For the last two years Honda Cars Philippines has been taking aim at the market in full auto.
New generation models of the Jazz, Accord, City and Odyssey were joined by new nameplates like the Brio, Brio Amaze, HR-V, Mobilio and even the Legend. If that wasn't enough, they even updated the CR-V and Civic.
Those models, however, could be overshadowed by perhaps the most important model for Honda Cars Philippines in the very near future: the BR-V — a subcompact crossover SUV that would slot under the HR-V and the much larger CR-V.
During the run up to the 2015 Tokyo Motor Show, the Honda Motor Company gave ASEAN journalists a brief sample of the pre-production model to see if it has potential in our respective markets.
Seeing the Honda BR-V up close for the first time, it becomes apparent that this is one really good looking small crossover. The pattern of the fascia is more squarish than it's stablemates (and that's a good thing), giving the BR-V a more distinct appearance from what is fast becoming a family face. To the side, the BR-V also looks pretty good, and has quite a few character lines that sweep up from front to back, and a rather distinctive beltline. The design of the BR-V was also nicely finished off in the back, with a tall, SUV-like tailgate and a pair of taillights that flow continuously from one side to the other.
Technically speaking, the BR-V is based on the Mobilio MPV, albeit with SUV-like proportions, but nevertheless comparing the two in terms of dimensions lends a lot of similarities. The Mobilio measures in at 4386mm x 1683mm x 1603mm (L x W x H) while the BR-V is at 4456mm x 1735mm x 1666mm. The wheelbase of the MPV is at 2652mm while the BR-V is at 2660mm. The most important thing about these similarities is that it will give the BR-V an edge over its fellow B-segment crossovers: a third row. Yes, the BR-V will be the only one in its intended class that will offer seven seats.
The cabin of the BR-V is actually a nice place to be in. The dashboard may be made of hard plastic, but it looks to be high quality thanks to texturing. Despite being a prototype, the panel gaps appear to be very consistent, and the feel of the materials, the wheel, the shifter bar, and the other controls inside are very typical of Honda. Of course, being just a prototype car, this one did not come with a radio to test.
The interior is quite generous in terms of lateral room, and that goes for the first two rows. Headroom is good, and the dip on the beltline of the vehicle does seem to work to give the rear passengers a better view of what's beyond the glass. The third row can be cramped for most adults on long drives. Nevertheless they're pretty good because, at the end of the day, two extra seats are still two potentially useful seats. More importantly, none of the BR-V's direct competition and price range (more on that later) have an extra row. If they're not occupied, then they can also be folded to increase cargo space.
A twist of the key lights up the 1.5 liter i-VTEC engine, matched with the Earth Dreams CVT, much like the Honda Mobilio. What's unusual is that the spec sheet of the BR-V says it has dual overhead camshafts (DOHC, or twin-cam) as opposed to the single cam version in the 1.5L in the Mobilio, City and Jazz. What is also strange is that, despite being stated as a DOHC, the power figures are exactly the same as the other 1.5L models: 120 PS that is achieved at 6600 rpm and 145 Newton meters of torque at 4800 rpm. We actually wanted to verify the engine by popping the hood, but the Japanese engineer guys administering the test wouldn't let us; still top secret, they say.
On the short road course, the BR-V proved to be a smooth and quiet crossover. There really isn't much to be excited about in the powertrain department, but that doesn't mean it's not good. Power is decent and the delivery to the front wheels is smooth; we asked if an all-wheel drive version is possible in the future, but judging by the engineers' expressions, that might not happen.
Cornering and body control seem to have been well sorted out in typical Honda fashion, but the real surprise is that the ride comfort is also surprisingly good. The smoothness of the Japanese-made tarmac may have an effect on that, but given that this BR-V was made in Indonesia — a country with roads similar to ours — we can be sure that rough and bumpy surfaces would have been factored in by the suspension and NVH engineers.
It must be stated that our time behind the wheel of the BR-V can only be considered as a sample of a sample, but already it seems that the BR-V could be the ace that Honda is looking for, especially in our market. We talked to Mr. Toshio Kuwahara, president of Honda Cars Philippines, about the target price for the BR-V in the Philippines, to which he hinted that the pricing would be between the Mobilio (PhP 967,000 for the top spec) and the wider HR-V (PhP 1,190,000 for the entry grade).
Depending on regional production and further R&D and testing, Kuwahara also indicated that the BR-V could be slated for a Philippine release in the second half of 2016.
Now the challenge falls on the development and manufacturing team to work on the final production specifications for the ASEAN markets... and left hand drive, of course.