A note to Honda

Like anything in this world, nothing is perfect, so does Honda and its products. In this entry series called ‘a note to Honda’, I’m casting away my fanboyness to anything Honda for constructive critiques.

Honda never shied away from using an existing platform for a wide variety of cars, some are amazing because of it, but some has weird peculiarity because it uses the same platform.

Honda built its car using global platforms, a mainstay term today but a unique concept back in the day. There was a time one platform called Honda small global platform underlines 5 model back in early 00’s with the Fit, Fit Aria (City), Airwave, Mobilio, and Mobilio Spike.

For more than a decade, Honda never use platform sharing as aggressive as back in the early 00’s with the Fit line. Now they are back with full force with the Brio line. Spanning 4 model line, it might not be as frugal as the Fit platform sharing, but it sets out what’s good and bad about Honda. I’ve wrote about the Brio platform in the past, but more of overview of the platform. Here I will be much more critical of the platform and many about Honda in general.

So next, let’s talk about the Brio.

 

Mengapa Harus CVT?

Transmisi otomatis di era moderen sudah menjadi teknologi wajib atau minimal pilihan yang menarik bagi kalangan pengendara mobil terutama di kota-kota besar yang padat kendaraan. Kenyamanan hanya menginjak gas dan rem, membuat pengendara transmisi otomatis tidak merasa selelah mereka yang menggunakan transmisi manual dalam kondisi macet.

Akhir-akhir ini, produsen otomotif Jepang mulai menggunakan teknologi CVT (Continous Variable Transmission) untuk transmisi otomatis mereka. Nissan memang yang pertama menjadi advokat teknologi ini, dengan menyertakan CVT di hampir semua produk mereka dari sedan hingga MPV besar. Dengan klaim kenyamanan berkendara yang optimal serta efisiensi bahan bakar, teknologi CVT menjadi ciri khas dari produk mobil Nissan. Honda di Indonesia sempat menjajal pasar dengan teknologi CVT pada produk Honda Jazz dan City pada tahun 2004 sebelum kembali menggunakan transmisi multi percepatan pada Jazz dan City generasi ke-2. Namun, dengan dibawah bendera Earth Dreams, Honda memperkenalkan kembali teknologi CVT yang hampir menyeluruh diadopsi dari model kelas pemula seperti Brio hingga kelas premium seperti Honda Accord dan Odyssey. Bahkan, Honda Civic dengan mesin turbonya juga telah menggunakan CVT.

Pengadopsian teknologi CVT yang massal oleh Honda bukanlah tanpa sebab, seperti Nissan, insinyur Honda tampaknya telah menyempurnakan beberapa aspek teknologi CVT mereka untuk menghasilkan performa, kenyamanan dan efisiensi untuk semua mobil Honda. Lalu Anda bertanya, apakah CVT dan mengapa Nissan serta Honda berbondong-bondong mengusung teknologi ini?

CVT, atau Continous Variable Transmission memiliki satu keunikan dibandingkan dengan semua teknologi transmisi otomatis yang ada di dunia, yaitu ketiadaan roda gigi. Transmisi multi percepatan memiliki roda gigi dengan rasio-rasio tertentu, seperti halnya transmisi manual. Untuk mencapai akselerasi tinggi, gigi rasio tinggi digunakan dan untuk mencapai efisiensi mesin tertinggi, gigi rasio rendah digunakan. Untuk mendapatkan kombinasi jumlah roda gigi yang ideal, diperlukan banyak roda gigi atau jumlah percepatan, yang menyebabkan ongkos material meningkat dan ukuran transmisi yang memanjang. Honda sendiri sudah mengembangkan dan menjual mobil dengan transmisi 10 percepatan pada mobil Odyssey di Amerika Serikat, namun hanya terbatas pada satu tipe termahal saja. Untuk produk massalnya, Honda tetap berpegang teguh pada penggunaan CVT.

CVT mengentaskan masalah jumlah gigi dengan solusi ideal, yaitu daripada menggunakan jumlah gigi yang banyak, CVT menggunakan dua buah pulley, memutar rantai besi yang membesar dan mengecil, menyesuaikan dengan kerja putaran mesin. Hal ini membuat kendaraan berakselerasi tanpa henti hingga titik tenaga tertinggi tanpa diperlukannya perpindahan gigi karena kedua buah pulley tersebut menyesuaikan besaran rasio gigi secara terus menerus.

Dalam keseharian saya mengendarai Brio dengan transmisi otomatis 5 percepatan, sangat terasa kondisi-kondisi dimana transmisi mengalami kebingungan untuk turun gigi atau tetap pada gigi yang berjalan, terutama ketika ingin mendahului mobil di jalan tol. Ketika saya menginjak pedal gas untuk mendahului, terkadang gigi turun sehingga mobil berakselerasi cepat tapi terkadang tidak, dimana saya harus menginjak pedal lebih dalam supaya gigi melakukan kickdown dan berakselerasi. Kondisi ini terjadi ketika rasio gigi yang dipilih berada di ambang tengah kedua rasio gigi terdekat. Dengan CVT, kondisi ini tidak akan pernah terjadi karena rasio gigi berubah sesuai kebutuhan, hanya tergantung beban mesin saja dan apakah sudah mencapai batas tenaga mesin yang mampu diberikan.

Tanpa adanya perpindahan gigi tentu membuat transmisi CVT menjadi sangat nyaman. Sayangnya tidak semua setuju. Untuk pengendara yang biasa membawa kendaraan manual maupun transmisi otomatis multi percepatan, ketiadaan hentakan perpindahan gigi membuat mengendarai kendaraan dengan CVT terasa aneh. Untungnya, CVT dapat diprogram untuk mensimulasikan rasio gigi tetap. Tapi hal ini tidak diperlukan dan bahkan mengurangi efisiensi CVT dari segi akselerasi dan penggunaan bahan bakar.

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.

The Little Car That Could (Honda Brio Review)

Brio-duo

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.

DSC_0342

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.

The Drive

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.

DSC_0318

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.

Honda Brio: Kendaraan Ekonomis ala Honda

Honda secara resmi meluncurkan mobil kompak dengan harga ekonomis yang diberi nama Brio di Thailand. Mobil kompak ini secara resmi hanya baru dijual di Thailand dan India saja tanpa detil mengenai peluncuran mobil ini di negara lain.

Berikut adalah spesifikasi resmi yang dilansir oleh Honda:

  • Panjang 3610mm, Lebar 1680mm, Tinggi 1475 mm.
  • Konsumsi bensin 5L/100 Km atau 1L/19,98 Km *estimasi Honda.
  • Harga di Thailand 400 ribu Baht atau Rp 119 Juta.

Berikut informasi yang masih bersifat rumor atau tebakan semata mengenai Brio:

  • Menggunakan mesin 1200 cc.
  • Tersedia dengan pilihan transmisi otomatis (berdasarkan foto interior Brio resmi).

Meskipun baru resmi diumumkan untuk dijual di Thailand dan India saja, CEO Honda yaitu Takanobu Ito dalam pidatonya menyatakan bahwa Brio juga akan tersedia negara di Asia lainnya mengingat pengalaman Honda berbisnis motor di negara tersebut… Mengingat Indonesia adalah salah satu negara konsumen motor terbesar Honda, perlukah kita beroptimis ria menunggu hadirnya Brio?

Dimensi Honda Brio tidaklah terlalu kecil mengingat panjang kakaknya yaitu Honda Jazz adalah 3900 mm dengan lebar 1695 mm. Alhasil, mobil ini sudah cukup untuk mengakomodasi keluarga muda.

Satu hal yang perlu diingat adalah, Brio masih dalam tahap prototipe, sehingga produk akhir biasanya lebih sederhana dibandingkan dengan yang tertampil disini. Bemper depan, side skirt dan bemper belakang sudah pasti akan terlihat lebih sederhana, begitu juga dengan lampu dan pegangan pintu berbalut krom yang nantinya akan terlihat lebih sederhana. Meskipun begitu, sudah bisa dipastikan inilah Brio, sebuah mobil terjangkau persembahan Honda.

Sumber:

Situs resmi World.Honda.com: Peluncuran Brio di Thailand