What is it?
The BR-V is Honda’s new small SUV for India. It’s an all-new model but comes built on the same platform as the Honda Brio, Amaze and Mobilio models. In case you are wondering, BR-V expands to 'Bold Runabout Vehicle' and Honda has no pretensions in admitting this is a car meant for an urban clientele. Those looking for something with mud-plugging ability had better look elsewhere. Not to say the BR-V is an exception. Rather, it fits right into a market segment where off-road prowess is rarely ever a consideration for buyers. You are probably already familiar with the Hyundai Creta, Maruti S-cross, Renault Duster and Nissan Terrano that the BR-V will take on, so let’s get straight to it and see where and how the Honda hopes to differentiate itself.
The first thing of note is its length. With a length of 4,456mm, the BR-V is the longest of the small SUVs and by quite a margin. For perspective, a Hyundai Creta measures 4,270mm from end-to-end. Second, the BR-V is not immediately identifiable as a Brio, Amaze and Mobilio platform mate, at least when viewed from the front, and that’s a good thing. The BR-V’s squared-out bonnet, angular headlamps and chrome-rich two-part grille has given it a bespoke face and it looks all the better for it. However, see it in profile and you could mistake it for a Mobilio; the upward shoulder line and distinctive kinked window line are shared with the MPV.
Third, the BR-V doesn’t have a classic SUV stance. The roof isn’t all that high, the body looks narrow for all its length and the long rear overhang is, again, more MPV than SUV. That the cabin area past the rear wheels has been used to hold a third row of seats, making the Honda the only seven-seater in its segment, is something we’ll get to in a bit.
There’s the usual dosage of roof rails, scuff plates at the bumpers and cladding on the wheel arches and doors. The 16-inch wheels also standout, as much for their attractive design as for how they look a size small for the BR-V’s large body. As for styling at the tail, it's attractive if a touch on the flamboyant side. There’s a solid chrome shroud for the number plate mount and a reflector that runs the width of the tail to link the smart-looking tail-lamps. Actually, the tail scores for practical reasons rather than for pure aesthetics; the large rear windscreen offers good visibility and the tailgate extends low down which makes loading and unloading luggage easy. What’s also nice is that even with all seven seats up, there’s a decent amount of luggage room in the BR-V. The rearmost seat can also be folded forward and flipped to free up as much as 691 litres of boot space.
What’s it like on the inside?
If there’s a positive to the BR-V’s medium height, it’s that it’s a very easy vehicle to get in and out of. Once inside, you get a feeling of familiarity. That’s because the BR-V uses the same dash as the one you’d find in the updated Honda Amaze which itself looks like a derivative of the Honda Jazz’s dash. The BR-V’s cabin looks quite smart and the all-black theme only helps the impression. Plastic quality is decent though not quite at the Hyundai Creta’s benchmark levels.
What might be a deal-breaker for many buyers, however, is the absence of a touchscreen infotainment system, something that is almost de rigueur for vehicles in this class. The car’s infotainment system does feature Bluetooth for telephony and audio streaming. Automatic climate control, steering-mounted audio buttons, push-button start, electrically foldable outside rear-view mirrors and rear air-con vents are some of the features that will be part of the kit on the top-spec versions. Still, reverse parking sensors should have been offered too. Honda has not revealed the exact variant break-up as yet, but has confirmed dual airbags will be standard across the range. Also what's worth noting is anti-lock brakes will be standard on the diesel BR-V, but will be available only on mid-range and higher versions of the BR-V petrol.
The feel from behind the BR-V’s smartly finished steering wheel is that of sitting in a jacked-up Jazz. The seating position isn’t all that high but visibility is still good, as is comfort. The front seats are well cushioned, and the middle-row seats with adjustable backrests are quite nice as well, notwithstanding the somewhat lack of thigh support. Middle-row legroom is good (the seats can be moved back to create more space) and headroom is aplenty. However, the SUV's cabin simply isn’t wide enough to seat three abreast in comfort and that’s when the last row comes handy. Access to the back is decent and space is not bad either; the large windows help this section of the cabin feel reasonably airy. However, the knees-up seating position means even those who will fit here won’t be happy for too long.
What’s it like to drive?
As expected, the BR-V for India will be available with three powertrain options with power channelled solely to the front wheels. There will not be any all-wheel-drive version. The mainstay of the BR-V range will be the diesel model that comes powered by Honda’s 1.5-litre, i-DTEC engine. While there were indications the engine would be tuned for more power on the BR-V, it continues to make 100hp and 200Nm; same as on the Honda City, Jazz and Mobilio. However, refinement sees an improvement. The engine runs a lot quieter than it does on the other Hondas and the note is also less industrial. That said, the diesel BR-V is still noisier than the Creta and even the Renault Duster.
Performance from the diesel engine is good with plenty of pulling power from very low in the rev band. Where the engine does feel slightly different now, is in its willingness to rev more freely. The engine still doesn’t excite, but there’s more of a powerband to play with. Another nice feature is the smooth-shifting six-speed gearbox that’s allied to a light clutch, both of which help make the BR-V diesel an easy car to drive in town. Diesel BR-V buyers can also expect good fuel economy. The ARAI-tested fuel efficiency figure of 21.9kpl makes this version of the BR-V the most fuel-efficient model among the small SUVs. Before you ask, no, there will not be an automatic version for the diesel.
The other engine of choice will be Honda’s 119hp, 1.5-litre, i-VTEC petrol engine. This engine will be available with both manual and automatic gearbox options. Interestingly, the manual gearbox is a new six-speed unit rather than the five-speed one the petrol City and Mobilio come with. Honda insiders haven't confirmed if this gearbox will make it to the other Hondas as well, but it’s something to expect in the near future. The petrol manual BR-V’s ARAI-tested fuel efficiency is 15.4kpl while the petrol automatic’s figure is slightly higher at 16kpl. The BR-V automatic that is likely to interest urban buyers uses a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Drivers have the option to manually operate the gearbox via steering-mounted paddles which is a first-in-class feature.
The CVT-equipped BR-V does feel nice and responsive for city use. Initial responses are good and pottering around town is a smooth and relaxed affair. But press down hard on the accelerator and you get that rubber-band effect CVTs are notorious for. The gearbox has the engine hold revs until speeds build and this also brings out the engine’s noisiest side. The otherwise smooth engine sounds gruff when this happens, and seems especially thrashy close to the 6,500rpm. Drive with moderate throttle inputs and you’ll like the CVT a lot more. Enthusiasts will like the option of the paddle shifters that work without any delay and let you shuffle between the gearbox’s seven ‘steps’. However, due to the characteristics of the CVT setup, you don’t get the same sort of connect you would with a traditional automatic or dual-clutch transmission.
The BR-V is a long vehicle and you can feel its length from behind the wheel, especially around tighter bends. It’s no corner-carver, but you do get a reassuring sense of security in the bends. What adds to this feeling of confidence is that the steering has little slack and also has a nice weight to it. Straight-line stability is not quite at Duster levels, but is good nonetheless. The BR-V also does well for ride comfort. You do feel a bit of firmness in the setup, but the suspension is absorbent enough at low speeds and contains undue body movements at high speeds too. The BR-V has a generous 210mm of ground clearance that did come handy clearing some rough patches on our test drive.
Should I buy one?
The Honda BR-V is the only model in its class to come with seven seats, something that buyers particularly with large families are sure to be drawn to. Aside from this flexibility, the BR-V also offers a pleasant driving experience. The BR-V’s petrol engine will appeal to buyers for its wide range of abilities, while the diesel one will be suitable for those looking for maximum efficiency.
But for all its strengths, the BR-V doesn’t have the rugged appeal of an SUV and its similarity to the Mobilio MPV, in terms of design, is unlikely to go down too well with image-conscious SUV buyers. Then there’s the matter of the BR-V being down on equipment to rivals too. However, Honda has priced the BR-V range well at Rs 8.75-12.90 lakh, and this should help the Japanese carmaker take the fight to the established competition.