Honda is the largest producer of small capacity petrol engines in the world. It has dominated many a hard-fought segment in India and everyone from bikers to Accord owners has a deep respect for the brand in India. Sure, Honda has the right stuff to make a successful small car for India, absolutely. But just how good is the new Brio? Can it take on Maruti in India at its own game and win?
What’s evident immediately is that Honda has chosen to give plenty of priority to the front seats of this car and rear seat and boot space have been compromised a bit. This Suzuki Swift-like prioritisation is plainly visible, even from the kerb. What’s also evident is the aggressive, tipped-forward stance of the car and Honda’s very tight and modern skinning. The large fighter aircraft-like fake air intakes under the headlights give the design plenty of aggression, and the Brio has gently flared wheel arches as well. What’s also good is that the low window line gives great all-round visibility from the front seats.
Honda’s decision to place a lot of emphasis on how the Brio drives is also clear once you are on the move. The 1198cc four-cylinder engine is the same brilliant motor that powers Honda’s larger Jazz in India, and the 90bhp feels very lively. It would, for this car weighs approximately 70kg less than the larger Jazz and that means the Brio holds a significant advantage as far as the power-to-weight ratio is concerned. Sure, you still do encounter the slightly weak bottom end on occasion, but swapping gears via the light clutch and quick gearbox soon gets rid of this slight problem. The top end, however, feels zingy and effervescent and, as a result, punting this small car around can be quite fun at times. It’s also refined and smooth and you can expect class-leading efficiency from the Honda as well (the Jazz is already the most fuel efficient petrol hatch in India). There is a CVT version on offer in Thailand as well, but it is not clear if Honda will sell this version in India.
The Brio’s electrically adjusted steering is very light and this is ideal for city traffic. You can literally steer the car with just a flick of the wrist, which makes cross-town journeys less stressful. More enthusiastic drivers though are sure to be a little disappointed with the slightly vague feel and the total lack of communication with the road.
Also slightly disappointing is the ride quality. Like many Hondas, it feels a bit lumpy over poor roads and a good majority of road imperfections filter into the cabin. However, the ride quality improves as you go faster and the Brio also feels adequately stable at highway speeds. Despite the light steering, the Brio also possesses good grip in corners and feels easy to control. And the brakes have a good pedal action and stopping power as well. It’s also safe to say that Honda has done a good job of refinement and external noise suppression. The Brio is quite good for a car in this class and this makes the Honda a surprisingly relaxing car to drive. In fact, the Brio drives in a very similar fashion as the Jazz; it’s just that the two cars differ when it comes to the size of their cabins.
Glance at the spec sheet and you’ll note that the Brio has a shorter wheelbase length than the Jazz by 150mm. In spite of that, the Brio can still seat four six-footers in decent comfort and this is down to the car’s clever packaging. Honda has installed seats with thin backrests, the scooped-out glovebox allows the passenger a bit more legroom and the doorpads used are very minimalistic as well, yielding plenty of additional space in the process. Cost cutting however is evident. The seats have no adjustable headrest, only a pane rear glass is used instead of a costly hatch and there is no rear defogger or wiper.
On the positive side, Thai-spec Brios get dual airbags and anti-lock brakes as standard across the range; hopefully, this will be the case in India as well. Despite the general cost savings, however, the Brio’s interiors feel well-made. The chunky steering is nice to hold, the hooded dials look attractive and the plastic quality is better than you expect.
That the Brio is an impressive city car is easy to see. It possesses a reasonable amount of agility, its 1.2 petrol engine delivers positively sprightly performance and its compact dimensions are ideal for city traffic. It’s reasonably comfortable, quite attractive on the outside and will deliver a good ownership experience. The difficult bit for Honda, however, will be pricing it aggressively enough. A starting price of anything above Rs 4.5 lakh is not likely to excite many, and keeping a lid on the price will be Honda’s biggest challenge.