I have always been a fan of Honda's smallest hatchback ever since it first came out back in late 2014. Nimble, fuel efficient, and agile, the Brio was a fun little hatchback to chuck around. But it's not the most comfortable and refined in its segment as it had very little interior space, came with a bland-looking interior, stuck with uncomfortable front seats, and became pretty expensive at a time.
Five years since, we now have the second-generation model right here in the Philippines. Featuring an all-new look, a bevy of features, plus a new powertrain under the hood, the new Brio is ready to go up against the likes of the Toyota Wigo, Suzuki Celerio, Kia Picanto, and Mitsubishi Mirage.
But is Honda already late to the small car party? With the rest of the segment receiving several changes and facelifts over the years, can Honda's smallest offering sway car buyers from other brands?
First things first: the exterior. I admit, I am still a fan of the previous generation's looks. But comparing the old one to this is like comparing apples to oranges. The new one looks more mature and won me over with its sleeker and sharper design. It is also better proportioned than its predecessor which gives it a more discerning on-road presence.
I wasn't so sure about the Mobilio-derived face but after seeing it in the metal, I'm glad they actually used it on the all-new hatchback. Sure it might have the same set of headlights up front, but the unique grill and sporty front bumper has given the hatchback its own identity of sorts. Then there are the cool-looking taillights at the back which appear to have been lifted straight out of the RS Concept (from which the Brio is heavily based on).
Speaking of RS, this particular variant comes with some additional bits and bobs that make it stand out. These includes the 15-inch alloy wheels, unique rear bumper with integrated diffuser, as well as mesh trimmings all around. I was sad to see the rear glass hatch go but the new metal tailgate in this one looks good still. And since its shape is more conventional rather than artsy-looking, it freed up more space inside the hatchback which I'll get to later.
Pop the doors open, and the Brio greets you with a new interior. Okay it's not exactly groundbreaking but the BR-V / Jazz-derived cabin is way better looking than the like it or loathe it design of the old one. Some might say that it's a parts bin special, but to be honest, there is nothing wrong. I find this particular design ergonomic and intuitive.
Everything is where you expect them to be; from the air-conditioning controls, touchscreen infotainment, as well as the 12V power socket placed at the bottom of the center console. Yes there is plenty of hard plastic inside the Brio but what did you expect from an A-segment hatchback? Besides, having hard plastic means it can stand up to every day use (or abuse). Being the range-topper, the hatchback gets some neat touches of orange trim which spruce up the cabin nicely. Even the seats get some much needed streaks of orange that liven up the interior's look and feel.
As I've mentioned earlier, this now has a new touchscreen infotainment system. It gets AM/FM radio, Bluetooth, USB connectivity, as well as a six-speaker sound system. Below that is a digital air-conditioning system which, again was borrowed from its stablemates. While it did a good job of cooling the cabin, it will struggle during the hottest of days especially when you opt to not use any kind of window tint.
One thing that I did not liked with the previous Brio were its bucket-style front seats. They did not offer much leg and back support which meant I did not felt as comfy while on the road. I'm happy to report, however, that the top-spec RS now comes with new front seats. Thanks to bigger seat cushions, adjustable headrests, and more comfortable backrests, driving long distances with the Brio does not feel as uncomfortable as before.
The V variants of the new Brio, however, still have the bucket-style seats from before. Here's to hoping they're a bit more comfortable now should we get our hands on one for another review.
The new Brio may still have the same width and height as before, but Honda was able to make it slightly bigger to better accommodate rear passengers, as well as carry more luggage. Now measuring 3800mm in length, the Brio is now 190mm longer than before. In addition, they were able to extend its wheelbase to 2405mm (+60mm). This translates in not only providing additional legroom for the rear occupants as they were also able to expand its cargo capacity to 258 liters. Those extra 84 liters of space meant we were able to store several duffel bags, along with some boxes and small backpacks with relative ease. Fold down the rear bench and you have over 700 liters of space to work with. To think hatchbacks of yesteryear were seen as tightly-packed and impractical.
Under the hood is the smaller 1.2-liter four-cylinder engine with i-VTEC. Called the L12B, the tiny engine succeeds the previous 1.3-liter L13A. It puts out a humble 90 PS along with a respectable 110 Nm of torque. Power is then sent to the front wheels via an Earth Dreams-developed CVT. Producing 10 less horsepower and 18 Nm of torque, I was quite doubtful the new engine will not live up to the 1.3-liter's performance. How wrong I was to doubt the new four-cylinder.
With a curb weight of only 992 kg, the Brio, the small engine didn't have to lug much around. Yes, it gives up 10 PS, but it's barely noticeable on the daily drive. It feels light on its feet (figuratively speaking) and the engine was more than eager to use all of its revs, particularly when you set the CVT to 'Sport'. Bring it out on a mountain road and you'll have fun wringing out the engine while taking on corners at speed. Thanks to light steering, the Brio can literally turn on a dime which makes it one of the most agile hatchbacks we've ever driven. Did I mention the RS is fitted with Bridgestone Potenza tires and not eco tires? They made a lot of difference especially when it came to handling and grip.
When it comes to overtaking however, that is where the Brio's shortcomings become apparent. It might be a rev-happy engine but with only 1,199cc, torque is not exactly its forte. Timing, patience, commitment, and a little bit of bravery are needed when you want to overtake several cars on the highway or along busy provincial roads. A long stretch of road with the right set of skills can make the difference of easily passing other cars, or getting stuck behind a slow-moving vehicle.
Despite producing less power than the previous generation, the new 1.2-liter engine actually returned better fuel economy. Paired with an Earth Dreams CVT along with just a front passenger onboard, the Brio can average between 9.0 – 10.0 km/l in light city driving. In standstill traffic conditions however, expect those figures to drop to around 7.5 – 8.0 km/l. Out on the highway, the Brio was able to rack up an impressive 18.0 km/l.
Even though it only has a 35-liter tank, it took me around 6 days before I needed to gas up the Brio again, and that included heavy payday traffic, relatively light holiday driving, and going to and from work complete with some overtaking. If you have two or more passengers onboard along with some luggage however, you can expect the Brio to have an average fuel consumption on the highway at around 14.0 – 15.0 km/l. In gridlock traffic, you'll probably do about 8.0 km/l at best.
How about its ride quality you might ask? While it's no City or Jazz, the 2019 Brio was actually quite pliant. Occupants can sometimes bounce around on uneven roads but it's really more of the limitations of the car's size. But even though it's Honda's most affordable model, they took great care in giving it good Noise, Vibration, and Harshness (NVH) deadening. One can hold a normal conversation at either 100 km/h or 60 km/h, even with the aircon on full blast.
At Php 727,000 (not including the Php 5,000 extra for the black top roof), the top-of-the-line Brio RS appears to tick all the right boxes for those looking at a small family hatchback. The mini five-door has bags of character, offers relatively more space and amenities, and is quite the fuel sipper. What the first-generation lacked in refinement and aesthetics, the second-generation improved upon those and then some.
As cars continue to become more expensive and out of reach for some, the Brio is a breath of fresh air in the budget-conscious segment that is populated by those that are looking to get the most out of their hard-earned cash. Honda showed that they can still make a sporty-looking family car, give it a nice cabin and some cool-looking features, put a fuel efficient engine on top of a lightweight chassis, and sell it at a relatively reasonable price.
Yes there are other variants that are more affordable including a manual version which is selling at Php 585,000. But if you truly want everything in a small car that can take you from point A to point B and look cool while doing it, the Brio RS is the way to go.