Honda has been, how do we really put it, fairly quiet for a long time now. Since the launch of the Jazz in 2009, there really have been no new car launches, except for the odd facelift. Two years certainly is a long time to be without a new car and in all that time the market has changed a fair bit. Diesels have gained prominence, a lot of brands have launched products that many would like to believe are relevant to a market like India and everyone has managed to increase marketshare, except for Honda.
It has seen a somewhat downward spiral, even though it has managed to improve sales every now and then. It's only because it hasn't had a credible small car in the portfolio. And a diesel option. The first is getting cured now, with the launch of the Brio this very month and first impressions are that it is going to shake up the established lot.
For those who believe that it's a Maruti Suzuki Swift rival, read again. It's more in the league of the Hyundai i10, Chevrolet Beat and Maruti Suzuki Ritz league, especially as price positioning goes. Sure, the odd Swift and Polo may figure in its crosshairs, especially the lower variants of the duo, but if you consider the whole deal, the Brio would certainly love to take potshots at them, while the re-positioned Jazz finishes the deal off.
We drove the Brio extensively, subjected it to a whole lot of highway driving, some urban and the odd hill drive at full-tilt for this first driving impression.
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1. It's quite amazing how Honda have managed to package the Brio in such a tiny footprint. Measuring just 3.6 metres in length and with a turning radius of 4.5 m, the Brio makes for an ideal city car. What's more, Honda's philosophy of man maximum, machine minimum comes truly to the fore here. At 930 kg, it's considerably lighter than a lot of its competition, except for the larger Toyota Etios Liva at 900 kg.
2. The Brio's design is rather unique and has some facets that make it cute and cuddly. It stays more or less true to the original concept we all first witnessed at the Delhi Auto Expo 2010. Takeaways from the design include a smallish front grille with the large Honda logo, the large airdam for the front bumper, a rising waistline and of course the glass hatch and the protruding tail lamps.
3. Many have asked about the tailgate and here's what we think of it. The original Maruti 800 also had one, but unlike that, this one doesn't have the fixed metal gate the 800 enjoyed. Nevertheless there is a degree of usefulness, what with it being lighter than a metal and glass tail gate and visibility through the rear glass is excellent. Honda Siel claims that the tailgate is made of tempered glass, like any other automobile, but uses a 5 mm thick variety instead of the usual 3 mm to account for safety and durability.
4. On the inside, the Brio has its share of good points and some not so good ones. Let's first talk about what you get. The Brio in the highest trim, that is V, comes with twin airbags, ABS, alloy-wheels, fog lamps, all four-power windows, central locking, a USB/aux-in stereo system and stereo controls on the steering and electrically adjustable outside rear-view mirrors.. The trim below it, the S will come with all of that, minus alloy wheels, fog lamps and slightly different seat trim design. Two more trim levels are expected below the S as well, one of which we believe would be called the Brio E, going by general nomenclature and would come with all of the features from the S, minus airbags and ABS. Both the S and V come with a mult-trip meter with fuel-efficiency display. There are lots of bits and pieces from the City and Jazz on the Brio, which explains the recent price cut on the two.
5. Now here's what you won't get and here's where Honda have done some level of cost cutting. You will get single piece seats on all variants, no rear demister/defogger, let alone a rear wiper on any of the variants, which is very baffling to say the least. A rear parcel tray was missing from our pre-production test cars, but Honda assured us that it will be offered on the cars that go on sale. The Brio, like its other cousins, the Jazz and City doesn't come with auto climate control, nor a CD player. The front door pockets, though large don't wrap the door with plastic, instead you see exposed, painted metal. The rear power windows are of the toggle switch variety. The overall plastic quality though is decent and generally the cost-cutting isn't painfully evident, unless you decide to generally view things with a magnifying glass. Does this cost-cutting reflect on the price tag, we'll tell you a little later.
6. Space is quite good for this city-based hatch. At the front, the seats are comfortable and offer good support, but taller people may not like the under thigh support and there's overall a little less cushioning than one would have liked. At the rear, there's pretty good legroom and knee room. Even with someone like Pablo, who's close to 6-feet tall at the helm, I found at least two-inches of spare knee room sitting right behind. Legroom is decent and with a close to non-existent central tunnel, three medium sized people can squeeze in for short drives. What is disturbing is the fixed neck-restraints that are too short for anybody 5 feet 7 inches and above and any attempt to rest your head on them could result in your head kissing the roof. The boot is large and deep enough for a medium and small-sized suitcase together, and when flipped, the rear seat can accomodate two large golf bags easily. The rear seat however isn't of the split variety. Overall visibility from the car is very good, making it useful in choc-a-bloc urban traffic conditions.
7. Powering the Brio is the tried and tested 1.2-litre i-Vtec motor from the Jazz. It makes 87 bhp@6000 rpm and 11.1 kgm of peak torque at 4000 rpm. The powertrain, on the whole is identical, the only differences being to the gearing and ECU parameters. The motor is good enough to propel the Brio to 60 kph in about 5 seconds and by our rough estimation, should get the car to 100 kph in under 12 seconds. It's good enough to put Hyundai's 1.2 Kappa to shame as far as performance goes, while we still believe overall refinement at high revs is better in the little Hyundai.
8. The car moves with a lot of vigour and it doesn't feel out of breath even at low revs, thanks to some clever changes to the gearing and the low kerb weight, that makes the 11.1 kgm of peak torque more than sufficient. Honda claims that the Brio can return 18.4 kpl (ARAI), making it rather efficient too. The gearbox as always is a joy to use and the familiarity of the gear knob only re-affirms that smile on the face. It's slick and slots into place beautifully. The foot controls are light and that's a boon for most city users.
10. Ride quality is on the softer side. Unlike most Hondas, the front-end isn't as stiff and the rear is setup to be even softer. Net result is a car that rides over bad surfaces quite well for its size and weight, but the problem is the vertical movements of the suspension are a touch too much. Long after you have ridden over bumps, the suspension continues its vertical movement which can get a bit disconcerting. It should tell you that it's good for the city and expressways, but not B-roads and state highways where the surface isn't necessarily well laid.
11. Overall, the Brio works well as a city car. Heck, it's even fun-to-drive and has all the elements of a warm urban hatch. Sure, the steering could have had better weight and the suspension a bit more stiffness, but then again for the 95 percentile urban commuter, the car works very well indeed. Some more features could have been added, especially a rear demister, which we feel works against the car. But what may not work against is the price. Considering all the trims, we believe the car could be priced in the region of Rs 3.8 lakh to 4.8 lakh, ex-showroom. At that price, Honda could very well set a precedent and possibly even start a price war in this segment.