Honda Brio Platform Review

Honda is no stranger on making a platform for a car, albeit shares less than one can imagine, until the Honda Brio. Supposedly launched in 2010-2011 period in Indonesia the Brio had several delays due to natural disasters, Thailand flooding and Japan earthquake. Superstitious people would chalk it up to bad foretelling of the car, itself a new endeavor, a new car to slot in below the Fit/Jazz. In Indonesia, the Brio is supposed to be put in the new category of low cost green car category which was in legislation hell. There are plenty who oppose this new “cheap” car regulation, citing that it will increase traffic congestion and further increase subsidized fuel consumption. Not waiting for the regulation, Honda finally launched the Brio in 2012 in Indonesia to a lukewarm reception. The 1.3L engine was praised for its power and the 5 speed auto is class leading but not much else to talk about the car, as the Brio is a no frill, no specialty car and it shows.

The dinkiest Honda

Brio cheap interior is acceptable and usable, but the (only) adequate second row seat and the very cramped cargo space makes it less than ideal as Honda “young family first car” and more of a second car for established family. Unlike the previous entry level Honda, the Fit/Jazz, the Brio utility is sorely lacking. The smart seat that allows for cavernous cargo is none existent on the Brio, worse still, the car’s cargo space is the smallest in the class. There’s also the issue of the all glass rear hatch. The market perceives it as a total effort to reduce costs and increase the risk of losing the entire rear hatch on a rear crash situation. The biggest gripe of all lies in its pricing. The car was priced starting at Rp. 149 million, at that time, very expensive for a car that still offered manual window and the range topper was priced at Rp. 170 million. In retrospect, a good condition second generation – second hand low mileage Honda Jazz worth less of the Brio and the range topper is too close to entry level third generation Honda Jazz, both of which offered bigger space, better utility and power. The sales are so dire that rumors flew around that the car got discounted more than 20%, the biggest for a Honda in recent history.

Then, the LCGC regulation came to effect and the Brio finally receives its final specification, a 1.2L engine per the regulation. Like a breath of fresh wind, the regulation made the entry level Brio quite an affordable car, even the range topper fully equipped with automatic windows is priced roughly about 20% cheaper than the outgoing 1.3L (ironically per the discount). Sales pick up but the perception of success is never associated with the car. Apparently, the Brio isn’t Honda perfect weapon to gain significant numbers. In 2012, Honda was number 7 in Indonesia.

Then 2013 came and rumors about a long wheel base 3 row seats Brio heated up. There was quite uproar in the automotive scene in Indonesia since Honda doesn’t have an entry level 3 row seat that is extremely popular in Indonesia (Avanza/Xenia, Grand Livina). The only 3 row seats Honda offered in Indonesia is the Freed, and its place on the market is quite premium. Thankfully, by proxy of always offering (near) premium products, the market thinks of Honda as a premium brand, number 7 notwithstanding. The Brio, at first regarded as not so much as Honda savior is now starting to show why Honda made it in the first place. Think of the Brio not as a singular product but more of a variant from a scalable platform.

As a platform, the Brio received its first variant with the Brio Amaze or just the Amaze. A sedan version of the hatch, it was launched in India with plenty of excitement; the first affordable sedan from Honda. Unlike the Brio, the Amaze comes equipped with a respectably sized trunk and made it a true young family first car. Not just a variant, the Amaze was specifically created to adhere to India sub 4 meter car tax exempt regulation.

AMAZE-ZING! It’s a pun…

The Amaze has a longer wheelbase than the Brio, at 2405 Millimeter, it’s 60 Millimeter longer than the Brio and the review shows. The Amaze has more usable knee room for the second row occupants, and the added trunk, at 400 liters are top of the class in India. For better or worse, the Amaze dashboard is lifted directly from the Brio, with a slight chrome trim here and there. The overall design of the Amaze is still largely Brio, with front half of the Amaze is basically a Brio with body painted bumper part. It’s the back half of the car that defines the Amaze as its own design.

The idea of a long wheelbase Brio seems not too far fetched with the Amaze creation. The Amaze shares plenty of the Brio frame and equipment that an astute fan should’ve been able to guess the design elements of the long wheelbase Brio would look like.

Then the third variant of the Brio made official by Honda Prospect Motor (Honda Indonesia) as the Mobilio in 2013. At 2650 Millimeter, the Mobilio wheelbase is a whopping 30,5 Centimeter longer than the Brio. Just like the Amaze, the car comes out looking like the Brio even though with some clever design changes. First visual elements that people noticed are slightly fuller and longer bumper like the Fit/Fit Shuttle, making the front of the car more balanced with its additional length. The second striking visual element is the thunderbolt side body motive and flowing glass panel on the third row. To say that the Mobilio is visually striking is an understatement. Compared to its competitors back in 2013 the Mobilio is subjectively more pronounced in term of design, especially the RS trim, with its bold chrome in your face and projector headlights. It’s a testament to Honda designers because the Mobilio front end is basically the Brio, so much so in fact that Brio owners can change their car to look like a Mobilio, even the more upscale looking Mobilio RS.

Mobilio – The fancy MPV

The Mobilio being a front engine – front wheel drive car offers lowered stance and extra rearward space like its competitors. Compared to its rivals, the Mobilio sits in the lower end of the spectrum at a height of 1603 Millimeter and the head room is adequate for the class, Freed this is not. Inside, the Mobilio dashboard is lifted straight from the Brio, just like its Amaze cousin. Chrome trims here and there, some wording and lighting but it’s still Brio’s dash. The Mobilio second row is decidedly huge, knee room and shoulder room is generous, 2 adults and 1 children can sit comfortably (three adults can fit if necessary). The third row knee room is actually okay, however the raised floor (because the fuel tank sits underneath the third row) forced people with tall build has to seat knee up, almost squatting.

Brio, Amaze and Mobilio, all share this same dashboard panel until 2016

Mechanically, the Mobilio is bestowed with two engine choice in India, the 1.5L i-VTEC gasoline engine and the newly developed 1.5L i-DTEC diesel engine while other countries where it’s sold the car is only available in gasoline trim. It also has two choices of gearbox, a 5 Manual gear and a newly developed CVT. The CVT is Honda’s own second generation that comes equipped with torque converter. With the torque converter, off the line acceleration improves dramatically, and it does feel like it has more power down low according to my own experience. I drove the first generation Jazz with CVT and off the line acceleration is certainly not the car strong point, but the Mobilio CVT does deliver better acceleration on wide open throttle condition especially on “S” gear.

Being quite low, the car has quite pleasurable driving demeanor, especially with the standard engine being a 1.5L i-VTEC unit that is proven reliable and pumps out respectable 118PS. The 5MT is standard Honda, it’s not S2000 but more than adequate for daily driving with effortless clutch resistance. The CVT as mentioned is very nice on road. Much like any CVT, it offered silky smooth acceleration albeit people who are not used to CVT will feel weird about not feeling any gear changes.

In Indonesia, the Mobilio became perennial best seller with massive adoption and for the first time ever in the history of history, Honda Mobilio became part of Indonesia biggest taxi fleet, Blue Bird, breaking more than two decades of Toyota domination.

Mobilio RS – The fancier MPV

The Mobilio sales is so great, it beats the long running Daihatsu Xenia as the second best selling 7 seater in Indonesia, itself a great accomplishment that none before it ever came close. In April 2014, Honda even managed to land third best selling brand in Indonesia beating the likes of Suzuki and Mitsubishi which is surprising because Honda doesn’t sell commercial vehicles unlike those two. At the end of 2015, Honda secured its third place well above Suzuki.

Completing Honda onslaught of taking Indonesia market by storm is yet another variant of the Brio, this time an SUV variant. Around May of 2015, rumors are strong that Honda is going to have a 7 seater SUV derived from the Mobilio. Some quick to point out that the car is just going to be another dress up like Nissan Grand Livina X-Gear or Chevrolet Spin Activ, with extra body cladding, accessories and jacked up ride. Well, they couldn’t be more wrong as the official design sketch of the car shows a heavily modified Mobilio with completely different front end, revised rear end, and completely new dashboard and interior trim.

The BR-V as it’s christened by Honda Prospect Motor shows Honda engineering skills at its best. The BR-V is essentially a jacked up Mobilio, but the thoroughness of changes made it stood out.

Rhinoplasty at its best

First of all, the front end receives a major overhaul featuring angular front end which gives the car a strong rugged character, usually a design trait demanded from an SUV. The standard projector headlights gives it a premium look, and the body cladding gave the car that extra girth synonymous with SUV. From the front, nobody can challenge the car from the platform it was based on. The side and rear however gave its Mobilio heritage loudly. You can point out from the side that BR-V is rooted from Mobilio from the window frame kink, and the rear even though extensively reworked features the same frame rear glass panel with modified rear light. Inside, the massive change in dashboard almost make the BR-V a class higher than the Brio or Mobilio, with angular dashboard design that seemingly lifted from the Jazz/City.

Mechanically, by Honda Indonesia website, the car receives slightly more powerful engine with 120PS (Mobilio 118PS), a new ratio for the CVT unit and a 6 speed manual transmission. All running on a wider 16″ track.

Visually, the changes are more than skin deep though. From the specifications, the car grew taller, wider and longer. One thing to note is that the BR-V wheelbase is actually 10 millimeter longer than the Mobilio; A very peculiar trait. You can chalk up the size increase from the width, height and length of the car because of the stylized bumper and body cladding, but wheelbase is an absolute measurement of the space between the wheel axles and additional 10 millimeter means theoretically the BR-V offers better leg room than the Mobilio.

Sitting inside the BR-V second row however, I feel no different to the Mobilio, still generous leg room, and with enough width to seat 2 adults comfortably. To my great delight and surprise, it’s the third row, which offers improvement especially the headroom. On the Mobilio my head hit the roof liner with the seat fully reclined, but on the BR-V, I have about 3 Cm of clearance with the same seating position. The third row seating position like Mobilio is still not very well comfortable for my build, but the additional headroom is a very welcome change.

In short the BR-V, at first looks like a Mobilio with revised front end is basically a bigger car inside than the Mobilio, even excluding the body cladding, bumper and roof rack. This is quite the news and one that Honda should put in its marketing materials. I myself visited 5 of Honda dealership in my town checking out the BR-V, and only one salesperson daring enough to accommodate my aggressive questioning. So I sat on both Mobilio and BR-V, and I experienced first hand that the BR-V offers improvement in higher ceiling.

Oh by the way, any of you readers from Jakarta, Indonesia and interested on buying a Honda, please give a shout to Mr. Suno from Honda Mugen Pasar Minggu. Very helpful salesperson. Tell Michael sent you.

All the Brio based car shares this style of dashboard from 2016, with the BR-V at the top end having Multi Information Display (real time fuel consumption meter)

The Brio, Amaze, Mobilio and BR-V completes Honda first attempt to mass produce a platform with minor retooling and many parts sharing. In Indonesia the numbers speaks for themselves, the increase in Honda sellout year on year is massive, pushed by Brio and Mobilio sellout. However not everything is fine as in India, the Brio and Mobilio sales have been lackluster, only the Amaze helps Honda bottomline from the platform. The main problem lies in the India market itself. As a market with 1+ billion population, India is considered a veritable cash cow for many automotive brands, both domestic and import. As such, potential buyers are flooded with choice. It seems that the Brio with its barebone design and to some extent the Mobilio cannot survive in a competitive market. A stark contrast to Indonesia market where 7 seater MPV is only dominated by Toyota/Daihatsu collaboration Avanza/Xenia for almost two decades, which used as a benchmark really is not that high to begin with.

Personally, I want some changes to the platform, but only slightly. The biggest change I want is to make the floor flat from the first row to the second row seat structure (right now the floor only flat up to the leg area of the second row). This way, the third row will have a natural leg room while the bench seat sits on top of the fuel tank/spare tire/utility space. The new Toyota Sienta uses this kind of seating arrangement to great effect. It’s very simple on paper but perhaps slightly difficult to cram all under smaller package like the Mobilio and BR-V, however the result would be a better seating position for adult on the third row.

For a first effort, the Brio platform offers a good… Well… Platform…. For Honda to develop. Its modularity might hold the key for Honda approach in the future for developing countries. However lesson should be learned from India, the Brio should leverage its cost saving in economy of scale only and not doubling down on cost benefit ratio by choosing cheap material and simplistic interior. The Fit, Civic, CR-V and Accord might be Honda most recognized global model, but will the Brio platform able to be integrated to Honda mainstay portfolio? Only time will tell, and one I eagerly awaits what’s in store for the second generation.

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