The right blend, almost
I've always been curious about what it's like to work as a product planner for an automotive brand.
It's not like I'm getting bored with my current job, but it's because I find it very interesting to see how automakers manage a particular model's pricing vis-a-vis the features. Of course, you can throw every feature there is to top-of-the-line variants, and base models.... well they can be as basic as they are. But what I'm referring to is the balancing act that goes on in mid-range variants.
For me, this is where the challenge is for product planners, as more often than not the mid-range drives sales volumes for automakers. Barring fleet customers most would choose a mid-range variant as it gives you just enough features without going over your spending budget. It's much like how you order at a fast food place. You won't always go for a set meal with the largest drinks and most generous sides, you'd want to go for something that's just enough to satisfy your craving.
That brings me to the V variant of the 2023 Honda BR-V. At PHP 1.295 million, this model sits between the base 1.5 S CVT that costs PHP 1.150 million, and the new top-spec VX CVT with Honda Sensing that's priced at PHP 1.390 million. As Honda's mid-range offering, this should be their MPV that fits just right. Or is it?
For starters, the all-new BR-V definitely looks more like a crossover SUV than an MPV. This is what happens when you have your engineers focus on designing a car with SUV looks rather than adopting an MPV design to make it look like an SUV. The result is better execution of the cladding in the bumpers, fenders, and doors, looking more integrated rather than a tacked-on feature.
Combined with Honda's new design language, the BR-V got rid of the Mobilio's raked beltline for a more upright, or horizontal one, giving it the curb appeal that's close to the CR-V, especially with this Lunar Silver Metallic color and the large 17-inch wheels.
It's also great that Honda made the LED headlights a standard feature across the board, and they fitted Bridgestone Turanza tires so that's a plus in terms of value. Perhaps, the only thing I've noticed is that despite having a large taillight assembly, the area that lights up when you brake is rather small - it's just the “L” flanking the turn signals.
Inside, I believe Honda was able to put together a well-executed cabin that combines both new and existing bits from their parts bin. The layout is different from the “Simplicity and Something” design concept you see on the Civic, City, HR-V, and the incoming CR-V, but nevertheless, the buttons and switches are of good quality, and you'll find them where you expect them to be even with your eyes closed.
As the mid-range offering, the BR-V V also gets soft padding on the door cards plus the dashboard, and the seats get leather upholstery. While I would have preferred the tactile rotary switches found on the City sedan, the BR-V's buttons for the climate control system are just as easy to use. The standard issue 7-inch head unit works well with the Apple CarPlay / Android Auto connectivity, but I did encounter some glitches which I believe are data wire-related issues.
In terms of space, it's what you would expect from Hondas coming out as of late. There's good legroom, headroom, and elbow room, at least on the first two rows. And as is typical for 7-seater MPVs, the third row is best reserved for kids when you're doing longer trips. But when you're using the BR-V to carry lots of luggage, you'll see the improvement that Honda has made to the BR-V's versatility.
The third-row seats now fold flat with the adjustable tonneau cover and give you a cargo area that's about 31.5 inches tall, 40 inches wide, and 44 inches long with the third-row seats folded. In case that's not enough, fold the second-row seats and you have a cargo area that's 65 inches long.
As for the engine, all variants of the all-new BR-V are powered by the L15ZF, a 1.5-liter, inline four-cylinder DOHC i-VTEC engine that's good enough for 121 PS and 145 Nm of torque. The BR-V enjoys a slight horsepower and torque advantage over the likes of the Veloz and the Xpander Cross and also comes with a CVT that's designed for maximum efficiency.
Upon driving the BR-V for the first time, there's a definite improvement in road manners compared to the previous generation. Since it's wider and longer, there's more time for the front springs to settle down before the rear springs get their turn in absorbing road imperfections, and that of course translates to better ride comfort.
The BR-V rides a bit firm when you're driving alone, but it gets more comfortable with more people on board. The good thing here is, even in full capacity, the BR-V doesn't have that “putol spring” ride, or the floaty sensation you encounter when the shocks and springs are already nearing their maximum compression, or about to bottom out.
Obviously, with a naturally-aspirated 1.5-liter engine, you have to manage your expectations in terms of power. Don't expect turbo levels of grunt like those from the Innova or Okavango, as that's basically comparing apples to oranges. It takes a bit more throttle work and a bit more careful preparation to do highway overtakes, and with longer seat time you'll eventually get used to how it performs.
In terms of fuel efficiency, the BR-V fares well for a 7-seater MPV. I got 9.6 km/l in the city, and on the expressways that figure went up to 17.4 km/l. Do take note that I managed to get those without doing any hypermiling techniques, and always maintaining 90 to 100 km/h on the expressways.
Speaking of expressway driving, the one thing I think Honda really missed out on is putting cruise control on the BR-V V. In this particular generation, only the top-spec VX is the only one that has it, packaged with the Honda Sensing suite. Since a lot of families will use the BR-V for road trips and do a lot of expressway driving, even a standard cruise control would have really come in handy, and at the same time make the BR-V V a more attractive package.
Also, I noticed that the NVH is not the best in its class. The chassis is already solid in terms of absorbing imperfections, and the interior doesn't have any rattles at all, but I believe Honda could have done better on the sound insulation of the windows. So in other words, Honda did good in the VH (vibration, harshness), but could do better with the N (noise).
But other than that, there's not much to complain about, especially with the driving dynamics - that's where the signature Honda-ness of the BR-V shines. It's what I've always liked about Honda, the way they dial in the steering, the brakes, and the throttle in terms of precision. It's no Civic Type R or an RS by any means, but what I'm talking about is the precise controls that make the BR-V become a very easy MPV to drive.
Now going back – did Honda execute the BR-V V just right? I'd say almost. You get the good looks, efficient powertrain, well-appointed interior, and precise driving dynamics of the BR-V VX for PHP 95,000 less. But still, the BR-V V, for me, comes second best to the BR-V S. On that variant, you only lose the leather seats and climate control, but the price tag is PHP 145,000 less. In this budget-sensitive segment, that's enough to make buyers think twice.