Ryan Bubear road-tests the new Honda Brio 1.2 i-VTEC Comfort manual...
"All that great engineering and F1 heritage, completely wasted on the average buyer who is still one hundred and eleventy."
Yes, at the risk of losing all credibility, I just kicked off a car review with a quote from Jeremy Clarkson. But, despite the controversial Top Gear presenter's trademark exaggeration and penchant for making up new numbers, he does have a point...
Over the years, Honda has gained a reputation for catering to the needs of the, um, "older" generation. With the exception of the odd stonking Type R model, the no-longer-in-production S2000, and perhaps one or two others, the majority of Hondas have tended to appeal more to the "blue rinse brigade" and bald blokes well past their mid-life crises than to that highly varied bunch lazily labelled "the youth".
Budget-beating city car
So, what is the simplest way to access this lucrative part of the market? That's right, launch an entry-level, budget-beating city car. And that's exactly what Honda has done with the Brio — a subcompact hatchback built in India for the "emerging markets".
Pre-Brio, Honda's cheapest vehicle locally was the bare-bones 1.3-litre Jazz, priced at a smidgen under R160k. But the Brio — Honda's first A-segment effort in South Africa — comes in at an enticing R119 800 for the manual and R129 800 for the auto. Refreshingly, Honda SA has opted to keep things simple, offering just the one engine, just the one trim level, and the choice of manual gearbox or self-shifter.
Like its competitors — think Picanto, Spark, i10, Aygo, C1, etc. — the Brio is tiny. And at such a compact size (it's just 3.6m-long), it's difficult to come across as anything other than cute. With its stubby bonnet, oversized Honda badge and wide chrome-effect grille trim, the Brio is certainly charmingly uncluttered from the front. Round the back, quirky triangular light clusters and an almost vertical rear screen help to give it a distinctive appearance in what is an overcrowded segment.
i-VTEC in a small package
Under that short bonnet lives a peppy 1.2-litre i-VTEC four-cylinder petrol engine, which makes the Brio one of the more powerful vehicles in its class. Sure, 65kW and 109Nm may not seem earth-shattering, but when compared to the output of its competitors — some of which make use of 1.0-litre three-cylinders — and considering that the Brio weighs less than 1000kg, it's plenty. In fact, Honda reckons it's enough to see the manual version hit three figures in 12.2 seconds.
It's this manual cog-swapper that we had on test. We managed to return a fuel consumption figure of 6.3 litres per 100km (or 15.7km per litre, in the trip computer's preferred language), which isn't all that far off the claimed 5.6 litres per 100km. Peak power announces itself at 6000rpm, so the engine does its best work pretty high in the rev range, but it's also perfectly happy pottering around at city speeds.
Of course, the city is exactly where the Brio thrives, thanks to its tiny turning circle, compact dimensions and feather-light steering. The five-speed 'box — with its endearing "golf-ball" gearknob — also requires very little effort to use. The ride is reasonably pliant and the Brio isn't averse to being chucked around corners either.
Inside, Honda has bizarrely opted to go the beige route (seats, headlining, and door trim), which comes across as a little, well, '80s. The seats themselves — almost bucket-like with their integrated headrests — are very comfortable, but are susceptible to getting rather grubby, rather quickly. Barring the colour scheme (our test model added a splash of chocolate brown trim to the black and beige ensemble), the cabin is simple yet modern, with a large three-clock instrument panel, multifunctional steering wheel, and gloss-black audio controls catching the eye. As is the trend nowadays, the four-speaker radio/MP3 sound system lacks a CD player but includes USB and auxiliary ports.
Space up front is appreciable considering the Brio's exterior dimensions, but despite having five doors and being billed as a five-seater, three average-sized humans shoehorned onto the rear bench wouldn't make for a pleasant journey. Head-room back there is a little limited for those over six-foot too, but this is an A-segment offering after all. The boot — accessed through the all-glass tailgate — is also tiny, holding just 161 litres. Thankfully though, this can be boosted to a far-more-useful 519 litres by simply dropping the back seats flat.
As mentioned earlier, there is only one specification level. But it is a rather generous one for this class. Electric front and rear windows (with auto down for the driver), electric side mirrors, air-conditioning, remote central locking, immobiliser, audio system, height-adjustable headlights, tilt-adjustable steering, ABS, EBD, and dual SRS front airbags are all standard. Also, an admittedly short but equally rare (for this segment) service plan — two years or 30 000km — is included alongside the three-year or 100 000km warranty.
The Brio's comparatively strong engine, ample specification level and appealing price-tag — as well as Honda's reputation for reliability — make this entry-level offering quite tempting. It's unlikely to worry the likes of the larger Polo Vivo, Etios or Figo, but it certainly will pull a few sales from its more compact opponents.
In the Japanese manufacturer's own stable, the Brio has the potential to outsell the Civic, the Ballade and even the Jazz to become Honda SA's bread-and-butter model — and its long-awaited gateway to the all-important youth market.
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Click through to page 2 for specs and pricing.