Hondas have never really figured on the shopping lists of South African budget-car buyers, what with a baseline 1.3-litre Jazz these days selling for more than R160 000.
But the new Honda Brio mini hatchback, with a starting price of R119 800 for the manual (R10 000 more for the automatic) suddenly jumps on to the radars of matric pupils bugging their parents for a set of wheels to go with their newly acquired drivers’ licences.
With the average Honda buyer aged 55, this is new territory for the brand.
There’s no shortage of like-priced cars already wrestling for market share in the overcrowded sub-compact hatchback cot, but the Brio’s edge is Honda’s gold-plated reputation for quality and customer care.
Whether the car measures up to the reputation, my answer is a mixed yes and no after spending a week with the Brio 1.2 Comfort manual.
CUTE ENOUGH TO EAT
The dashing little car certainly has the style to attract the young ’uns and looks just about cute enough to eat. And though it looks almost small enough to fit into the boot of a Honda CR-V, the Brio is surprisingly roomy inside, with more than adequate legroom and head-room for four adults.
However, this comes at the cost of a tiny 161-litre boot that seems barely big enough for a couple of tog bags, but the rear seat folds down in one piece to expand the cargo hold if necessary.
The cabin environment is a bit of a letdown, and a bit of a giveaway that the Brio is built in India for “emerging markets”. The rather cheap-looking dashboard plastics don’t radiate the quality we’ve come to expect from Honda, and the badly fitting glove-compartment lid looks like it was poached from another car.
Harsh criticism for a vehicle in this segment, you might argue, but price rivals such as the Hyundai i10 and Kia Picanto have classier-looking cockpits.
BELL AND WHISTLES
The cheapish-looking interior won’t necessarily scare off the Brio’s young target market, who will probably be more interested in the number of bells and whistles, and these the entry-level Honda has in good supply.
The Brio 1.2 Comfort comes standard with niceties such as power windows (front and rear), power steering, remote central locking, aircon, and a nice-sounding audio system with the all-important aux/USB interfaces and steering-wheel controls.
Looking after the safety aspect are dual front airbags and ABS brakes.
The lack of a rear windscreen defroster or wiper shows evidence of cost-cutting, however, as do the steel wheels with plastic hubcaps.
On the road the little Honda is reasonably refined.
The engine chortles away audibly but not unpleasantly, while wind and road noise are relatively unintrusive.
The 1.2-litre 16-valve petrol engine with i-VTEC valve-timing technology has credible outputs of 65kW and 109Nm. That, according to Honda, is enough to get the manual version to 100km/h in 12.2 seconds at sea level (14.7 seconds for the auto). At Gauteng altitude add another couple of seconds to those times.
The car feels nippy and reasonably powered around town, but the 1200cc engine doesn’t have much vooma on the open road, and downshifts are necessary to keep it on the boil, especially when the power-sapping aircon is running. The gearshifts feel relatively light and easy, if not as slick as some of Honda’s more upmarket cars.
REVVING THE SOCKS OFF IT
Fuel consumption is a claimed 5.6 litres/100km and that’s possible if you drive ultra-conservatively, but in reality you’re often revving the socks off it to keep it in the traffic flow, and our test car returned 7.1 litres per 100km. An “Eco” sign lights up on the instrument panel to indicate when you’re driving with a fuel-friendly foot.
The ride’s slightly choppy, as expected from a short-wheelbase car, but the overall bump-soaking ability is good, and I drove longer distances without discomfort or fatigue. Not much handling ability is called for with such limited power, but the Brio feels nippy around corners and scampers through busy traffic like a hamster on Red Bull.
By far my favourite feature of the Brio is how easy it is to park. Its Noddy-car size and aquarium-sized windows take all the stress out of guiding it into a bay – something driving newcomers will especially appreciate.
Although in places it has the feel of an “emerging markets” car, the Brio does most things right, and is an ideal first car for students who might not be too fazed by the plasticky interior and tiny boot.
They’ll like its cute styling and decent array of comfort and safety features, with the clincher being Honda’s reputation for reliability and good after-sales support.
The standard two-year or 30 000km service plan is also a bonus. - Star Motoring