December 15, 2016 @ 06:22 PM

Review: Honda BR-V - Lucky number seven

It’s a Honda, seats seven, rides well and has acres of space. As a bonus, it even looks pretty suave as well given the bland company it’s about to keep in its class. How many are they expecting to sell? Plenty... just like the rest of their portfolio

Honda can absolutely do no wrong recently. Every segment it dips its canny fingers into, the models end up being best-sellers or are giving the leaders a run for their money. One glaring omission from its stable though has been a staple for its competitors and that is an entry-level seven-seater MPV.

That’s about to be rectified though as the all-new Honda BR-V looks set to follow in the footsteps of its siblings and be a smash hit in a segment that has long been in need of a shot in the arm and some youthfulness.

So what exactly is the BR-V? Honda says it’s a Bold Runabout Vehicle and will be the brand’s first seven-seater sold in Malaysia. It was designed at Honda Thailand’s Research & Development department with the sole intention of being sold in the Asean market and possibly India as well.

It rides on the same platform as a number of models that aren’t sold here; the A-segment Honda Brio hatch and the Mobilio MPV.

Honda is calling the BR-V a crossover though and its 201mm ground clearance, more than the Mobilio, is solid proof that they aren’t slacking on the SUV part of that recipe. Key to fitting seven in comfort is the extended wheelbase that measures in at 2660mm, placing it ahead of the CR-V and HR-V.

In a class that is agonisingly lacking exuberance in design, the BR-V is a sight for sore eyes. Though the Toyota Avanza and Nissan Grand Livina, the appliance approach has left the buyers in that segment in search of something with a tinge more vigor.

Toyota has certainly realised that too and addressed it with the Sienta, which would be closer to the BR-V in terms of pricing, but the Avanza is a more direct match with regards to styling.

A solid, chunky and imposing front end sets the tone for its crossover styling with a rather muscular face that bears a closer resemblance to an SUV with styling cues such as the front diffuser; even if it’s purely cosmetic.

Its side profile begins to open up a little and take a leaf out of the MPV book with vast swatches of glass meeting its match in the high waistline of the door that gel together as an optical illusion to diffuse the higher roofline.

Flip it around and the rear has definitely been peeping into the HR-Vs room with a slight similarity in the taillights although granted, the protrusion at the bottom isn't as pronounced as it is in the HR-V that gave birth to its Storm Trooper nickname.

Further accentuating the SUV gene is a wraparound lower body guard that circles the wheel arches for a more pronounced girth and imposing stance.

Cabins are a speciality of Honda and their interior packaging is second to none in the business. An abundance of space mated with excellent tactile feel from the common points of contact are all hallmarks of a Honda interior.

Solid plastics with decent texture meant a pleasant experience operating the BR-V but certain spots that you probably wouldn’t be grazing as often are condemned to a life of cost cutting with below average plastics that aren’t quite to up par with what we’ve become accustomed to in Malaysia.

Honda did however announce that Malaysian buyers were a tad more demanding, hence the additions of more NVH dampening for the local variants. Those hard plastics on the door panels? They’ll be layered with fabric or leather once it’s launched here. Cubby holes are littered across the cabin and should you find yourself in need of extra, perhaps a review of the stuff you carry with you is in order.

Inside, the elevated seating position makes for a commanding view of the road ahead and falls into place with the SUV connection.

The seats are supportive and make a good companion for long drives. A sliding function for the second row ensures that the occupants of the third row will have sufficient legroom, even for six-footers. This is a full seven seater and the third row drives the point home with ample support for the thighs and back.

You would be hard pressed to find these levels of comfort and space in the back of an Avanza or Grand Livina. A second row blower ensures the air-conditioning reaches all the way to the rear on those hot, humid days.

For added storage, the third row will fold down and flip forward. You’re left with a pretty sizeable expanse although it would fall short of swallowing up a bicycle like the HR-V is capable off. The second row can be folded flat as well and when both are dropped, you have room to slot in long equipment but keep in mind that it won’t be a flat floor.

A sole 1.5-litre engine mated to a CVT is the only option for motivation here. Other markets have access to diesel engines but here, it’s the same combo found in the Jazz and City.

Expect the power outputs to remain identical to the City and Jazz as well at 118hp and 145Nm of torque.

Even with the prospect of lugging around seven adults, the BR-V appears to be up to the task. The low end pull is commendable and getting up to highway cruising speeds is easily dealt with.

The CVT’s calibration is on the better side for this type of transmission and isn't a surprise given its performance in the City and Jazz. There’s no escaping however the slight elastic feeling from lower speeds and the CVT droning that it emits although the shoring up of the NVH levels for the Malaysian market should go a long way in reducing the transmission’s din.

Exceptional handling characteristics aren’t a prerequisite for an MPV but given the elevated ride height, the BR-V still holds its own with some of the B-segment sedans.

The steering is well weighted and the suspension does well to isolate undulations on the road. Although the most the car was fitted with at once was just three, it pulled with gusto when given the beans and could very well keep up with some of the faster moving highway traffic.

It tracks steadily and is composed in corners, making it one of the better handlers in its class with sophistication in its ride that its competitors sorely lack.

Road noise and, to a certain extent, wind noise, did intrude into the cabin. Coupled with the dreaded CVT droning, it did raise some alarm bells. However, as the aforementioned statement from Honda, the local spec units will benefit from additional noise insulation and vibration suppression in key areas such as the steering column.

Honda aren’t shy about the expectations being piled on the BR-V and given the success of the HR-V, Jazz and City there’s isn't a reason to doubt the BR-V will fly off the showroom floors. Assembly have already begun at its Malacca plant so the launch is imminent and given the CKD nature, pricing is expected to place it a rung up from the current Jazz figures.

A good product will convince people to part with their money, even in this testing economic time, and a seven-seater with raised ground clearance, generous room and handsome looks does strike us as the type that will have buyers forking over their money.

Honda BR-V
Engine: 1497cc, SOHC 16V, inline-four, variable valve timing, 118bhp @ 6600rpm, 145Nm @ 4600rpm
Transmission: CVT, front-wheel drive
Dimensions (l/w/h): 4455mm, 1735mm, 1650mm
Weight: 1306kg
Price: TBC

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