When Honda introduced the Jazz in the ASEAN region, the car received very favorable review, charting high on automotive sellout ranking in almost every country it landed on. Why shouldn’t it? It is a groundbreaking sub compact that almost redefines the category. The ULTRa seat concept that allows the rear seat to fold flat or folded up, the central mounted fuel tank, the airy cabin, the fuel sipper i-DSI engine and the CVT are all unique to the car where such technology/feature are unheard of on the competition side back then. As time goes by, raw material prices increased, and demands of Honda Jazz users are heeded, the car grew in size and becomes upscale. This leaves a conundrum, as the Jazz becomes more of an upscale solution, Honda left a void in the price range where the Jazz used to rein supreme, being replaced by entry level cars such as Nissan March and Suzuki Splash. Decision then made for Honda to roll out and take back the segment it used to lead with a brand new car, one that is slotted below the Jazz.
Honda introduced the Brio in December 2010 in Thailand, but the car was mentioned by Honda previous CEO, Takanobu Ito-san way back in 2008 as a small sub-Jazz solution. Alas, recession forced Honda to delay the introduction of said car per Autocar UK interview with the CEO and with a twisted humor that is fate, Honda Brio base of production in Thailand for ASEAN market got hit by a severe flooding and delays the introduction of Brio yet again outside Thailand. Still time heals everything, and finally the Brio landed inThailand, India and finally Indonesia in 2012.
(This review is based on the Brio entry level trim with automatic transmission)
Appreciates the smaller things
To differentiate itself from the competition, Honda Indonesia actively chose bigger engine and a complete set of safety feature as standard for the littlest Honda. Honda Indonesia offers the Brio in two trim levels, the E and the S. Which is a short hand of saying entry level and fully loaded. The message is clear, go big with the littlest Honda.
Starting from the outside, the Brio measures partly at 3.610 x 1.680 x 1.485 mm with a wheelbase of 2.345 mm, thus effectively the car is shorter in length and height than the first generation Jazz but retains about the same width. For comparison, the first generation Fit/Jazz measurements are 3.845 x 1.675 x 1.525 mm, with a wheelbase of 2.450 mm. The car is small as intended since its target countries like India excises tax for cars that are under 4.000 mm (4M) in length. Smart readers then ask, why 3.610 mm of length then? Why not make the Brio as long as first generation Fit/Jazz which is still far below India automotive tax rules? Well, the answer lies in the Brio Amaze, the sedan version of Brio, which have longer chassis that stops at the magical number of 3.990 mm.
Measurements aside, from the exterior design point of view, Honda took Brio design seriously, so serious Honda designers was sent to Europe to study all the compacts and apply it to the Brio. Designed in Milan, Italy, the car adopts the “double triangle” design that designers want people to see the car as “energetic” from all sides. The double triangle theme is quite literal, as there are two main “triangles” that intersects the car from the rear and front of the car, giving the car a hunkered down look from all sides, be it from side profile, front or even rear. The rear especially also adopts a triangle stance giving the car a wide stance which looks very sporty which is particularly unfortunate that the car is equipped with a thin 175mm tire profile.
Being the entry level car for everything Honda on four wheels, one might suspect there will be a cost reduction measure on the car on some level and Brio is not immune to it. Thankfully, exterior wise the car does not look cheap barring the unpainted sideview mirror/door handles on the E grade and the odd unmasked side window frames. On most cars, window frames are masked with black coating/sticker to create a sense of one continuous huge window but the Brio omit this one design factor. For a small car the effect is quite huge (pardon the pun), the frames makes the small windows look compartmentalized thus making the car looks small.
Body plating is good, as there are no noticeable bending when the panels are pressed on any given point and the lower panel below the doors are covered with anti scratch paint for debris protection. Moving towards the front, the headlights are as simple as it can be, the bulbous curved housed a reflector type lighting and side blinkers, a simple solution as expected on an entry level car. The lining of the headlights doesn’t go anywhere instead the engine bay goes around it, similar to the first generation Honda Jazz albeit with smaller headlight. The headlights inner edge points toward the frontal opening logo with a “winged” chrome slats that covers the Honda logo at an angle that brings the frontal area in the line of the double triangle theme.
From the side, the A-pillar arcs under the engine cover like the CR-Z although less pronounced, but it still makes the car looks like it has a big engine bay (hence big engine) from the side. The end result is very apparent as opening the engine bay shows a large space above the tightly packed drivetrain.
The layout is neat, all control sticks and mechanics are well laid out. From its placement, the drivetrain looks like other L series drivetrain with the same peculiarly placed intake far behind the ECU near the firewall. Unlike the Thailand and India version which has an air inlet scoop that channels cooler air straight to the intake hole like the Freed/Jazz/City, Indonesia version sadly has no said inlet scoop. In theory, the effect is detrimental, as the engine will continuously breathe hot air, which lacks oxygen molecule, which will cause inefficient fuel burn and thus reduced fuel efficiency at least in stop and go traffic. During test drive session thankfully the effect was unnoticeable if any. The air inlet scoop just directs air from the front of the car to the intake area but the car frontal area still allow air to come inside the engine bay.
From the rear, Honda employs an original solution to a long in the tooth design and technical creed with the all glass hatch. From technical point of view, it’s quite brilliant, by eliminating the metal panel, weight and cost are reduced significantly and this also comes with no loss in comfort especially noise insulation. From aesthetic point of view, the all glass hatch also works wonders visually, it made the car looks big from the rear and visibility from driver’s position is amazing. However, from safety and function point of view, it’s another different thing.
As it is, the Brio doesn’t have heating element on the glass hatch nor a wiper, as there are no latch point to attach things on the glass. The lack of heating element and the wiper are not in favor of safety riding especially in rainy part of the season. When it got cold, the rear glass might get foggy of the temperature difference, and after a heavy rain light mud will wash over the rear glass because of the difference in pressure on the rear hatch during high speed cruising. There is another thing about backing up during heavy rain which obviously will obstruct the driver’s view behind. These are minor annoyance but one that Honda with all of its safety engineering heritage should address from day one.
Thankfully though, the Brio comes standard with a huge spoiler on the rear that covers the viewable area of the rear glass at an angle, this in theory should alleviate the problem of rain water obstructing rear view. Unfortunately, I cannot test this notion as even though it’s a rainy season, my test drives with the car always was blessed with sunny day.
The overall look of the car from the rear also accentuate the whole triangle concept to the next degree, to the discerning eye, it’s mostly trapezoid, but again it supports the wide accented sporty look of the car (minus the thin tires). The triangle taillights with the large circular brake lights and small blinkers is designed nicely flushed with the all glass hatch, you could almost mistook the car for having no rear hatch at all. Being an all glass hatch with nothing to attach to, the hatch cannot be opened from the outside except from a lever next to the driver seat and access key. The latch mechanism is located at the chassis while the latch sticks out from the inside of the glass hatch with the anchor point outside used as the handle.
Noticing about the beauty/peculiarity of the all glass hatch, one cannot just gaze into the hollow of the cargo bay of the car. Yes, out of the box the car does not have a cargo cover or tonneau cover and the big glass hatch despite having the lower area blacked out still have high visibility to your cargo bay. Honda sales team was instructed to mention about applying thick black film coating over it but earnestly, rear view should be as clear as possible. This car should have a cargo cover as standard and not as an option (which is available).
On a side note: In terms of safety, the all glass hatch according to Honda sales team is up to 30 something times stronger than “regular glass”, maybe they’re comparing to the glasses used on the Brio, but the bottom line is that it’s quite thick. I’ve described that sound insulation is quite good above, that means the glass is as claimed, but 30 times might be slightly overcompensating. For those who worry that any low impact from the rear might hit and shatter the glass, do not worry at all. Brio chassis actually extends well after the all glass hatch ends which means low impacts will hit the steel chassis first. This is unique because usually a car chassis is mostly square in shape and the rear portion ends well before the bumpers outer edge.
Going back to basic and functional
From the inside, the Brio is quite spacious thanks to thin door liners, compact dashboard with a conservative design and clever choice of light color materials. The dashboard area is covered in three different colors, beige for the glove compartment, dark grey for the upper dash area and some lightly gun metal colored dash for the audio and driver’s instrument panel which is easily removable to support a personal styling from the car’s owner. The center console housed the A/C controls with the least function ever found on a Honda; The usual 4 speed blower fan is there, but no heating control and only two vent option, the regular front vent and low/front vent, a clear cost cutting measure by any choice of words.
On a side note: the cost cutting measure for the A/C controls are actually very valid. In this tropical climate, I’ve never used the heater on any car whatsoever. By eliminating the heating element, Honda is saving the cost for the car as intended, removing the least used feature of a car in country where heat is everywhere and the coldest area driveable by a city car like the Brio is just a tad cooler than the average national climate.
Luckily Honda did not skimp on the instrument panel, two analog tachometer and speedometer , gear selection display on the automatic version, digital odometer, regular template of warning indicators, real time average fuel consumption indicator and the ECO light indicator. Unlike other modern cars with real time fuel consumption indicator, the Brio only shows the average consumption and the optimal fuel consumption indicator is the ECO light. For the ECO light to activate, the ECU will signal when you’re driving in the most efficient manner which I’ve been able to trigger it most of the time with an efficient driving technique on the automatic model which I test drove.
Some omissions are there on the E grade, no vanity mirror on the passenger side and no backseat pocket are minors. However, things like pocket door liner which are left uncovered exposing the door sheet metals front and back, no grab rails and wind up window on the rear are glaring. The grab rail is safety function, on a small and low car like this, old folks needs something to hold onto exiting the car. The wind up window is dangerous for kids, as there are no way to lock the handles and they can just roll it away without supervision. Finally the exposed door sheet metal, it’s not so much as a function than cosmetics as some hate it but funny enough some love it. For years, interior modders are matching the interior color of a car with its exterior, now the Brio E grade exposed sheet metal are making things easier to match the tone albeit under the ruse of making things cheaper.
Seating configuration on the car is best summarized as “efficient”. The two front seats at first glance looks thin, because it is, however the padding is certifiably thick and seating on both front seats, I don’t feel any discomfort from its thinness, in fact the seat is nicely curved to my body and the bolster support is very nice. Foot area for rear passenger is generous and I can sit adequately comfortable behind the driver’s seat where I set the driver’s seat position to suit my 1,82 Meter tall stature thanks to the curved back of the front seats. Back seat support for the rear passenger is acceptable, not ideal for long travel, but the padding is sufficient enough to be comfortable on short to medium trips.
In terms of utilities, the Brio breaks Honda mantra of usefulness. The first generation Jazz has it all, multi configurable seats, spacious cargo and 60:40 split seats, sadly the Brio has none. Most Honda to date excels at utilities; the Stream fold flat third row, the Freed fold up seats, the City class leading trunk space (and reclining seats at top trim), don’t have to mention the new Jazz utilities, and so many other examples from Honda automotive products… The Brio simply has none.
The cargo bay is small, about the same size as the average city car. With the seat up, it can only hold objects up to 350 mm in width or about small 14″ laptop bag from trunk lid to the back of the rear seat. Off course the rear passenger seat can be folded forward to give way for bigger cargo space but with no split seat, you lose rear seating for oversize cargo.
Brio’s lack of split fold seat is quite the drawback for this car. A small cargo bay on hatchbacks usually warrants a split fold seat whereby one seat is folded leaving one side still be able to seat a person (or two). Honda goal with the omission of the split folding seat is definitely for cost saving measure, however this is not warranted as the car loses its appeal on the utility side big time. As is, the Brio is a runabout car in terms of utility, best suited only to move people from point A to point B or well suited to two person only if wanting to carry oversize items. In Honda defense, all the car in the category has no split rear seat, but I expect Honda to be better, oh well, can’t win them all.
One interesting aspect and can be considered safety feature of the car on the cargo bay is the hidden space just below the hatch latch mechanism. From the side profile and the rear, the car doesn’t look it has a “butt” or the usual protruding bumper, but actually, the chassis extends well over the hatch like I mention above. This hidden space houses the car jack and provide physical barrier for the glass hatch above it. I’d prefer Honda give the hidden space a hatch or something proper, the car jack as of this writing is just covered in the carpet liner which looks like an after thought.
Made for fuel efficiency
When the Brio was designed, it’s not intended only as an affordable entry level car, it was also designed to push the boundary of fuel efficiency achieved using conventional technologies at affordable price. Mild hybrids, with automatic start stop engine tech sounds simple but it also means more moving parts. Full hybrids cannot come cheap yet with the electric motor and engine management system. Small diesel have to cope with good quality diesel fuel which is lacking in terms of infrastructure especially in Indonesia. Other cars in the category resort to running 3 cylinders at the expense of power, and some only comes with manual transmission to not rob the engine of power.
On a side note: Manuals are inherently more fuel efficient than conventional automatic because of manual’s mechanical linkage where the automatic doesn’t have one. Automatics are called slushbox because it is, there are no mechanical connection from the engine to the driving wheel, instead connection are through a device called torque converter that runs on fluid. Modern automatics achieves good fuel efficiency by using tall gearing which Honda also used on the Brio. This way an automatic car can use higher gear to offset the robbing effect of the torque converters.
The Brio resorts to Honda old trick, why change what’s good already. The Brio comes with a small engine, but it’s more of a carry over engine than a purpose built one. The L13 is derived from second generation of the L15 series engine that is used on the JDM FIT GE6, or second generation Fit/Jazz. The engine is the same at least spec wise:
- SOHC 16 valve i-VTEC
- Displacement: 1,339 cc (81.7 cu in)
- Bore x Stroke: 73.0 mm × 80.0 mm (2.87 × 3.15 in)
- Compression Ratio: 10.5:1
- Horsepower (Brio) : 73 kW (100 PS) / 6,000 RPM
- Horsepower (FIT) : 73 kW (99 PS) / 6,000 RPM
- Torque: 127 N·m (94 lb·ft) / 4,800 rpm
One thing to note is that the 73 kW of power converted to PS is confusing, due to imperial and metric measurement difference. Some online measurements measured 73 kW as 100 PS others as 99 PS. 1 PS or one pferdestärke (German for horse power) difference is big especially in a car this light and I couldn’t get any objective measurement on this scale. Suffice to say that the Brio engine is a lot of fun be it 1 more or less horse power. Speaking of weight, the Brio weighs healthily under 1 ton. Honda Indonesia did not state the weight of the Brio, but the India market Brio automatic weighs in at 950 Kg. Given that as far as I can see the difference between the Indonesia and India market Brio is on the omission of the air inlet scoop, 950 Kg is a safe number to bet on, with any deviation not exceeding 1 Ton. For comparison, the similarly equipped L13A FIT GE6 weighs in at 1080 Kg.
In Japan, the L13A powered FIT GE6 is mated to a CVT unit while the Brio sans for the Thailand market all got a 5 speed automatic with the standard 5 speed manual. The Fit returns 19.5 Km/L with the manual gearbox using the new more stringent JC-08 government sanctioned fuel consumption test. With the Brio lighter weight and same internals, in theory by 99% level of confidence, the car should break the magical 20 Km/L barrier in mixed driving.
The Brio is available in 5 speed automatic and the usual 5 speed manual gearbox. The use of the 5 speed automatic can still be considered class leading since the competitors all still use 4 speed. In theory, this allows the car to have better acceleration with better fuel consumption on long straight than its competitors. Cars that are equipped with a 4 speed automatic gearbox needs to trade off between acceleration and fuel efficiency since too short gearing for better acceleration means high RPM at high speed, thus more fuel spent. Too long gearing for leisurely cruise and fuel saving means losing acceleration during back to back traffic. Honda Brio 5 gear automatics allows for an extra gear that is suited to cruising, allowing the engine to engage speed with low engine rotation (less fuel). Not stopping there, the Brio automatic also has Honda’s Grade Logic Control that smoothly detects upshift and downshift on inclinations.
The magic of aerodynamics
Honda tackles Brio fuel efficiency in a very different way of the other automotive brands. The use of a carryover “big” engine and available 5 speed automatics seems making the Brio not so serious in the fuel efficiency department. Well, the fact that L13A is already fuel efficient is a different story, but Honda engineers sought a remarkable way for the car to achieve fuel efficiency via aerodynamics.
Honda engineers employs several trick that showcases extreme ingenuity in a stale world of simple automotive engineering. Below the front bumper, Honda employs an air dam. It’s something simple like a piece of black plastic that runs along below the bumper that diverts airflow away from below the underbelly of the car. As in a shape of wing, a car has (relatively) flat underbody and curved upper body (the cabs), this in turn makes Bernoulli’s principle applied to a car as well, the faster a car goes, the more lift it will generate. The bigger the lift force is, the less contact tires applied to roads for light vehicles and it will cause even the most experienced driver to lose control of a car. The goal of the air dam is simply to obstruct as much air as possible to the underbody, minimizing the effect of lift, increasing safety in faster speed and reduce drag. Well, the thing is, it also reduce the bumper’s ground clearance, so do mind the clearance when parking head first with the car.
On the bottom side of the car Honda engineers slides (yes, pun intended) in something unexpected. The car’s underside is covered with plastic cladding to improve airflow during medium to high speed cruising. In theory the smooth underbody minimize the amount of air turbulence and increase fuel efficiency. On normal car without underbody cladding, there are all sort of hanging bits and bolts like fuel tank, suspension setup, exhaust system and for rear wheel drive cars, the rear axle. These items have different shapes and size, and airflow will be obstructed which creates turbulence and drag and therefore lessen the fuel economy of the car at speed. The inclusion of the plastic cladding is a very nice surprise for this car as even car double its price might not even have it.
Speaking of aerodynamics, I always mock the use of thin profile tires on the Brio, but it does have its engineering intent. Thinner tires means less mass to move by the engine, and also less drag especially at speed. The Bernoulli effect comes back to haunt us as the faster the tire spins, the more lift it will create, and with bigger surface area the lift will be more pronounced especially on a light car. The use of a wider profile tires will necessitate the car to go lower than it is, which is not advisable without stiffening the suspension and/or living in a country like Indonesia where potholes are more abundant than honest politician.
Seating on the driver’s seat, I was expecting a low slung driving position but it’s not the case as the seat is adequately high even though there are no height adjuster. Seating is comfortable, the instrument panels are easy to read and the controls are all in hand reach. Visibility all around is good thanks to the heightened seat position and the thin A-pillar improves forward viewing area. The car comes with a powerful and class leading powertrain in the category at 100PS, while the competitors are hardly able to reach 90% of it (Kia Picanto edges closest at 87PS) and in automatic trim it carries a 5 speed automatic while the competitors uses 4 speed automatic.
Even with the most powerful engine in its class, the Brio is first an economy car and in its automatic trim has quite tall gearings. Gear changes are fast, I can feel that on city cruising speed (50 KpH), the gear changes before 2000RPM, and holding speed at city cruising limit the car’s engine only spins below 2000RPM. Maneuverability at leisurely speed or around tight corners is very good thanks to good weighted steering feel and short wheelbase.
At leisurely drive, the tall gear hunts its way to fifth as soon as possible, and with 1-step gear changes, kickdowns at leisurely drive is literal, the car feels lazy to support its runabout nature. Not feeling that Honda spirit, I change the gear lever to D3, and suddenly the car comes alive. Gear changes are just a press of a pedal, acceleration is brisk and I can feel the urgency of the engine hitting peak torque and horsepower in high RPM. Unlike some of its competitors that are only powered by a 3 cylinder engine, the Brio’s 4 cylinder develops power fast and consistently in all RPM range as the car feels fast but one to be careful driving it at full tilt because of the lighter side of the steering feel at speed.
One thing to dislike about the ride on the car is the peculiarly soft suspension. I can’t press this enough that the car engine and automatic gearbox are the jewel of the car, however the suspension is not able to cope with the demand of spirited driving as body roll is a problem in spirited driving. In a more leisurely drive, the car behaves nicely as intended; the soft suspension is kind to my back on undulating surface and pothole impacts are absorbed nicely. However, one have to drive at constant speed as the suspension feels different during acceleration, it feels as the dampers could not keep up with the spring and even though problems are non existent during city driving, one might want to upgrade the suspension on the Brio to enjoy the wonderfully engineered engine and gearbox.
In terms of fuel efficiency, the nature of test drives session are inherently random at best. Be that as it may, my test drive session revolves a 15 minutes back to back traffic and 10 minutes of smooth sailing. The return is a consistent 1L for 12 Km for a back to back traffic with moderate acceleration, and at long straight the onboard mileage computer easily reaches 1L for 17Km like it was nothing. With careful driving, I believe I can break through the 1L/20Km barrier mark with the car and with hypermiling thrown in, getting past the 1L/25Km should be achievable (I can get 1L/24Km with my Freed on highway with hypermiling).
What is Honda if not showing the green aspect of its products, while the Brio has no ECON function, it features a light up ECO notification whenever the ECU deems that the driver is driving efficiently. There are no specific rule to activate the ECO light, but the most consistent way to activate it is simply to lightly press the pedal at constant speed.
The evenly lit notification is not just for show though, at first I personally thought that the function is gimmicky, that it will light up only at specific condition like coasting or cruising. However, on slower speed like back to back traffic, slow acceleration grants the driver with the ECO light too, and even between gear shifts. This means that the ECO light can also coach the driver to driving efficiently, granted that the notification light is situated near the edge of the tachometer and can be glanced easily while driving.
In the end: Is it worth it?
Buying city car today is a very tough decision, it’s a very crowded market with plenty of amazing products from all the competing brands in Indonesia. Honda Indonesia decision to bring ABS and airbag as standard on the Brio is commendable to leverage the notion of safety, and the most powerful engine combined with 5 speed automatic gearbox set it apart from the competition technicality wise. However, the car does not bring the accolade of utilities Honda so very well known for and just aims for mediocrity to be on the same level as the competition. Small cargo bay and no split fold seats makes the car just another city car in the mix in terms of utilities.
The car is aimed at the young and young at heart demographics, complete with the easily replaceable panel for easy personalization, but what is the real catch for this car? A fast runabout? Surely Honda does not want to put this car as the midnight boy racer image…
No. This car is about safety and fuel efficiency.
Even though Honda struggles to differentiate the Brio and the Jazz, the truth is small cars are dangerous to drive because it’s a small car which usually powered by a small engine. Honda should leverage on the technical prowess of the car as a safety feature. The powerful 100PS engine should make it easier for a car the size of Brio to merge in highway at speed with the other cars. Overtaking on speed will be swift and safe from speeding car on the fast lane. Finally, the smart automatic gearbox is very efficient at returning mileage while providing the car with much needed power on tap (on D3).
Even though the Brio is far off as the first car for a small family (that place is reserved for the Brio MPV), it is a nice second car that begs to be personally modified with features that are all related to safety including the powerful engine.
Edit: 26/06/2013: First post, need some pictures and some edits.