While we like cars that have a lot of tech toys, sometimes (or most of the time) we just want a car that nails all of the basics.
Sure, it's nice to have a 360 degree camera system, to have the capability to use Apple Carplay or Android Auto, or to have a car that can recognize and enact your voice commands, but really, we just want a car that works well on the everyday. We want it to be reliable, to be nice to look at, to be enjoyable to drive, to be practical, to be comfortable, so on, and so forth. These are the qualities of a solid everyday transport, and that's what we think the 2019 Honda Brio is.
We've driven the Brio and its many variants on the expressways at speed and rather hard on a mountain pass that we've never been on before, but that drive really only answered questions about its driving potential. Now we've got the Brio V, the mid-grade variant of the line, and we'll put it to what is perhaps the more demanding test of its abilities: the daily grind in searing heat, stressful traffic, and doing everyday tasks that its customers will undoubtedly put it through.
The Brio hatchback we're looking at is the second generation of the model line, taking over the reins of the first gen they sold from 2014 up to the present. There are actually two versions of that model; one is the 5 door hatch, the other is the 4-door Brio Amaze. Interestingly enough, the Amaze is still on sale because the new Brio wasn't launched with a 4 door counterpart to succeed the Amaze.
Regardless, the Brio is a big step up in design. It just looks far better than before, featuring a look and face that bears more similarities to the updated Mobilio. We find that a bit ironic; the Mobilio, after all, was originally pre-dated by the Brio.
This isn't the all singing and dancing Brio RS version with the body kit, so it doesn't look as nice especially with those tiny 14 inch wheels. No matter though because we think the most notable update is the rear; the back longer looks like the vehicle was slashed diagonally (and abruptly) by a really sharp katana.
We won't dwell too much on the design, because what we find more important is the increased proportions. The Brio is bigger in all respects, but the most important is the stretched length at 3800mm and width at 1680mm. Actually, it's quite comparable to the Jazz already... the first generation, not the current one.
Pop the tailgate and you'll see a proper cargo area that can take on much larger stuff than its predecessor. Honda says it can accommodate 258 liters, and that can expand to 710 if the rear seats are folded down. It's a very respectable level of cargo volume from such a small car, but do keep in mind that they had to economize it as best they can. That means the backrest folds as a single unit; no 60/40 split here. Also, the folding mechanism isn't like the ULT (Utility, Long, Tall) system that we loved in the Jazz models that really enhance the versatility of the vehicle. Engineering that system into the Brio would have probably brought up the cost which could have defeated the purpose of the Brio being an affordable vehicle.
With the backrests up, the Brio can accommodate 5 adults, though if you put 3 in the back they wouldn't be as comfortable; 4 is our ideal maximum for the Brio. We did like the kneeroom in the back; surprisingly good for a vehicle that's this small. Power windows are standard in the back as well for this model.
Sitting in the driver's seat, you can tell that the Brio an exercise in being economical. That's not a bad thing because the way Honda did it was clever: they used a lot of the parts and panels that were already available from other Honda models like the BR-V, Mobilio, Jazz and City, both phased out and current.
They used the same (or at least very similar) dashboard and steering wheel you would find in the BR-V. The shifter, door levers, and switches are very similar to (or the same) as the ones used in the older Jazz. The one-piece backrests (no adjustable headrests) are carried over from the older Brio too. The more you look around, we won't be surprised if you find more commonalities; it's all high quality, and at the same time helps keep the price down.
A twist of the key lights up that 1.2-liter SOHC i-VTEC engine that makes 90 PS and 110 Newton-meters of torque, and is bolted onto a CVT driving the front wheels. Some may find it strange that Honda “downgraded” the Brio to a 1.2-liter because the previous model had a 1.3-liter, and that's a fair comment. But remember the point of the Brio is being economical, and having an engine and transmission that is the same as the 1.2-liter models sold in Thailand and in Indonesia helps to bring down those costs. This is a practical example of principle of economies of scale.
We've driven the standard Brio on the highways and extremely twisty roads up north, and you can read about that in our first drive review. What we were really after with our sophomore drive of it is to get a feel for how this little Honda feels to drive on the everyday drive to work.
The Brio is a great everyday tool for getting around. The vehicle is very maneuverable in the city, especially if you're the type that likes to zip around the metropolis and in between all kinds of traffic (safely, we hope). The car is extremely easy to park with the fairly tall seats, big windows, and low beltline. On road comfort is alright; if anything, it manages our road imperfections well for a short wheelbase hatchback. In traffic, the noise from the outside world isn't too intrusive, but don't expect the same kind of silence you would get in larger models like the Civic or even Jazz. There is a bit more road noise when traversing concrete surfaces, but it's not bad at all.
Some would comment that the Brio 1.2 is now underpowered, though the definition of the word is something that is very arguable. Some think that it's the perceived lack of positive acceleration when fully loaded (or even overloaded) or difficulty going up to Baguio on Kennon road (which is still closed, the last time we checked); whichever or whatever the definition often is, they are still commonly subjective.
We can't deny that the Brio's 90 PS rating isn't going to raise eyebrows, but it's more fun to drive than many think. If you're the type that likes to mash the throttle and gunnit, the CVT will help you out and adjust to the proper ratio to give your lead foot what it wants... well, as much as it can anyway. But I still wouldn't say it's underpowered, at least when you compare it to similar small hatchbacks.
If you do a bit of math, you can tell that the Brio 1.2V CVT has a good 92.9 PS per tonne power-to-weight ratio amongst other models in the somewhat broad entry-level hatchback segment. This still growing class is really populated by the Suzuki Celerio 1.0L CVT (77.9 PS/tonne), the Toyota Wigo 1.0G AT (76.7 PS/tonne), the Mitsubishi Mirage 1.2L GLX CVT (92.3 PS/tonne), and Chevrolet Spark 1.4 LT CVT (92.5 PS/tonne). This is really one good method to define if a car is "underpowered", and it should be compared to similar models (apples to apples, more or less).
What we really liked is the fuel economy: it's exceptional. You can easily do 10.5 km/l to about 12 km/l in city driving (18 to 22 km/h average speeds, respectively). In really heavy traffic, it goes down, but not by much. On a provincial highway, don't be surprised if you're getting 18.2 km/l at an average speed of 67 km/h; that's casual solo driving. Much of that is owed to the power to weight ratio of the and the effectiveness of the CVT to adjust and keep the engine revolutions down at higher speeds.
We can breeze through the safety features like the standard anti-lock brakes and dual airbags, the convenience features such as the power amenities like steering, windows, locks, and keyless entry, as well as the connectivity features like the touchscreen audio unit with Bluetooth. The digital A/C may not be a climate control unit, but it stacks up well to our heat, and that's without tint. All in all, the Honda Brio 1.2V CVT is a fairly good package, and it retails for PhP 658,000; a PhP 12,000 increase from the introductory price when they launched it.
There are some minor shortcomings with the Brio such as comfort or overall refinement, but much of that can be explained by the fact that this is an economical, entry level hatchback meant for urban roads. We can't really compare the refinement to more expensive models in the Honda line like the current Civic or even the current Jazz. That's not to say we'll treat it with kid gloves though, because when we scrutinized it, we can honestly say that the Brio gets really good marks in build quality and fit, in the way it looks inside and out, and in its versatility and practicality for the price, among many others.
You get what you pay for in the entry car category, but Honda wants to show us that in the Brio's case you just seem to get a little bit more.