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That Indians love SUVs is no secret but even I’m surprised by how many of us are switching from regular cars to something that’s a bit bigger, a bit higher and a bit more intimidating to other road users. In a market that grew by 8 per cent, SUVs grew by a whopping 35 per cent. And that’s not the big surprise, of even more interest to the accountants is the entry SUV space – a segment bookended by EcoSport and XUV 500 with the reigning Indian Car of the Year, the Creta, in between – that has grown by a whopping 43 per cent. Doesn’t take a Chartered Accountant to realise that not having a small SUV in your portfolio is a sure fire way to stress the bottom line, which is why the spate of recent launches (KUV, updated Duster, Vitara Brezza). And here’s the latest entrant – the Honda BR-V.
Compact SUV is a bit of misnomer. You’d ideally only term the sub four-metre SUVs (EcoSport, Vitara Brezza, KUV 100) ‘compact’ but even the XUV500 which has three rows of seats falls under the Compact SUV segmentation. And so does the BR-V.
It isn’t compact though. At 4.5 meters in length it is much longer than the Creta and that length has gone into putting in the third row – a unique selling point of the Honda BR-V. Of course the XUV also has three rows of seats but Honda’s obvious targets are the Duster and Creta and the ability to seat seven will be one of the big draws of the BR-V.
Like the Creta has been adapted from the i20, so too the Honda BR-V that traces its roots back to the Brio. The Brio though is a much smaller (and cheaper, but that’s something we will come to later) car than the i20, and it shows through in the BR-V that comes across as a tad narrow. It results in a terrifically tight turning radius but also three abreast in the middle row becomes a squeeze despite the flat floor. With the middle row pushed all the way back (you can also adjust the recline angle) knee room is good but you can’t tuck your feet under the front seats which takes away some of the comfort and also there’s not much under thigh support.
With the middle row flip and tumbling out of the way quite easily, access to the third row isn’t too difficult but the space is tight and a person of my size (five foot nine inches) will find his knees tucked into his face and head touching the roof. Children should be okay and adults won’t complain too loudly on short commutes. What is good is that there’s a roof mounted air-con for the middle row which has a good enough throw so that the kids at the back won’t complain about the heat. With the last row up there’s space for cabin-luggage-sized bags. These seats fold and tumble away easily to liberate the largest boot in this class (XUV excluded).
More on the shared genes
Visually the BR-V is rather closely related to the Mobilio MPV, and that’s not just my observation but that of early morning joggers around the Fateh Sagar Lake in Udaipur. The thing is that despite the designers working the crayons overtime, there’s no masking either its roots or the requirements mandated by having to package that third row of seats.
Head on is the best angle of the BR-V, with the thick chrome accents on the grille and rather bold face. It also gets LED day time running lamps but I feel they could have done so much more with it than just the small strips at the edge of the lamps. To give it that SUV-feel thick and black plastic cladding runs from the nose, over the wheel arches and to the rear, there are silver-accented scuff plates and prominent roof rails. Yet it looks more like a pumped up MPV, what with the long rear overhang and just the general length of the thing. It also looks undertyred, and that’s despite running 16 inch rims.
What it does do is attract attention. The joggers around the Fateh Sagar lake didn’t stop just because we’d encroached on their space, but they were genuinely curious as to what this new SUV was all about.
Beefed up and strengthened
A bit on the platform. This is the same Mobilio platform which is the stretched version of the Brio / Amaze platform. It runs Mac Pherson struts at the front and a torsion beam at the rear and there is no provision for all-wheel drive. There isn’t even a transmission tunnel to accommodate it at a later stage. However in keeping with the SUV positioning the springs and dampers are beefed up, the body shell is strengthened around the suspension mounts and pillars and there’s added sound-deadening material. It adds 100kg to the kerb weight over the Mobilio while being 10 per cent stiffer overall. It also rides higher than the Mobilio with a 210mm ground clearance.
On the inside
It’s all familiar fare here. To my eye the best looking bit is the steering wheel which, if you remember, was first seen on the Civic that came over a decade ago. The dash was first seen on the Amaze and though Honda’s designers have tried to make it a little more up-market with an all-black finish and silver accenting the plastics feel a bit too hard and, well, plasticky for an SUV of this price range. There are no soft-touch plastics anywhere, the doors feel light and shut with that tinny feel that reminds me of Japanese cars of the past and to liberate whatever space they could on the inside, the seat cushioning is the thinnest I’ve seen in any car (and isn’t all that comfortable either).
What I have the biggest problem with is the infotainment. Forget Apple CarPlay and voice activation which smaller SUVs like the Vitara Brezza have, here there’s no navigation, no colour display, no touch screen, no parking camera. Heck, there are no parking sensors which, in this day and age, in hard to stomach especially in a 4.5 metre long car.
What you do get are airbags and ABS standard across the range and Honda needs to be commended on that. In fact I’d give Honda two extra points for this as their focus on safety has now forced Hyundai to make airbags and ABS standard across all variants of the Creta.
Honda continues with the 1.5-litre iDTEC motor that makes 99bhp and 200Nm of torque. New to the package is the 6-speed gearbox that has a shorter first gear and taller final drive compared to the 5-speed ’box on the City, Mobilio et all. Performance, while not the quickest in its class, is par for the course and the engine feels a little more eager to rev. However refinement isn’t on the same level as the Creta or even the Duster and it feels a little harsh, not to mention loud. Honda claim in-cabin noise is down by 3 decibels but, truth be told, it has to go down a little more.
sion goes about their work in a very refined and silent manner and you barely feel anything. However when pushed the CVT begins to drone with that typical rubber-band effect and the engine gets a touch too noisy and trashy. VTEC motors were always about performance but this motor isn’t going to light the fires in any enthusiast, with a brisk but not lightning-quick turn of pace.
On the road
The BR-V feels like any Honda you might have driven in the recent past – totally effortless, light on its feet, direct steering and agile road manners. The steering can feel a little too light until you get used to it but this is a very easy car to drive with great visibility thanks to the large glass house and slick operation of all its controls. The revised damping gives the BR-V a stiff ride, which is rather apparent at low speeds where you feel almost all road imperfections. You do get good straight line stability but the BR-V, even at speed on the highway, isn’t as settled and plush as its rivals.
The handling is safe, predictable and competent though it will not light the fires of any enthusiast. Throw it hard into a corner and it understeers early and noisily and in any case there isn’t much feel from the electric power steering. The higher ground clearance also means there’s more and noticeable body roll.
Does the BR-V move the game on? I fear not. There’s no doubt that you will get a high quality and very reliable vehicle that will be easy to drive and fuel efficient. You also get the reassurance of the Honda badge. The problem for the BR-V is that the SUVs it will have to compete with already feel more expensive and more luxurious. And every single one has better equipment levels! The BR-V does have a big plus point in that third row, and the importance of seating for seven cannot be underestimated in the Indian context, but these SUVs also need to feel desirable and I fear the Bold Runabout Vehicle (yes, that’s what BR-V stands for!) will be found lacking on that crucial parameter.
Ultimately it all depends on pricing and if the BR-V can significantly undercut the Creta – which is Rs 12.5 lakh for the newly introduced automatic petrol – then the action will really heat up in this segment.