By: Jason Woosey

Honda is getting in on the sub-R300 000 crossover action with its new BR-V and not only does this new contender have a price advantage over the likes of Ford’s EcoSport and Renault’s Captur, its price range of R238 900 to R288 300 undercutting those rivals by around R10 000 on average, but it also has something that will appeal to many a family buyer out there - two extra seats.

MPV in a bush suit

The arrival of the BR-V also coincides with the local discontinuation of the Mobilo MPV and although it’s not intended as a replacement, the new crossover does share its platform and basic seating layout with the dearly departed minivan so could fill its shoes to some degree. The BR-V is even bigger than the more expensive Honda HR-V, in length at least as it is slightly narrower, and it has clearly been designed from the inside out.

This means the BR-V doesn’t look quite as sporty as its crossover sibling, and the wheel-arches – housing 16-inch wheels across the range – appear small by SUV standards. Yet within the constraints of packing such a big interior onto a small frame, stylists have done a reasonable job of bush-dressing this new contender.

But is it really all that practical?

We spent the past week with the new crossover and made a point of playing with the seating configurations so let’s step inside. To get to the third row you have to fold and tumble one of the middle-row seats, which is a simple enough operation but not quite as quick and easy as the pull and slide function that other vehicles offer. Those in the back row also sit quite low and if you’re of adult proportions you’ll have your knees slightly in the air. At this point it would be a good idea to persuade those in the middle row to move their seats forward as there is a sliding function on all but the base Trend model. Those in the split middle row can also recline their seats if they want to take a snooze on longer journeys.

As you’d expect with the more compact seven-seaters, there isn’t a lot of boot space when all the chairs are in place – Honda claims a 223 litre capacity in this instance but realistically you’re not going to squeeze in more than a row of shopping or a few tog bags. If you’re not transporting seven, you can tumble the third row forward for a roomy 691 litre boot. Unfortunately Honda says towing is not permitted with this vehicle.

Smarter cockpit design

Upfront the BR-V is set apart from its Mobilio and Brio platform-partners by a redesigned and smarter-looking dashboard with an eye-pleasing design inspired by the latest Civic, although the abundance of hard plastics mean it’s still no match for the latter when it comes to perceived quality.

As for features, Honda covers most of the bases with three trim grades. Trend kicks off the range, offering the basics like aircon, electric windows, remote central locking and a four-speaker audio system with USB and Bluetooth connectivity. The Comfort model we had on test forms the middle of the range and adds automatic climate control with rear ventilation, height-adjustable driver's seat, sliding second-row seats, electric mirrors, 16-inch alloys and a two-year / 30 000km service plan. Opt for the range-topping Elegance and you also get leather-upholstered seats and steering wheel as well as keyless (push-button) start. Key safety features across the range are dual front airbags and ABS brakes; curtain airbags and traction control are not fitted to any.

Could use a bit more oomph at altitude

There’s only one engine available, driving the front wheels in all cases, and that’s none other than Honda’s familiar normally-aspirated 1.5-litre single overhead cam petrol unit, rated at 88kW and 145Nm. This can be mated to either a six-speed manual or continuously variable CVT gearbox, the latter featuring flappy paddles that allow you to shift between 'virtual' ratios.

Our test car was a manual and the ‘box had an entertainingly short throw and generally smooth operation. The engine feels adequately powered in town and cruises pleasantly on the highway, although it does need to be worked on the uphill sections.

Like the Mobilio and Brio, the BR-V is sourced from India and, almost by default, it offers a comfortable ride quality on account of it being designed to cope with treacherous roads. Its ground clearance of 210mm is also on the generous side for a compact crossover.

VERDICT

Given the comfort, value and practicality it offers, the BR-V is a compelling choice in the growing compact SUV market and deserves to sell in droves.

FACTS

Honda BR-V 1.5 Comfort

Engine: 1.5-litre, 4-cylinder petrol

Gearbox: 6-speed manual

Power: 88kW @ 6600rpm

Torque: 145Nm @ 4600rpm

Price: R252 900

Warranty: 5-year / 200 000km

Service plan: 2-year / 30 000km

ALTERNATIVES

Crossover:

Ford EcoSport 1.5 Ambiente - 82kW/138Nm - R247 900

Mazda CX-3 2.0 Active - 115kW/204Nm - R277 800

Renault Captur 0.9T Expression - 66kW/135Nm - R249 900

Suzuki Vitara 1.6 GL - 86kW/151Nm - R261 900

Compact MPV

Suzuki Ertiga 1.5 GL - 70kW/130Nm - R215 900

Toyota Avanza 1.5 SX - 77kW/137Nm - R238 700

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