We’ve been pretty critical of Honda’s automotive operations in the Philippines for the last few years. Actually, maybe a bit longer than a few years.

The customer experience at the dealers isn’t as good as it used to be. Then there was the fiasco with the shutdown of the factory. Then there were the issues we experienced with some of the vehicle electronics. There are issues with unit supplies, but that’s pretty much an industry-wide problem. But mostly, the issues are with pricing; sometimes it’s off by a bit, and sometimes it’s off by a lot.

Baguio Drive: Is the 2023 Honda BR-V the win they need? image

All of those issues, they’re already aware of and are working on. But what they need is something to go smoothly. They need a win. Perhaps the new generation BR-V can provide that big ‘W’.

When Honda launched the first generation BR-V here, we knew they had a winner. For a decade before the BR-V, the Toyota Avanza had already established that the Filipino customer likes the idea of a slim vehicle that has seven seats and an attractive price tag. It didn’t matter too much if it only had a puny 1.3L or 1.5L gasoline engine producing just over 100 horsepower; most of the time, the vehicle will just be in town. So long as it can make an occasional trip to, say, Baguio, then you’re good.

Baguio Drive: Is the 2023 Honda BR-V the win they need? image

It’s actually getting tiring having to explain that cars with small engines can make it up Baguio’s roads. We’ve even taken a Hyundai Eon with that 800cc engine up to Baguio. Yes, that includes Kennon Road. Getting up there is just a matter of planning your overtakes and conserving momentum if possible.

I guess that’s why we’re taking the second-generation BR-V up to our summer capital. Needless to say, there’s a lot riding on this model. They’ve already phased out the Mobilio in favor of the extra potential of the BR-V, and a lot of it has to do with profound styling changes that really bring the BR-V up to speed as well as the SUV form factor. We just love our SUVs here, even though it’s really a stretch to call the BR-V an SUV. Ground clearance isn’t that high, nor is the driving position (specifically the driver’s vantage point) isn’t that much higher than a sedan.

This isn’t my first time with the BR-V. I had already reviewed the BR-V with the full Honda Sensing advanced driver assistance package. You can read or watch my review of it here, but long story short: I liked it, but the price is just hard to get over. At PHP 1,390,000, it seems having the best in safety isn’t being democratized yet; while sophisticated, that is the most expensive model in the entire class by a wide margin.

I’m not saying Honda is deliberately making it expensive to gouge or profit. They tried their best to get the price to something more acceptable like just over 1.2 million, but external factors beyond any company’s control like the increasing costs of parts, raw materials, fuel, shipping, production, and even exchange rates are just making life more difficult for their product planners. Even the V variant without Sensing is already quite pricey at PHP 1,295,000.

Baguio Drive: Is the 2023 Honda BR-V the win they need? image

That isn’t the case for the unit that ended up in our hands. As it turned out, the BR-V we ended up driving was the 1.5 S which was priced at a much more reasonable PHP 1,150,000. Sure, you lose some of the nice bits like the leather upholstery, Honda Sensing, and more, but I’m not complaining. You expect to lose a few creature comforts when you move down the model range, but at PHP 240,000 less I think it’s worth it.

The BR-V is a very capable cruiser in town. It can seem bumpy with just 3 pax in the car (though we probably weigh a combined 4), but what is apparent is how Honda really worked on improving the build quality. There were no rattles (apart from our gear), creaks, or untoward noises that speak of cheap plastics and hurried assembly. The only thing I miss from the top-spec variant is the cruise control; yes, it may seem pointless in the city, but it becomes very handy if you have to drive on NLEX, SCTEX, and TPLEX all in one go.

Baguio Drive: Is the 2023 Honda BR-V the win they need? image

Honda’s claim of efficiency above and beyond 24 kilometers per liter may be a stretch in my mind, but given that it was doing well over 15 km/l on the highway with our combined weight and not-so-ideal driving conditions (max A/C, overtaking) it wasn’t too bad either. In the city, we were doing a fairly decent 9.9 km/l. Again, pretty good for a city drive given the occupancy and the full breakfasts we had. That really speaks well of the efficiency of the BR-V’s engine and CVT.

Once at the northern terminus of TPLEX, we kept on going. We’re skipping Kennon on this one; that’s always busy. We’re also skipping the gentler slope and faster average speeds of Marcos Highway (Aspiras Palispis). Instead, we’re taking Asin Road; a route with much tighter boundaries, steeper portions, and definitely tougher corners. The only real indicator you need is the fact that they were handing out motion sickness pills beforehand.

Baguio Drive: Is the 2023 Honda BR-V the win they need? image

Let’s not mince words: I’m not a big fan of the power and torque figures of the BR-V with the 1.5L non-turbo i-VTEC engine and the CVT on a road like this. I’d much rather be driving the HR-V with the 1.5L VTEC Turbo which was our lead car, but I have to say that the BR-V -if driven with vigor- can hold its own. For an economy MPV/SUV, the thing can handle the turns well. Brakes are good on the downhill segments, but since we’re doing mostly uphill you can just lift a bit, and gravity will help you slow down for the bends.

Baguio Drive: Is the 2023 Honda BR-V the win they need? image

The key to getting up to Baguio in a car with a small engine is conserving decent momentum on the corners and uphill segments, and flooring the throttle when necessary for overtaking. I'm really just not a fan of how the CVT sounds when you do. After about 30 or 45 minutes of spirited driving, we can pop open the windows and begin to enjoy the cooler climate.

Baguio Drive: Is the 2023 Honda BR-V the win they need? image

Is the BR-V 1.5 S perfect? No, but no car is either. What the BR-V represents is a series of decisions to build a good SUV-style MPV efficiently and economically by using the components Honda already had on hand. If you look around, you’ll spot parts and components that are already familiar to those who drive Honda models of the previous generation.

Baguio Drive: Is the 2023 Honda BR-V the win they need? image

That’s been Honda’s strategy with their “developing market” models like Brio, Mobilio, Brio Amaze, and BR-V: they cherry-pick from the existing parts bin instead of developing a lot of new stuff.

Baguio Drive: Is the 2023 Honda BR-V the win they need? image

Does it matter that the bin is older? Not really. The BR-V looks good, feels solidly built, drives well, cruises efficiently, and when you start playing around with the seat configurations, it’s very versatile. And if someone were to ask me what version I’d recommend out of the range, I’d probably say this 1.5S.

The BR-V is a solid option for those in the market for a good compact 7 seater... as long as Honda can keep the unit supplies coming. That’s really the name of the game now for the big players in the auto industry. The one who has the unit gets the sale.