If you haven't noticed by now, both of the best sellers of Honda Cars Philippines in the entry level segment have moved up a notch. The 2014 Honda Jazz and 2014 Honda City have both elevated their game, effectively coming closer to the “traditional” compact car class in terms of size, performance, space, features and ultimately, price.
That's all well and good because every model has to move up sometime, but both those models have been considered as entry points into new car ownership with their pricing and positioning. A PhP 100,000 thousand increase may be chump change for those shopping in, say, the executive car class, but in the entry level segment that amount is a fortune by comparison.
Honda needed something to fill the void, so they found two other models to do so: the Thai-made 2014 Honda Brio 5-door hatchback and 2014 Honda Brio Amaze 4-door sedan.
Cheap cars = big impact
We may like driving the sportiest cars and the latest SUVs, but at the end of the day, the segment with the biggest impact in the market are the smallest and most affordable ones.
The reasoning is simple: the cheapest cars are the ones geared to put more people on the road, effectively introducing individuals from all walks of life to new car ownership.
That's also the reason why no car manufacturer can ignore the potential of compact cars as it also introduces their brand to new customers. Make a good first impression and chances are that customer will buy another car from the same brand later on and will even refer friends and family to do the same. Mess it up and expect that person to purchase their next car from a competitor.
That's what Honda is doing with this new pair of subcompacts: one is a sedan, the other is a hatchback.
We would contend that designing and engineering a successful car in the entry level segment could be more challenging than making an all-conquering, speed record-setting supercar. The reasoning behind that is that car companies have to work on a car that will be sold within a very tight (and market-sensitive) price range, achieve good fuel economy, provide ample space, equip it with the proper features, and come up with an attractive design to entice a far larger chunk of people of varying tastes enough to part with their precious hard earned money.
Honda Brio: the small wonder
Strictly speaking, the Brio isn't what we would consider to be an all new generation. The model was first introduced in 2011 in key emerging markets such as India and Thailand; two countries which share our unwanted relationship with heavy urban traffic.
Judging by dimensions alone, the Honda Brio would be one of those vehicles that really belongs in tight city streets. The 5-door hatchback measures in at a tiny 3610mm long, 1680mm wide and 1470mm tall with a wheelbase of 2345mm. To put that in perspective, the current generation Mitsubishi Mirage measures in at 3710mm x 1665mm x 1500mm while the Toyota Wigo is at 3600mm x 1620mm x 1520mm. What will be interesting when we drive the Brio later on will be how those dimensions translate in helping to achieve sprightly handling in this category.
The name itself is derived from the Italian term il Brio, meaning verve, liveliness, spirit and wit. The front of the Brio does appear quite lively and peppy; good design traits in a hatchback geared towards young, up-and-coming customers. Mind you, this Brio is already the updated/facelifted version.
The side of the Brio is rather neat, and features some aggressive, upswept character lines. Being a 2-box, the side profile ends rather abruptly as opposed to other hatchbacks that seem to slope more at the back. This particular example of the Brio is the top spec variant which is why it rides on 14 inch alloy wheels with 175/65/R14 Michelin tires.
The dashboard of the Brio appears far more contoured and far more modern than most of its competitors in the entry level segment. Like the previous generation Jazz, the Brio's interior makes use of circles and curves all around with the A/C vents (they're the same louvers as the one in the previous Jazz/Fit), the round steering wheel, the A/C dials and the triple gauge cluster. Thought was clearly paid to shaping the dashboard to more modern standards instead of just generating a cheap, generic and featureless dash.
This top-of-the-line Brio variants comes with all sorts of convenience features such as power windows, power mirrors, a seat height adjuster, front foglamps, rear foglamps, steering wheel audio controls and a touchscreen 2-DIN audio system with satellite navigation. Based on the Honda Thailand website which also shows the same audio unit (on appearances), it appears that the Brio's head unit could also have a browser and Wi-Fi capabilities though we were unable to verify it on site. Mind you, they might change the head unit because the one on the Brio Amaze is different.
The front seats with the one-piece backrest are form-fitting and comfortable enough for a long drive. The rear seat is a bench that can be folded down (almost) flat to provide a large cargo space. With the rear seats up, there's some space in the back remaining for a few bags and backpacks. The spare is a full-size affair instead of a space saving donut tire, though Honda used a 14-inch steel rim instead of an alloy wheel.
Honda Brio Amaze: just add one trunk
Complementing the Brio hatchback is the Brio Amaze; a 4-door sedan version that is also offered in Thailand and India. The Amaze will be a key model in our market given that a good majority of Philippine car buyers are generally more inclined to have a trunk rather than a hatch.
Visually the Brio Amaze utilizes the same body and design, sans a few changes in terms of details. The chrome grill has two narrow bars instead of one wide bar in the hatch. The lower bumper has been fully color matched to the body as opposed to the flat black trim on the hatch. The wheel design is similar but ultimately different. Honda added another character line from the rear doors to to the edge of the taillights, forming a Z with the original line that extends from the fenders.
The most obvious difference is the addition of the trunk; if you're familiar with the Suzuki Swift DZire (against which the Amaze competes with in India), the execution of the trunk is rather similar as it is rather short and a bit chunky. Honda also extended the wheelbase of the Brio Amaze to 2405mm to minimize the rear overhang, thereby giving this sedan different but similar handling manners over the hatch.
The interior is virtually the same, save for the use of beige fabrics instead of the “sportier” black/gray hues used on the Brio hatchback. One major change is the audio head unit on this Amaze. Unlike the unit in the Brio, the one here appears to be from a different manufacturer (AVT, perhaps?) and has navigation. Also it appears that the steering wheel audio controls have been deleted.
Driving impressions with a twist
When we arrived for the preview drive of the Brio and Brio Amaze at Tagaytay Highlands, it was clear right then and there that the event will be different. Honda Cars Philippines not only brought the two new models to be driven but also tossed in a 2014 Mitsubishi Mirage G4 GLS CVT and a 2014 Toyota Wigo 1.0 E M/T as cars to benchmark the Brio and Brio Amaze against.
We were told that the drive route involved various round trips aboard the two new Hondas and the competitor cars so we can see and feel the difference between all the models there. This should be fun.
At the wheel of the Wigo and later on the Mirage G4, it was clear that both those cars feel out of their depth on this route from the Highlands to the Midlands and back. Both competitor models are comfortable in the city but a little challenged on these fast, sweeping corners. The three cylinder engines (1.2L in the Mirage and 1.0L in the Wigo) are also wanting for more power on the steep uphill climb at speed.
In contrast, both the Brio and Brio Amaze get 1.3-liter, four-cylinder i-VTEC engines, thereby eliminating the unbalanced nature of 3-cylinder engines. The L13Z1 i-VTEC motor makes 99 PS at 6000 rpm and 128 Newton-meters of torque at 4300 rpm, officially making the Brio 1.3L more powerful than the Wigo (1.0L), the Mirage (1.2L) and the larger Swift (1.4L).
On the uphill, the power of the Brio and Brio Amaze certainly come through. I wouldn't characterize it as quick when headed up a mountain, but both models that are equipped with 5-speed automatic are definitely quicker than the rest in this group.
On the downhill the Brio Amaze was very good, but the Brio hatchback was even better. Both cars were taut and confident in tackling the corners. The Hondas braked well, turned in with ease and the transmission responds quickly all throughout the exercise. What would be truly eye opening is seeing how the Brio would compare head to head against the current Suzuki Swift 1.4L as another benchmark car; if memory serves, we were very impressed with it back in 2011.
As for fuel economy, we honestly didn't test them as the route and timetable wouldn't allow it. As soon as we get our hands on the Brio and Brio Amaze for a full test drive, you'll be the first to read about it.
A strategy realigned
Honda Cars Philippines has big stakes riding on the arrival of the Brio and Brio Amaze.
If you've been keeping an eye on our monthly sales reports, there's no way to sugarcoat that Honda's numbers have been dropping. It's not a problem with regards to their models as all the cars in the line are being updated or changed all together such as the City, Jazz and Civic. It's doesn't seem to be a problem of lack of exposure or marketing because Honda has been very visible lately.
The numbers really appear to be a result of a revision of strategy, positioning and pricing. Honda has raised the game of their two subcompacts (if they can still be called that) so much that the price has become a bone of contention on the showroom floor particularly if there are choices out there like the Ford Fiesta, Toyota Vios, Mitsubishi Mirage, Toyota Wigo and even the Ford EcoSport among others, in the same price range. Perhaps the 2014 Honda Brio and Brio Amaze can address that.
Unfortunately, there are still no official numbers regarding the pricing of the Brio and Brio Amaze, but HCPI President and General Manager Toshio Kuwahara told AutoIndustriya.com that the Brio's entry level variant (which we presume will get a 5-speed M/T and a standard radio) will start at around the PhP 600,000 mark while the Brio Amaze will be slightly more.
Kuwahara-san did not give as an indicative range as to how much the top spec Brio and Brio Amaze will cost, but judging by the equipment, we expect them to be somewhere around (or possibly below) PhP 700,000.
We're still more than a month away from the 5th Philippine International Motor Show, but already we're excited about these two very important models to make their mark. Yes, Honda is taking a gamble with their new model stratification strategy to elevate the Jazz and City and bring in the Brio and Brio Amaze but based on our quick drive, it's a bet with a very good chance of paying off.
UPDATE: For the complete prices of the 2014 Honda Brio and Brio Amaze, click here.