The BR-V is, without a doubt, a perfect example of the right vehicle at the right time.
When Honda first launched the BR-V a few years ago, we knew they had a winning formula in their showrooms. It looks more rugged but is also quite gentrified. It drives like a comfortable hatchback, but with extra space. It can take seven people, and they priced it well.
Now they've got a new version with a few enhancements and upgrades, this one being the top-spec 1.5 V CVT version. And we didn't get it for just a week as was the norm; we had it for 3 months to really get to know its ins and outs very, very well.
Will it perform as advertised on a daily basis, or will we find issues over our long term test?
We are no strangers to the Honda BR-V. The first time we got our hands on one was at Honda's Twin Ring Motegi Circuit in Japan; a special pre-production prototype that they had shipped over. The reason is that there is actually no JDM BR-V; they didn't intend to offer it in Japan because they don't have much of a need for affordable, small 7-seaters. Where they do need such a vehicle was in markets like Indonesia, India, and the Philippines because, well, we like bigger families.
Engineering-wise, this is essentially a Mobilio, but a little different. If the twinning between BR-V and Mobilio wasn't so obvious, then you can look at the kinked window line on the rear doors; that's the giveaway.
The difference is really in the design, as Honda “butched” the Mobilio a bit more to be the BR-V. It's more SUV-like, which gives it a much wider appeal. Things like the black plastic cladding on the wheel arches and the bumpers do work well to enhance the attractiveness of the model.
The one we're driving is the top-spec V, and it's part of the facelifted model line that first debuted last year. As far as facelifts go though, this is about as mild as it gets. Okay, so there is a new lower bumper, a new grille, new wheel designs, and a few other bits and pieces here and there, but the differences are so mild that they're actually hard to notice. Still, we think the BR-V looks fairly good.
The changes inside, apart from the red leather accents on the seats and door pads, are very minor too. They didn't really need to change much because it still looks fresh, even if they still made use of the parts bin for previous generation Hondas like the steering wheel, door levers, door locks, shifter assemblies, and a few more bits and pieces here and there. That was done to lower costs. If you're familiar with the second generation Jazz, a lot of these interior parts will look very familiar.
The driver's seat is comfortable, as expected. I like the ergonomics of it all, but I would have preferred if Honda put in a center armrest with a bit more storage. I like the fact that this has automatic climate control, but I still prefer to control the blower manually. The rear A/C seems to be more of a blower than an actual A/C, but it does the job. The touchscreen audio unit is a better one than the ones we drove before; the 7-inch screen now has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and, more importantly, a rearview camera. Since this is a deceptively long vehicle without rear sensors (and those ungainly bumper holes), that rearview camera is going to be very useful.
After months of driving the BR-V, I can honestly say it's a great all-around vehicle for my particular circumstances. For starters, it didn't disappoint with its driving performance. I enjoy driving in a fairly spirited manner, and the way the BR-V corners is quite composed. It feels like a hatch, albeit a little longer, which is fine.
The engine, while just a small 1.5-liter non-turbo, does have ample power at 120 PS. The downside is that the torque on the low RPM range doesn't seem to be all that much; that's common with small non-turbo Honda engines. The CVT does try to make up the difference by adjusting itself to deliver more acceleration (at the cost of extra noise) but there's only so much it can do. I'll say that this BR-V deserves a small 1.0-liter VTEC Turbo which Honda already has in their portfolio.
I also like the versatility of having the seating arrangement of a multi-purpose vehicle (MPV). I rarely have people sit in the back because I tend to drive to work solo anyway. On the weekends that I have to bring the family out, having the extra seating that a hatchback simply wouldn't is very handy. Yes, this is a vehicle that I see as a great daily personal commuter that can pull a second shift as a family shuttle if the need arises; just don't count on it to be speedy and sprightly if you have 5 or more people inside. There are limits to what you can expect from a un-boosted 1.5-liter petrol engine.
But what was more useful was the extra interior length that the BR-V's cabin afforded. With the second and third-row backrests folded down, the BR-V was able to fit some 8-foot long 2x4s and 2x3s along the middle. It did protrude into the first row, but it wasn't too much of a bother and securing them down proved to be easy. I would have preferred that the rear of the seats be a bit stiffer for heavier items, but it was easy to improvise with a few pieces of cardboard.
Over my time with the BR-V (which spanned 3 months and about 3000 kilometers), I encountered zero issues with the vehicle. There were no instances that the battery became drained, no problems with the CVT, no roughness with the engine, no wobble, no misalignment on the wheel (despite our poor roads), no electrical glitches, no rattles (apart from those on really rough rumble strips), or the like.
The A/C turned on every time, the audio system worked every time. The BR-V kept going without complaining and maintained an average fuel economy of 8.4 to 8.8 km/l in mixed city driving conditions all throughout my time with it on a daily commute between office and home and everything else in between. On the highway, that was up to 12.8 km/L.
The only real problem I encountered was a flat tire which, strangely enough, was caused by a hex key wrench punching through the tire. I've encountered all kinds of debris that punched holes in tires in the last 20 years, but this is the first time I've seen a hex key cause a flat. So if any of you dropped a 2mm black hex key on a road somewhere east of Metro Manila, you can get it from me. I'll hand you a tire repair bill too.
There is one thing that Honda should have improved on, and it's the ground clearance. The BR-V has 201mm of minimum ground clearance from the factory, which is 12mm more than the Mobilio. But I don't think it's enough. No, the BR-V's undercarriage wasn't scraping village speed bumps or mall parking ramps, nor is this front-wheel-drive only vehicle taken onto an off-road trail; this is about as soft as a soft-roader gets.
What I meant is that a bit more ride height would make this feel more SUV-based on the driver's point of view. Case in point: if you pull up beside a Toyota Rush or a Mitsubishi Xpander, it feels like your BR-V is “lowered” just by how high your eyes are above the road as a driver. In terms of numbers, the BR-V is behind too; the Rush has 220mm of ground clearance while the Xpander has 205mm. The new direct competitor of the BR-V, the Xpander Cross, will have 225mm of clearance. And in a country where crossovers are becoming more preferable over passenger cars due to floods, extra ride height is very important.
All in all, the BR-V 1.5 V CVT is a well-rounded package that came at the right time. The competition may have caught up, particularly in the field of ride height and ruggedness, but those don't detract too much from everything else. The drive is nice, the fuel economy is consistent, the styling is neat (even though it was largely unchanged), the safety features work (no we didn't end up testing the airbags), and versatility of the 7-seater cabin is perfect for all kinds of tasks demanded of it. And our time with it showed a perfect reliability record. The BR-V is still a solid choice, as expected.
This BR-V is one of the last ones built at the Santa Rosa, Laguna factory, and that breaks our hearts quite a bit. This is clear proof of how good Honda's manufacturing is (or was) in the Philippines, and it's truly sad to see the assembly plant go, even though it's economically better for them to source from Indonesia.