Vince Pornelos / Kelvin Christian Go | January 17, 2017 08:00
Honda's Kitted MPV
If 2016 has shown us anything, its the resurgence of Honda. Nearly their entire line up is fresh and shows qualities of class leadership in many respects, heck, we even picked the Civic as our favorite of 2016.
But more than the Civic, more than the City, Jazz, CR-V, and even the more exciting CR-Z, the Mobilio was perhaps the silent hero of Honda. It may not be a staple sight in the metro's most affluent villages, but it is a very popular car in the more peripheral areas of the NCR, introducing the Honda brand to a new and fast growing customer base. But what is the appeal of the Mobilio then?
When it comes to style, well, it's not one of the prettiest MPVs out there, but it certainly is one of the sleekest. The design is actually quite busy, with a wedge front end, a decent greenhouse creating a semi-floating roof, an unusual beltline (especially with the dips on the rear doors), and quite a few character lines. There's quite a bit going on, and thankfully, that could be a good thing as MPVs are generally slab sided.
The ground clearance is also interesting, as the Mobilio mimics a wagon more than a traditional small Asian MPV like the Toyota Avanza and the Suzuki Ertiga. The Mobilio is the third model that emerged after the Brio hatchback, the other one being the Brio Amaze sedan. Basically, it's a stretched Brio; extended to the point that it can not only provide better legroom in the back seat, but have enough room for a third row. Case in point, the measurements: the Brio is 3610mm long, but the Mobilio is 4398mm long.
This being the RS means it gets a few goodies on the exterior that aren't present in the other models. Apart from the RS badging, this one gets a different grille, a sportier pair of bumpers, a spoiler, a garnish on the doorsills, and a chrome tailpipe tip.
Inside, the Mobilio does evoke the same interior style as the Brio; well, that's because the dashboard is virtually the same as the Brio. As expected, it's all very much prastic inside; this is, after all, an economy vehicle. The A/C is of the manual type, though there is a blower on the ceiling for the rear occupants. The backrests of the front seats are one-piece, meaning the headrest is integrated, not adjustable or removable. Honda even used some components from the parts bin of the 2nd generation Honda Jazz (Fit, in other markets) inside the Mobilio such as the round A/C vents, the shifter base, the inner door handles, among others.
There's nothing wrong with that, but it does give the Mobilio a more dated feel for the sake of maximizing the parts bin. Thankfully the audio unit is far more modern and even has Wifi and navigation capabilities, though the Mobilio could do with a better set of speakers.
Where the Mobilio shines is space; there's a good amount of it, even for a compact MPV. As an Avanza/Ertiga competitor, the Mobilio has seating for seven, and is the most affordable seven seater in Honda's lineup. There's a decent allocation of space for all three rows and seems much roomier than any of the Mobilio's competitors. Honda achieved this by having the dashboard as far forward as possible as they do with their other small models like the Jazz; it pushes the engine bay's firewall so far back that its virtually under the dashboard, allowing for more space.
The two back rows can also be reconfigured depending on use. For seven occupants, of course all the seats are up, in which case there's a small amount of space left for small bags, or about 223 liters. With the third row tumbled forward there's 470 liters of space though, oddly enough, if its just folded down, there's 521 liters.
Given that it's an MPV, even the second row can fold down which, along with the third row folded, creats a somewhat flat space for, well, surfboards and such. Despite that, it's still not as clever as the ULT system in the 2nd generation Jazz which creates a fully flat floorspace for large items; even a full size driving simulator. Yes, I tested that.
What powers the Mobilio is the 1.5-liter SOHC i-VTEC straight four; yes, it's the same one as the engine in the current Jazz which is good as the 1.3-liter motor in the Brio probably wouldn't be ideal for a seven seater. This being the RS means it comes with an Earth Dreams CVT, one of Honda's newest and more efficient transmissions. Unlike the Avanza which is rear wheel drive has a body-on-frame construction, the Mobilio (and Ertiga) is front wheel drive, and that should make for some interesting driving.
Around the city, the Mobilio drives like a small wagon. Despite the extra length, it's very easy to maneuver around tight streets given the large window area, the low beltline, and the precision of Honda's electric power steering. It's actually a great tooler to do groceries or more extensive shopping with, and there isn't much to worry about when buying larger or longer items. Efficient too: 9.2 km/l in the city (25 km/h average, moderate post-Christmas traffic) and 13.8 km/l on the highway (88 km/h average). It's worth noting that there was just two of us in the car, so expect fuel economy to drop significantly with a fully occupied cabin, particularly in the city.
There are some things that I felt Honda could have done better, especially when it comes to NVH. The ride is quite good; in fact I think it rides better than the Avanza (a car I drive on a daily basis), though the Ertiga still has a better suspension set up where comfort is concerned. But there's a good deal of noise that pemeates into the cabin; and it seems to be coming from the back; the wheel arches, I suspect. The horn, while intended to signal other motorists, is also significantly loud inside. Tinny too.
Where the Mobilio made it up was with the drive. With a wide-open road, the Mobilio RS shows the Honda genes proudly. The 1.5-liter engine still seems small, but it's quite a good match for the body which -at 1,171 kilograms dry curb- is only about 100 kilograms heavier than a Jazz. The Mobilio RS actually feels light to toss around a few corners, and the CVT reacts well to input to kick down a few ratios for better acceleration. This MPV is perhaps the most fun of its peers to drive.
If you've noticed, we've had to be critical of the Mobilio. Unlike sports cars, luxury cars, or other premium automobiles, much is expected of MPVs like the Mobilio. Overall, I would say the Avanza is still the default choice, but it can feel a bit too utilitarian particularly given the way the rear suspension performs. The Ertiga is the better choice when it comes to comfort and overall refinement, but does lack flavor behind the wheel.
The Mobilio, however, is different. It's not perfect, but the Mobilio positions itself as an efficient MPV with good comfort, good space, great versatility, and even fun to drive when you're solo. Yes, it's a happy medium between a hatchback and an MPV, and we quite enjoyed it.