When Honda produced the five-door Brio hatchback, its main purpose was to serve as the Japanese carmaker’s entry into Thailand’s eco-car program back in 2010. While it’s likely that Honda had planned all along to develop more vehicles out of the Brio’s platform like the Brio Amaze sedan and the Mobilio MPV, the idea that it would create a subcompact SUV out of it must have been far-fetched for anyone outside of the company. And yet six years later and said vehicle is officially here, with the first shipment of units practically all spoken for some two months after Honda Cars Philippines started accepting reservations for it.
We are, of course, talking about the new Honda BR-V, which is practically a seven-seater Mobilio on 12mm stilts but it’s really much more than that. It’s also bigger overall—nearly 60mm longer, just over 50mm wider and 62mm taller—and it’s aesthetically better inside and out. The BR-V basically has all of the Mobilio’s strengths and none of its weaknesses.
It’s easy to think that the BR-V has no relation to the Mobilio other than both have the same badge and the lightning kink on the rear doors because the former just looks so different from the latter. For one thing, it doesn’t have the moping look of the Brio/Amaze/Mobilio triumvirate. Instead, it has more presence up front with its taller snout, sizable chrome grille that neatly blends into the headlights, and sculpted bumpers. It’s nearly as handsome at the back thanks to the dramatic accent on the rear bumper that mimics that of the one in front, and the sharp, angular taillights that are joined on the tailgate by a red strip. The only sour point is that the narrow OEM 195/60 R16 tires betray the BR-V’s MPV nature. A shame really because—save for the garish chrome band on the lower edge of the doors—the black lower body cladding, the quasi-functional front and rear skid plates, the roof rails, and the two-tone, five-spoke alloy wheels make it look like an honest-to-goodness SUV.
It’s when you step inside the BR-V that you’ll see that Honda has again outdone itself—that it has actually taken the time to design the interior. Sure, it could’ve taken the easy way out by retaining the Mobilio’s plasticky cabin and dashboard down to the sad, frog-eye look of the glove box and the air-conditioning vents above it, but no. Honda’s engineers sat down and thought about what needed to be changed to give the BR-V a more upscale vibe. To that end, the BR-V has been fitted with a dashboard that wouldn’t look out of place in a Jazz; a leather-clad steering wheel picked right out of the Civic FD’s parts bin; and leather seats all around. Even the interior door panel was slightly remade with plastic that feels better to touch, and faux aluminum trim to go with the ones on the dashboard.
Another plus for the BR-V is that it doesn’t share the same fixed front seats as the Mobilio, as it now has adjustable ones. The second row is a 60/40-split type that reclines a bit for added comfort as well as tumbles forward separately not only to allow access to the third row but also to increase cargo space. The third row, on the other hand, only has 50/50-split seatbacks, although they do tumble forward fully to accommodate a balikbayan box. The cut of the front seatbacks is also narrow to increase legroom for the second-row passengers. The same can’t be said of the cut of the second-row seatbacks so the third-row seats are strictly for children (or, if you plan to seat two adults back there, for really short trips). And since the BR-V has three rows, the overhead air-conditioning system for the second and third rows is really more of a necessity than a luxury.
That said, the BR-V is capable of going up and down the rolling hills and mountain passes in Tagaytay with six adult passengers on board despite sharing the Mobilio’s 118hp, 145Nm 1.5-liter L15Z1 engine, but you really have to push it over 3,000rpm to get it going at a good pace. The BR-V’s CVT also feels more attuned to the engine than the similar pairing in the Mobilio, with the added paddle shifters behind the steering wheel a welcome addition for those who want to control the gear change, a useful feature if you want to downshift and overtake on a two-lane road.
The turns and switchbacks in Tagaytay also demonstrate the ride and handling capabilities of the BR-V. It’s no canyon-carver but body roll is kept to a minimum by the MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear suspension setup. The combination also quells what would otherwise be a jarring ride caused by the rough asphalt patches. From experience though, the BR-V rides better with a full complement of passengers, although it’s comfortable enough with just two people in the front seats. It’s not unsettling like a pickup, but you do feel that the back end is lighter than usual.
Honda Cars Philippines is offering two variants of the BR-V, with the prices ranging from P1 million to P1.15 million. And because it offers so much more than the Mobilio, customers might just balk at purchasing the latter despite being P170,000 cheaper than the top-spec BR-V. As a matter of fact, we already know of one person who was already planning to buy a Mobilio for his family but held off when the BR-V came into the picture.
The BR-V is more of a stylish MPV than the SUV Honda wants its customers to believe it is, but that won’t matter because what the buyers will see is a high-riding MPV that looks good inside and out, and can carry seven people in relative comfort. The BR-V is in a class of its own, and Honda could again laugh its way to the bank because of it.