The Honda Brio is the first true small car from the Japanese manufacturer. After a torrid 2011, which saw Honda having to discount its models heavily to keep sales going, the Brio has helped hold the fort. We get behind the wheel of Honda’s first mass market car for India – the little Honda Brio hatchback. But has Honda finally managed to crack the code?
Design & Engineering
When you look at the Honda Brio hatch from any angle, you’ll always find it appealing. Such a sentiment is true of only a very small selection of cars, but the Brio manages to be pleasing to look at from most angles. The front face with its big headlamps and wide bumper is very distinctive. The Honda logo nestles in the small-ish front grille, backed by a bold chrome bar.
When viewed in profile, the Honda Brio’s wedge-shaped lines are very distinctive. A sharp crease runs the length of the car, starting at a tangent to the front wheel arch and rising along the sides to meet with the C-pillar. This design element gives the Honda Brio its tipped-forward stance, which makes it look ready for action.
At the rear, the triangular tail-lights with their clear Perspex covers stand out, making the Brio instantly recognisable. The Honda Brio is unique among current Indian hatchbacks by having a glass-only tail-gate. (The original Maruti 800 had a similar feature).
The rear doors of the Honda Brio are small and do not open wide, making ingress and egress a little uncomfortable for older people.
The Brio’s dimensions are reasonably compact, and it measures just 3,610 mm in length, with a 2,345 mm wheelbase. That’s 35 mm less than a Hyundai i10, or a whopping 144 mm less than the Ford Figo. It’s even 30 mm less than a Chevrolet Beat. This comparison is significant, because it shows up when you evaluate the interiors and boot space of the Honda Brio, which we shall come to subsequently.
Interiors & Comfort
The Honda Brio’s interiors are immediately recognisable as a Honda. The same smooth-finished plastics and combination of black and beige with silver highlights make it similar to all its bigger siblings, including the Jazz, City and even the Accord. We drove the top-of-the-line V variant, but even the lower trim S and S (O) versions come with a built-in stereo with audio controls on the steering wheel. The Brio’s audio system is devoid of a CD player, like in the Honda City, but you do get USB connectivity as standard.
The Honda Brio’s driver’s seat is not adjustable, making it difficult for short driver to get a good view, especially since the Brio’s dashboard is so deep as well. For people of a shorter stature, it will be difficult to judge distance in tight parking spaces or in traffic, so that should be an important consideration for the prospective Honda Brio buyer.
Honda’s engineers have put in a lot of thought into scooping out the maximum interior room, given the compact proportions they had to work with, and it’s been a good effort, but the Honda Brio just falls short is too many areas. The front seats are spacious and comfortable, but rear passengers are short changed. The sloping roofline means headroom is not much, and rear legroom in the Honda Brio isn’t much to shout about either, even with the scooped-out front seatbacks.
The boot too cannot take any hard luggage at all, and even an air-line cabin-bag just about fits. There’s no provision for a rear parcel shelf either, which means that whatever’s in your boot is visible for curious people at parking lots.
Performance & Handling
As you can see, the Brio has been docked quite a few points for its interiors and practicality, or lack of it thereof. But the little Honda fights back in the performance and fuel efficiency parameters. For starters, it uses the same 1.2-litre i-VTEC engine from its bigger Jazz supermini sibling. This engine, as we know, is simply brilliant. Honda is renowned for its VTEC technology, and in Brio (and Jazz) it adds up to a considerable advantage. For starters, this motor endows the Brio with quite zippy performance, without any major disadvantage at the pumps. The i-VTEC or “Intelligent Variable Timing and Electronic Control” ensures that the Brio enjoys variable valve timing and valve lift, for very precise fuel control, which translates into more efficient combustion, lower fuel consumption and less emissions. The Honda’s intelligent valve timing sees only one set of valves being operational at lower revs, with the second pair of inlet and exhaust valves operating only at higher revolutions. There’s a definite kick in the Brio’s power delivery at around 4,400 rpm, with a distinct change in exhaust note, which is the clue that the second pair of valves has come on song. At higher revs and with all 16 valves singing, the Honda Brio feels like a mini missile, and you bounce off the rev limiter so fast, you’re forced to re-think your gearshift strategy. Thankfully, the gear-change is light and positive, but the small golf-ball like shift lever is not to my liking.
Steering response is good, with sharp turn-in and good levels of grip. The Honda Brio’s low height and wide track, matched to 14-inch wheels with 175/65 profile rubber means that it grips really well. That’s the nice part.
But then, when it comes to the balance between ride and handling, Honda’s engineers haven’t got it right. There’s a surprising amount of body roll and the short-stroke suspension means a lot of bumps and ripples are sent through to the cabin. Once again, it’s the rear passengers who are worse off, and you can actually hear the suspension at work inside the car. Not nice at all.
'ECO' indicator in the Honda Brio helps driver to adjust driving style for maximum fuel efficiency.
The Honda Brio’s biggest triumph is in the fuel efficiency stakes. ARAI has certified the car for 18.4 km/l overall, and in the time we had the car, it never dipped below 13 km/l, even with 4 passengers on board and the AC on. We’re confident that the Brio can manage 18 km/l on the highway if driven sensibly. With petrol prices being as they are, this is the single biggest weapon in the Honda Brio’s arsenal. The Honda Brio comes with an ‘ECO’ indicator, which is a small green light to the right of the speedo. The trick is to ensure that the green light always remains on. Keep the Brio between 1800-3000 rpm and you should be fine.
Lack of a rear wiper on the Honda Brio is a glaring oversight.
Safety is never high on priority for Indian car buyers, and so the Brio comes with ABS and airbags only on the top two variants. All four variants have an engine immobiliser however. Strangely, the Brio does not have a rear wiper or defogger, despite having a substantial rear glass area. Hatchbacks are prone to the rear windshield getting dirty, especially in the monsoon. A rear wiper is a basic feature which helps in rear visibility tremendously, and we really wish Honda had thought of a way to include it on the Brio.
After driving the Honda Brio, one is left with mixed emotions. Yes, it has a lovely engine, which provides good performance without compromising on fuel efficiency. But the Honda Brio is found wanting in so many areas. It is not the most practical, with a small boot and cramped rear living quarters. There’s no rear wiper for the monsoons. The deep dashboard makes it hard for short drivers, and the lack of an adjustable seat simply exacerbates the problem. The Brio’s ride quality isn’t much to write home about either. Agreed, most small cars cannot be rated on ride quality, but then look at the Chevrolet Beat; Chevy’s engineers have managed to make the Beat ride well.
On the space front, like we discussed, the Brio once again loses out to the competition, and in a country like India, hatchbacks are used as family cars where space is an important factor.
Finally, there’s the price. At Rs 5.91 lakhs on-road for the top-of-the-line V variant we drove, it’s simply hard to justify the amount of capital for the quantity of car you get in return. Yes, the Brio will appeal to Honda lovers and the well-heeled multi-car families in India and the good fuel efficiency will see a lot of prospective buyers willing to overlook the Brio’s faults, but I just wish Honda had done a better job of it, especially since it's competition has the option of diesel or LPG for lower running costs. At the end of the day, a sub-compact segment car at supermini price is what the Honda Brio is, which is disappointing.