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Hey, Good Looking

The 7-seater multi-purpose vehicle (MPV) is the most neglected in the Rs 10-12 lakh segment. Car makers have realised the potential of the MPV market, somewhat ignored till now, and are now moving quickly to cater to it. Honda recently joined the exclusive club of Toyota, Maruti Suzuki, Chevrolet and Nissan with the launch of the well-designed Mobilio. People don't want to be associated with a boxy utilitarian vehicle anymore, and that is probably what has affected the sales of Nissan's Evalia and Chevrolet's Enjoy, leaving the Mobilio breathing down the neck of the popular Innova from Toyota and Ertiga from Maruti Suzuki. Owners of MPVs want to brag about their vehicles, and perhaps that is where the Mobilio will score high because it has impressive looks.

What is most striking about the Mobilio is that it is the first MPV that has a curvaceous silhouette, though the roof slopes down rather than wedges up vertically, making it seem a strange combination of a tall boy and a van. However, I loved the thick band on the front fascia and the aggressive bumpers, which add style to the Mobilio, a commodity that is rare in the people carrier segment. Yes, the nose looks very much like those of its siblings, the Brio and the Amaze, but it won't take you more than a fraction of a second to realise that this is Big Brother himself. Its side profile is striking with two chiselled diagonal creases, one just over the door handle and the other below the wheel arches extending from the rear bumper all the way to the A-pillar. Coming to the rear, a bold ridge between the large wrap-around rear lamps continues the striking Mobilio flavour. The tell-tale lights on the bumpers with black inserts in place of rear fog lamps make the MPV look very contemporary.

Now the acid test. MPVs are all about providing spacious comfort for seven people; does the Mobilio fit the bill? Well, there is ample legroom and headroom in the front two rows, even for passengers in excess of 6 feet in height. The seats aren't broad and big like those in the pioneer of this segment, the Innovas, but the Mobilio provides decent back support and the seat squab is very comfortable. These slim seats also ensure that the cabin feels more spacious than it actually is. The second row, however, lacks shoulder room but because the seats slide back and forth, knee-room can be created for passengers in the third row. Kudos to Honda for keeping the floorboard flat - this ensures that the passengers seated in the middle get to sit comfortably. Honda's Mobilio

Even with the third row seats up, the Mobilio has luggage space to accommodate two large suitcases, which is very impressive. Fold the last seats and you get a massive 520 litres of boot space, so shop till you drop or fully stock up for a long road trip.

After building up expectations, I was disappointed with the interior build quality. Cost cutting is very much visible, which is a letdown for a vehicle that costs a shade over Rs 10 lakh (the base petrol variant is priced at Rs 6.5 lakh, ex-showroom, Delhi). The top-of-the-line variant that I drove came with faux wood dashboard finish, which I consider a cheesy attempt to spruce up the cabin. Though the dual-tone interiors try hard to liven up the cabin, the hard plastics sabotage all such efforts.

I test drove the 1.5-litre diesel-powered Mobilio which is expected to be the mainstay volume seller. Ever since this engine was launched in the Amaze, it has logged some serious numbers. Also available in the City, this diesel engine recently crossed the 100,000 sale mark, clearly showing that the demand for the heavy fuel heart has not lessened with diesel price increasing. Its linear and predictable initial pick up makes the Mobilio easy to drive in the city. It doesn't have the power grunt of the Innova, neither does it suffer from the lag that is quite evident in the Ertiga. Though it weighs around 1,250 kg, the Mobilio drives like a car and feels fairly agile. With 99 bhp under the hood, the Mobilio has enough punch to carry a car load of passengers, and the gear ratio of the 5-speed gearbox is spot on, ensuring you aren't forced to fidget with the stick too much. In terms of refinement, the engine noise is quite audible though the music system does its best to drown the sound. No doubt, it is an improvement over the Amaze, but Honda still has a long way to go to get this aspect of the engine right.

As an MPV, handling is not supposed to be Mobilio's suit. But with a predictable body roll, it still fares better than most of its rivals. The suspension set-up has been tweaked so that it provides a comfortable ride for seven people. It doesn't crash into potholes, thus offering a bounce-free drive.

On the road, the Mobilio drew a lot attention. I was asked many questions about its availability. Some raved about its space, others couldn't go beyond praising its looks. I think this is the testimony of this new MPV - finally a seven-seater flaunts its style and still remains spacious and functional. Sure, the interiors aren't the best in the class, but then you can't win them all now, can you? Arup Das is Features Editor at AutoX

Engine: 1,498 cc
Power: 98.6 bhp at 3,600 rpm
Torque: 2000 Nm at 1,750 rpm
Fuel economy: 24.2 kmpl (ARAI)
Price: Rs 10.44 lakh (Ex-showroom, Delhi)