If there’s one thing we’ve noticed about Honda, they’ve been upsizing their small models like you would a McDonald’s value me al. The City has certainly grown along with the Civic, while the Jazz can rival the space and versatility offered by more than a few in the compact car and crossover categories.
So what’s Honda to do if their smallest models have moved up in the world? Introduce two new small ones to fill the vacated spots, and that’s what the Honda Brio is all about.
The Brio name itself is derived from the Italian term il Brio, meaning verve, liveliness, spirit and wit. The front of the Brio does appear quite lively and peppy; good design traits in a hatchback geared towards young customers.
Strictly speaking, the Brio isn’t an all new generation hatchback. The model was first introduced in 2011 in India and Thailand; two countries that share our relationship with heavy urban traffic.
Judging by dimensions alone, the Honda Brio would be one of those vehicles that really belongs in tight city streets. The 5-door hatchback measures in at a tiny 3,610mm long, 1,680mm wide and 1,470mm tall with a wheelbase of 2,345mm.
The design elements of the Brio are rather neat, and features some aggressive, upswept character lines. Being a two-box, the side profile ends rather abruptly as opposed to other hatchbacks that seem to slope more at the back. This particular example of the Brio is the top spec variant which is why it rides on 14-inch alloy wheels with 175mm wide Michelin tires. Also, if you’ve noticed, this Brio 1.3S comes with the Modulo body kit that adds a bit more sporting character to the car’s overall design.
Of particular interest to us is the boot space offered by the diminutive Brio hatch. Unlike it’s brother, the Brio Amaze sedan, the hatch does leave a bit wanting in terms of space in terms of both rear legroom and boot space with the back seat upright. The backrest can be folded down, but it’s not fully flat nor is it as sophisticated as the Jazz’s ULTR system.
The dashboard of the Brio appears far more contoured and far more modern than most of its competitors in the entry level segment. Like the previous generation Jazz, the Brio’s interior makes use of circles and curves all around with the A/C vents, the round steering wheel, the A/C dials and the triple gauge cluster. Thought was clearly paid to shaping the dashboard to more modern standards instead of just generating a cheap, generic and featureless dash.
This being a mid-spec 1.3S variant, Honda have omitted some of the nicer features such as the front and rear foglamps, the steering wheel controls, the seat height adjuster and the 2-DIN touchscreen navigation and WiFi-capable head unit in favor of a simpler audio system. This is also the first time I’ve seen a car that has done away with the in-dash CD player and instead focuses purely on USB and auxiliary input. That was actually an ingenious touch because I can’t remember the last time I actually used an audio CD in a car.
Under the hood, the Brio gets a 1.3-liter, four-cylinder i-VTEC engine, thereby eliminating the unbalanced nature of 3-cylinder engines common in the category. The L13Z1 i-VTEC motor makes 99 PS at 6000 rpm and 128 Newton-meters of torque at 4300 rpm, officially making the Brio 1.3L more powerful than the Wigo (1.0L), the Mirage (1.2L) and the larger Swift (1.4L). Also, this variant comes with a 5-speed automatic, also a first in its class.
In town, the Brio drives far better than I thought it would. Small cars are not particularly good at suppressing potholed city streets (read: short wheelbase), but the Brio is definitely better than most, if not all, in its class and price range. The absorption is pretty good, though the ambient noise suppression does need a little more work, as I can hear everything outside almost as clearly as if a window was open, but that’s expected of an entry level model. Fuel economy in the city is also quite high, as an average speed of 19-21 km/h (moderate-heavy traffic) yields fuel economy in the 10.2 km/l range.
On an open road the Brio is impressively fun. The gear ratios area clearly a good match for the 1.3L engine, maximizing acceleration and fuel economy. If the Brio was good in the city for consumption, it’s better on the highway at 15.2 km/l on a steady 90 km/h cruise. When you enter a tight and twisty road, the Brio willingly turns from sedate city hatch and into a lively toy that you can toss around from corner to corner.
Honda has big stakes riding on the arrival of the Brio as the model represents a realignment of their model strategy and stratification, something will ultimately affect the company’s numbers and volumes. Based on our drive of the 2014 Brio 1.3S, Honda is back at what they do best: small, fun, lively and energetic cars.