, allowing you to shift up to higher gears quite rapidly.
What you do realise, after carrying on for a bit, is that this car needs an additional sixth gear. Either that, or higher overall gearing. This is because 100kph equates to around 3,500rpm in fifth, and cruising at 120 pushes the engine speed up even higher. With highway speeds getting quicker and quicker in India, Honda could look at lengthening the gearing a bit for India.
The short gearing, however, means there’s always plenty of punch on hand, especially when you wind the brilliant VTEC engine past 4,000rpm. A sporty snarl is accompanied by a progressive shove in the back and then, typically, the engine just wants to spin and spin and spin. What makes it even nicer is that the last 1,500rpm of the powerband feels particularly explosive.
As with other cars on this platform though, the Mobilio doesn’t feel very well insulated. Spinning the VTEC hard creates a din, and when you drive over coarse surfaces, there’s a fair bit of road noise as well.
With large 15-inch rims, 185mm of ground clearance and a long wheelbase, ride quality is pretty comfortable. There is a hint of stiffness at low speeds, especially over sharp bumps, but otherwise, the Mobilio absorbs the bumps pretty well. There’s almost no pitching, absolutely no Xylo-like flip-flop and the Mobilio responds smartly to the steering too.
I all but forget about the extra length of the Mobilio when driving on the highways and regular country roads. The car gives almost no indication of the extra weight being carried behind the driver, even when you take corners, and agility in general feels almost as good as that of the Amaze. This, of course, will change once you load the car up with passengers and the Mobilio does feel its size when we drive it hard on some tighter corners at a track later in the day. But that does little to change the feeling that the Mobilio, just like the Ertiga, feels surprisingly car-like to drive.
When Honda gets the Mobilio to India, sometime around July, it’s likely to be an instant success. Now well practiced in the art of pricing a car right for the Indian market, Honda is likely to place this MPV at a slight premium – around Rs 50,000 – to the Ertiga. This 1.5 petrol will be joined by Honda’s 100bhp 1.5 diesel and the petrol is likely to get the same efficient CVT automatic gearbox you get on the City. No, the Mobilio isn’t perfect. The dash feels a bit basic, refinement could be better and Honda should have focused even more on the third row. But even as things stand, the Mobilio looks like it will deliver exactly what Indian customers are looking for in a seven-seater – plenty of space, efficient engines and car-like driving manners. Get ready to see plenty of these on our roads.