Almost a year has passed since we drove the Honda BR-V, albeit in prototype form, in Japan. Toshio Kuwahara, president of Honda Cars Philippines, told the media that their latest crossover will make it to Philippine shores by the third quarter of 2016. Fast forward eleven months later and we're here in Tagaytay Highlands for a quick spin of the new BR-V, now in official trim.
For those unfamiliar with the name, the BR-V is an all new nameplate and is positioned as Honda Cars Philippines' entry-level crossover SUV, slotting in under the HR-V, the CR-V, and the Pilot. Unlike the HR-V, the BR-V is intended to be a 7-seater, and shares much of its architecture with the Mobilio; a model that has proved to be quite a hit with our market. The BR-V aims to do the same, albeit with more ride height.
Quite a few differences from the prototype in Japan and the production version we have here. Inside, the BR-V now gets buttons on the steering wheel and it now receives Honda's signature touchscreen which houses vehicle information and entertainment options. Also different is the shifter which is unique to this model.
Apart from these rather minor differences, it's mostly the same as the prototype driven last year. It is worth noting that the interior is different from the car it's based on, the Mobilio. It gets a more upscale dash, seemingly lifted from the Jazz. Owners of the Honda Civic FD might note that the steering wheel looks familiar as it does look the same from that particular model year of the Civic. I applaud Honda for differentiating this car from the Mobilio with its interior.
Another thing the BR-V inherited from the Mobilio is its practicality. It retains its seven seat accomodations and now has thicker bolstered seats. I say the seats boost the cabin ambiance a little more. Room for the first two rows are good, owing to Honda's excellent packaging in most of its offerings. As for third row space, it's only good for those below 5'5”.
On the outside, it's also the same as the prototype with its cladding on the lower half of the car and its chunky roof rails. As Honda markets this as an SUV, the gain in ride height is perhaps no surprise. Honda made a great deal of effort in separating it from the Mobilio, giving it its own exterior design.
While the general shape is retained, Honda beefed up the BR-V's looks with a clamshell hood, more angular headlight treatment and a distinct creast on each corner of the bumper. The rear is also unique with a rather funky tail light treatment. It composes of two large units connected by a single red strip and, at the center, the Honda badge. The license place holder meanwhile is moved down and giving it a more 'SUV' look is a faux skid plate for the rear bumper. Perhaps a nod to the Mobilio, the BR-V also features a kicked down window line at the second row.
Under the hood of the BR-V is the familiar 1.5 liter i-VTEC L15 mill that powers the Mobilio, City and Jazz. It puts out 120 PS and 145 Nm of torque, exactly the same in other Honda applications. It does have dual overhead cams so maybe it delivers its punch a little earlier. A quick drive is in order to find out then.
Behind the wheel, it feels different from the Mobilio. The driveline is noticably quieter when compared to its MPV sibling with less vibrations being transmitted to the footwell. The latest CVT from Honda also allows it to engine drag (also know as engine braking) at Highland's sleep roads when going downhill. Steering is typical of electronic power steering systems, light at low speeds and gains weight once you pick up the pace. I do have to note that the steering wheel was rather nice to touch and stays grippy in your hands.
To fully test the capabilities of the BR-V, Honda fully loaded the crossover with seven people. With the extra weight on board, the BR-V still felt stable on winding roads, even as we gained speed downhill. The brakes were good too, stopping straight and unfazed by the extra kilograms on all rows of seats.
We dropped off our passengers by the go-kart track to explore the BR-V's powertrain on a more level surface. Unladen, the BR-V gains momentum with enough zip, typical of Honda's 1.5 liter mill. There was a bit more response coming from this engine when compared to the Mobilio, perhaps owing to being a DOHC instead of an SOHC. We also tried out its hill-hold assist system which did the job even with a steep slope.
After testing performance on relatively flat ground, we turned around and picked up our extra set of passengers to test the BR-V's pulling power uphill. It seems like a daunting task for a 1.5 liter engine to carry seven people up a hill but the BR-V's continuously variable transmission adjusted itself to the conditions. I maintained 50 km/h going up the steep hill and, CVT drone aside, it was able to maintain speed consistently, revving at around 3,000 RPM as it pulled us up the mountain road. While it doesn't pull you up the hill like a turbodiesel, the powertrain combo was adequate at best. When the road leveled out, the revs dropped and the BR-V goes back to being a relatively quiet cruiser. We pulled into the driveway and that pretty much summed up the quick spin.
It was a quick drive of Honda's latest baby but the day wasn't over just yet. Honda also brought out their other crossovers to highlight each one's various capabilities on and off road.
After the BR-V, I tried out the Honda Pilot and took on a makeshift off-road course prepped by the Ramirezes. On the road, the Pilot rode soft and floated its way on corners. In fairness to the Pilot, it can hustle through the corners decently but it's no canyon carver. Still, it inspired enough confidence to take on the twisties. Despite the Pilot's size, it wasn't daunting to drive at all.
Off-roading the Pilot was a different matter. The sheer size of the crossover makes you more cautious off the beaten path. We first tried out one of the Pilot's four off-road modes: Mud. In Mud, the throttle response is less aggressive to prevent you from bogging down and sinking into the soil. The Pilot's suspension also eliminated the sliding sensation when driving on low traction surfaces and crawled out of the mud with ease. It was back to normal mode for the rest of the makeshift trail and, in fairness to the Pilot, it can do a decent amount of off-roading despite the minivan underpinnings.
After the Pilot, it was into the CR-V for yet another off-road session. It had a more basic all-wheel drive system, only engaging the rear wheels when the fronts are slipping. I expected the CR-V to struggle but its size made me a little more confident maneuvering it around the course. Normally, these sort of vehicle's most challenging obstacle would by a sandy or muddy car park but it's nice to know Honda's crossovers can take on the rough stuff when needed.
It was back on solid pavement when we got to the HR-V and it's still a good car to drive. It still feels nippy and car-like to handle. A crossover for the spirited driver? Perhaps, but driving the HR-V again was a refreshing experience. After all, we were impressed by it when we reviewed it.
Right now, Honda's crossover lineup offers a car for everyone from compact to large. It's also good that Honda is realizing the importance of seven seats in the Philippine setting in a more reachable price bracket. With the BR-V, it's safe to say that Honda's putting its foot down in the crossover segment and have no plans of slowing down.