If there's one thing we've noticed about Honda, they've been upsizing their small models like you would a McDonald's value meal. The City has certainly grown along with the Civic, while the Jazz can rival the space and versatility offered by more than a few in the compact car and crossover categories.
The problem with the automotive upsize by Honda is that it's left a very important vacancy in the entry level subcompact car class, something they hope to fill with this: the 2014 Honda Brio.
If you've been to places like Thailand in the past few years, you'd know that the Brio isn't really an all-new generation model, as it has been offered there since around 2011. That said, the design of the Brio is fresh and quite aggressive as Honda's designers appear to have taken a few liberties with the car's details. The 2-box Brio makes use of details like the upswept character lines, the large backglass, the naked-style taillamps and other bits and pieces. Also of interest is that this example comes with the neat Modulo bodykit, though being a 1.3S the kit looks incomplete with just stock steel wheels with full hubcaps.
Judging by dimensions alone, the Honda Brio would be one of those vehicles that really belongs in tight city streets. The 5-door hatchback measures in at a tiny 3610mm long, 1680mm wide and 1470mm tall with a wheelbase of 2345mm. To put that in perspective, the Brio is still significantly shorter than the original 2001-2008 Jazz.
Of particular interest to us is the boot space offered by the diminutive Brio hatch. Unlike it's brother, the Brio Amaze sedan, the hatch does leave a bit wanting in terms of space in terms of both rear legroom and boot space with the back seat upright. The backrest can be folded down, but it's not fully flat nor is it as sophisticated as the Jazz's ULTR system.
The dashboard of the Brio appears far more contoured and modern compared to most of its competitors in the entry level segment. Like the previous generation Jazz, the Brio's interior makes use of circles and curves all around with the A/C vents, the round steering wheel, the A/C dials and the triple gauge cluster. Thought was clearly paid to shaping the dashboard to more modern standards instead of just generating a cheap, generic and featureless dash.
This being a mid-spec 1.3S variant, Honda have omitted some of the nicer features such as the front and rear foglamps, the steering wheel controls, the seat height adjuster and the 2-DIN touchscreen navigation and WiFi-capable head unit in favor of a simpler audio system. This is also the first time I've seen a car that has done away with the in-dash CD player and instead focuses purely on USB and auxiliary input. That was actually an ingenious touch because I can't remember the last time I actually used an audio CD in a car.
Under the hood of most cars in its price range (i.e. Mirage), the Brio does not get a 3-cylinder engine and instead comes with a 1.3-liter, four-cylinder i-VTEC engine. The L13Z1 i-VTEC motor makes 100 PS at 6000 rpm and 128 Newton-meters of torque at 4800 rpm, officially making the Brio 1.3L more powerful than the Wigo (1.0L), the Mirage (1.2L) and the larger Swift 1.2 (and 1.4L, for that matter). Also, this variant comes with a 5-speed automatic, another a first in its class.
The Brio name itself is derived from the Italian term il Brio, meaning verve, liveliness, spirit and wit. Driving it around town, the Brio lives up to its name.
Small cars are not particularly good at suppressing potholed city streets (read: short wheelbase), but the Brio is definitely better than most, if not all, in its class and price range. The absorption is pretty good, though the ambient noise suppression does need a little more work, as I can hear everything outside almost as clearly as if a window was open, but that's expected of an entry level model. Fuel economy in the city is also quite high, as an average speed of 19-21 km/h (moderate-heavy traffic) yields fuel economy in the 10.2 km/l range.
On an open road the Brio is impressively fun. The gear ratios area clearly a good match for the 1.3L engine, maximizing acceleration and fuel economy. If the Brio was good in the city for consumption, it's better on the highway at 15.2 km/l on a steady 90 km/h cruise. When you enter a tight and twisty road, the Brio willingly turns from sedate city hatch and into a lively toy that you can toss around from corner to corner.
Honda has big stakes riding on the arrival of the Brio as the model represents a realignment of their model strategy and stratification, something will ultimately affect the company's numbers and volumes. Based on our drive of the 2014 Brio 1.3S, Honda is back at what they do best: small, fun, lively and energetic cars.