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New Brio hatch brings youth to Honda

By: Jason Woosey

Honda makes no secret of where it's pitching this plucky little hatchback.

Arriving at the trendy launch venue in Newtown, Johannesburg, I was greeted by the familiar Honda team, but for this occasion they'd ditched the usual smart suits for hip T-shirts, black jeans and white sneakers. Even the Brio information pack had the words "more reliable than your taste in music" boldly emblazoned across the cover.

This is the car that Honda hopes will put it in touch with the youth, something it desperately needs considering that the average Honda buyer is 55 years old.

It makes a lot of sense, because if Honda can hook 'em when they're young, they should be more inclined to pick Honda's bigger and more profitable products as they climb the age and career ladders.

Not that the Brio competes at the very pits of the new vehicle price range, but at R119 800 for the 1.2 Comfort manual and R129 800 for the automatic, it costs marginally more than the similarly-kitted Hyundai i10 and slightly less than the better-equipped Kia Picanto 1.2.

IT’S GOT THE GOODS

It's unlikely that the target market is going to cry for more toys once settling into the Brio - it has air conditioning, a USB/Aux/MP3 audio system linked to controls on the height-adjustable steering wheel, remote central locking, electric windows and mirrors, dual airbags and ABS brakes. The standard 2-year/30 000km service plan is another rare bonus at this price level.

Interior build quality is impressive in the sense that all the bits and pieces feel durable and well bolted together, but most of the surfaces are from the shiny and grainy end of the parts bin and the beige seats are not only vulnerable to grubbiness but they also, to some extent, look like they were designed to complement your grand mother's doily set.

No fret, at least the designers got space efficiency down to a tee as the cabin is spacious enough to seat four adults in comfort, and squeeze five if need be. Rear legroom is very generous and headroom is good enough providing you don't place your head too far back.

On that note, rear passengers might feel a little vulnerable in the back, given how close they are to the tailgate and this slim C-pillar design also makes the car look a little ungainly from the back and limits the boot space to a skimpy 161 litres - which should at least facilitate most shopping sprees. The back seats do fold forward, thankfully.

Short it may be but the Brio is a bit wider than its tiny tot rivals and this not only lends it a more planted look, but also gives it a solid and stable footing on the road.

TUNED FOR COMFORT

That said, the suspension of this Indian-built hatchback is tuned for a comfortable ride and that's exactly what it delivers. It's a little bouncy at times, but it soaks up the ruts, ripples and speed humps with cosseting ease.

This comfort factor extends to the driving experience. The gearshift mechanism has that typically Honda combination of firmness and smoothness but unlike the brand's bigger products the steering is extremely light and perfectly suited to city driving. It doesn't really talk to the driver, but I doubt the target market really listens in any case.

Performance is effortless too, thanks to its 1.2-litre 16-valve petrol engine with the latest i-VTEC valve-timing technology and credible outputs of 65kW at 6000rpm and 109Nm at 4500rpm. That, according to Honda's claims, is enough to get it to 100km/h in 12.2 seconds at sea level (and 14.7 seconds in the case of the five-speed auto).

Talking of claims, the respective combined fuel consumption figures are listed at 5.6 and 6.3 litres per 100km.

Our suburban launch route proved that the Brio is not going to transform you into that slow lane plonker.

Though being a little sluggish at the bottom of the rev range, it does have a good set of gear ratios for town and some impressive mid-range twisting force - it got up a steep hill in third gear. Rev the guts out of it and in typical VTEC fashion it'll push you along quite rapidly.

Weighing up the good and bad, the new Brio is not necessarily an instant class leader and its relatively fussy styling is unlikely to draw the same universal praise that the latest Kia Picanto's design garnered, yet the little car has enough strong points to achieve exactly what Honda set out to do.

It's sure to put the brand on the shopping lists of younger folk seeking affordable wheels that won't relegate them to the slow lane.

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