Is the Honda BR-V the new family SUV?

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The group takes a break somewhere in Aurora.

The group takes a break somewhere in Aurora.

Photos by Tessa R. Salazar

Embedded in that eye-popping Inquirer Motoring report last week revealing the local auto industry enjoying an all-time-high annual vehicle sales of 417,356 is the undeniable trend that light commercial vehicles (LCVs) have become the preferred ride of choice of a majority of Filipino motorists.

LCVs, which include SUVs, MPVs, minivans, and pickup trucks, cornered over 60 percent of the market in both reports of the Chamber of Automotive Manufacturers of the Philippines Inc. (Campi) and the Association of Vehicle Importers and Distributors (Avid).

The reasons Pinoys gravitate more to LCVs/SUVs in particular are quite straightforward, and these include looks, versatility, power, adaptability, and suitability of the vehicles to existing road and environmental conditions.

The choices of SUVs nowadays are as varied as the colors of the rainbow, and they all satisfy specific needs (or wants) and purchasing powers.

That’s why when a car manufacturer intends to join the crowded SUV fray by creating its own subcategory (or do we call it suv-category), it’s going to be either a hit-or-miss affair.

With the introduction of the all-new BR-V, Japanese manufacturer Honda and its automobile unit in the Philippines Honda Cars Philippines Inc. have boldly risked a couple of moves (perhaps that’s why it’s called the Bold Runabout Vehicle): putting in a sixth and seventh seat in a compact SUV, then dropping the entry-level price south of the million-peso mark.

Will these two moves pay off in the long run? The Filipino motorist will be the judge of that.

In the meantime, for two days last week, 19 motoring media participants were given the opportunity to be behind the wheels—and in the three seating rows—of six units of the 1.5V Navi and 1.5S variants of its most affordable seven-seater SUV.

The 490-kilometer drive spanning Cauayan in Isabela province to Baler in Aurora province, then to Bonifacio Global City in Taguig City, was supervised by the legendary Ramirez family of Philippine motorsports lore.

The drive was a mix of winding, uphill and downhill mountain passes with tight turns and unpredictable road conditions that showed how the BR-V performed in terms of power, comfort, versatility, interior space, drivability, and safety.

Not as large as the billboards

My first impression of the BR-V was that this SUV wasn’t as bulky as its huge billboards and print ads depicted it to be. And that’s a good thing, because this means that this SUV could fit in snugly in our narrow two-lane provincial highways or in tight city parking spaces.

The width and height gave just the right feeling of stability during swift cornering.

The BR-V is equipped with enough safety features, such as vehicle stability assist, hill start assist, driver and front passenger airbags, Isofix child seat anchors, and three-point seatbelts for all passengers, even for the middle passenger in the second row.

Compared to Honda’s seven-seater MPV Mobilio, the BR-V is longer, wider, and has a higher ground clearance, and is said to be designed for the Philippine and other Asian road conditions such as Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and India.

The BR-V and the Mobilio have different target customers and price points, as the former starts at P989,000, while the latter goes for as low as P822,000.

Negotiating turns at Dissimungal, Nagtipunan in Quirino province

Negotiating turns at Dissimungal, Nagtipunan in Quirino province

With already 2,000 reservations and 700 units sold this early into the sales campaign, it does seem that the BR-V has hit all the right notes in the Philippines.

Getting the price down to six figures certainly hasn’t hurt, as HCPI stated that “Before, Filipino customers had to pay over P1.3 million for a seven-seater SUV.”

Small engine, enough power

Although the media group didn’t get to test how the BR-V would feel and perform when loaded with all seven passengers and cargo, BR-V chief engineer Atsushi Arisaka, who joined the group for the ride, attested to the spaciousness and engine power of the compact SUV, what with the additional 223 liters of cargo space on the third row to fit luggage and cargo, and multiple seat configurations.

The competitive intersection of price and power is a 1.5-liter engine.

The competitive intersection of price and power is a 1.5-liter engine.

For the entire run, I found the BR-V’s engine performance more than sufficient, considering that it’s powered “only” by a 1.5-liter gasoline engine mated to a CVT system.

Save for some episodes of high-revving during steep ascents, I found that optimizing power output via the CVT could be achieved by “playing” my foot on the gas pedals.

Honda engineers did confirm that the CVT does respond well to slight pedal inputs in order to get the desired power.

During the engineering and development of the BR-V, Honda realized that the perfect “match” of competitive price and power would require a 1.5-liter engine.

Not bad for a mountaineer and city slicker: 11 km to the liter

Not bad for a mountaineer and city slicker: 11 km to the liter

But there’s always that possibility to go for more “oomph.”

When I asked Honda if it would consider offering a turbocharged variant, just like what it did with the Civic RS, the answer was, it would depend on the market demand and need.

Flood-proof

The relatively high 201-mm ground clearance would be enough to drive over unpaved roads.

A quick glance below the hood and in the engine bay reveals that the air intake duct, as well as the electrical lines, are placed higher, which would make deeper water wading quite safe.

Arisaka also pointed to other design inputs that would make the BR-V suitable for weather extremes: larger tires, functional roof rails, revised suspension geometry, increased body rigidity through changes in the front subframe underload pass, side sill body structure, and C-pillar reinforcement.

Interior

The BR-V interior makes you feel instantly right at home, with easy-to-understand instrument panels (no distractions) and GPS (for the Navi variant).

One letdown, though, is the absence of the driver’s seat height adjustment, which made me see less of the road and the breathtaking views of the mountains when it was my turn to drive.

Boldly crossing over to the affordable compact SUV segment

Boldly crossing over to the affordable compact SUV segment

But I appreciated the separate aircon vents for rear passengers.

If given a choice, I’d take the fabric interior of the 1.5S variant over the leather seats of the higher-end 1.5V Navi everytime. Why? Because fabric doesn’t retain heat as much as leather when exposed to the sun, and fabric is more environment-friendly and cruelty-free (no animals skinned for their hides).

City drive, fuel consumption

On the way back to BGC the second day, the BR-V blended well in Manila traffic—not eating up more road space than necessary, and its efficient 1.5-liter engine was a frugal fuel-sipper during idling time.

Our unit still got 11 km to the liter along the congested stretches on Edsa. We could hear some tire noise penetrating the cabin during some high-speed stretches of the North Luzon Expressway, but some argued that it must have been due to the quality of the road surface, because there were also some stretches when the tires ran quieter.

Verdict

In the two days we drove and rode the BR-V, this much is clear: it rides like a sedan, and is as stable on the twisties as a sedan.

Brief stop at Ditawini, Dinalungan, in Aurora province

Brief stop at Ditawini, Dinalungan, in Aurora province

Its small engine and CVT tranny guarantees that you’ll get the most bang for the gas buck.

Its price, obviously, is virtually impossible to resist. I heartily recommend it… for your test drive consideration.

Go to your nearest Honda dealership, and bring six more people with you—the persons who would most likely go along with you most frequently during your trips, be they your family members, officemates, friends, teammates, or carpool mates.

Slowing down in a town in Quirino province

Slowing down in a town in Quirino province

They should also have a say on this matter. Unit price is also just half of the purchase story. Do the math. Find out how much you’ll be spending for the unit after you’ve paid for it—and these costs include maintenance and parts.

Ask the dealership to explain fully its “low-maintenance, two-visits-a-year only” claim.

The hondaphil.com website claims that its vehicles have one of the lowest maintenance costs in the market today, requiring preventive maintenance only every six months or 10,000 km.



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