With the Civic, City and Jazz moving upmarket, Honda Cars Philippines Inc. (HCPI) suddenly found themselves lacking an entry-level model that can cater to budget car buyers or for those looking an extra runaround. In today’s market where most buyers come with ready cash (or loans), HCPI had to scramble for a new nameplate that will fill the automaker’s gap in the local A-segment.
Their answer came in the form of a hatchback that is even smaller than the Jazz, the Brio. Measuring 3,610mm long, 1,680mm wide, and 1,485mm tall, the Brio is indeed small. Complementing the small size is its funky and aggressive exterior design which I’m quite fond of.
While other competitors decided to play it safe, Honda opted for a more different look. The front fascia gets swept-up headlights, a miniature version of the company’s Solid Wing Face and a sweeping bumper with circular foglights. Dominating the side profile are character lines, flared wheel arches, sloping roofline and multi-spoke 14-inch alloy wheels wrapped in Michelin Energy XM2 tires. Also surprising to see are grab-type door handles, an uncommon feature especially in this segment.
Perhaps my most favorite part of the Brio is its rear. It has a triangular taillight cluster that looks menacing and features a tailgate with a wide glass area, giving it an air of sophistication. The clean-looking rear bumper, on the other hand, provides contrast to the striking rear fascia.
Open the doors, and palettes of gray and black dominate the cabin of Honda’s smallest offering. Hard-wearing plastic was used all around though given the abuse these kinds of cars get, it’s not entirely bad. I love the unique 3-pod instrument cluster which compliments the funkiness of the Brio. They’re easy to look at and the bright colors help distinguish which monitors what.
The center console and circular aircon vents leave something to be desired as it gives the Brio a rather bland look. The company did put some effort in sprucing the cabin up a bit with the use of faux chrome accents on the vents and a touchscreen infotainment which is standard on V variants. It supports USB, Aux, iPod and iPhone connectivity, Bluetooth and even has Wi-Fi hot spot capability. Gone however, is the onboard CD/DVD player though in this day and age, I can’t remember the last time I used optical discs to play music.
A word of warning though, if one opts to use Bluetooth to listen to their tunes, there is a noticeable delay when switching between tracks.
Both the driver and passenger get bucket-type seats according to Honda. As much as they looked the part, they didn't provide the necessary support one might depend on. It is also one of the least comfortable seats that I sat into. There was practically no leg support and I always had to adjust my seating position especially during long drives. Taller drivers that want the Brio may struggle in the long run or opt for an aftermarket seat.
Rear legroom is decent, but individuals with broad shoulders will find the Brio lacking a bit of cabin space at the back. The Brio’s trunk is also miniscule but given its size, it’s enough for weekend getaways. The rear bench can be folded down for extra space though it doesn’t fully fold flat, which makes for storing additional cargo difficult.
Powering the Honda Brio is the L13Z1 1.3-liter inline-four with i-VTEC. It generates 100 PS at 6,000 rpm along with a torque pull of 128 Nm available at 4,800 rpm. If the figures look familiar, that is because this is the 1.3-liter motor that used to be available in the previous-generation City. Power is then transferred to the front axle via a 5-speed automatic gearbox.
While it lacked the interior fit and finish of some of its rivals like the Mitsubishi Mirage, Suzuki Swift and Kia Picanto, the Brio was certainly one of the most fun cars to drive.
With a name derived from the Italian word 'vigor', the Brio is indeed energetic when it came to performance. The A-segment hatchback is a delight in both power and handling. With a class-leading 100 PS motor and a short-footed frame, it allowed the Brio to easily build up speed and handle corners with ease. The far-flung wheels and short overhangs also contribute to the Brio’s agility in taking bends and corkscrews turns.
With a curb weight of 970 kg, the Brio can also keep up with larger, more powerful B- and C-segment cars without much effort. The brakes also offer good stopping power and allows for progressive braking in normal or spirited driving. All in all, the Brio’s driving prowess can be likened to a go-kart; it’s fast, maneuverable and has spot-on brakes.
Ride quality however is something that needs to be given attention. Even though it’s a budget car, Honda should have invested a bit more in delivering a quieter ride and better shock absorbing properties for the Brio. There is also a strong shift shock that can be felt when the transmission shifts from 1st to 2nd gear.
Over to fuel economy, the agile Brio was able to average about 9.5 km/l around the city. Highway figures, on the other hand yielded about 15.5 km/l. Not bad, but there are other similarly-sized cars that deliver better fuel consumption. There is a manual version available though in my opinion, a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) might do wonders to improve its fuel intake.
Honda’s idea for an A-segment hatchback blends performance, frugality and unconventional styling. The Honda Brio does that well indeed. Aside from its go-kart-like mobility, the Brio also appears to be the spiritual successor of the much revered Honda Civic EG hatchback of the 1990s. It’s very compact, offers seating for five (if they’ll fit), has a small trunk space, but still delivers an energetic drive.
Retailing for PhP 729,000, it is priced above certain competitors except for the Suzuki Swift 1.4 which starts at PhP 749,000. With built-in navigation, touchscreen infotainment with Wi-Fi hot spot capability and a zippy 1.3-liter engine, the Brio is a good choice for those that want something practical and fun to chuck around corners.
Better interior fitting, styling and Noise, Vibration and Harshness deadening could be done however to improve ride quality. Nonetheless, it is a hatchback that stayed true to Honda’s aim of delivering a fun and engaging drive.