Honda BR-V: One to consider if size counts

As interesting as the monthly Naamsa sales figures are, they often paint a disappointing and even worrying picture for many manufactures wanting a slice of the local market pie.

In particular, it has been a struggle in recent times for Honda as the brand’s reliance on CVT transmissions and upmarket aspirations have resulted in it floundering, not helped by lofty sticker prices and even questionable styling traits.

Introduced in 2016, the BRV, and to some extent the HR-V, has proven to be the exception with respectable sales and often featuring in our 50 best vehicles lists. This is a fact made even surprising as the replacement for the rather forgettable Mobilio plays the multi-purpose vehicle (MPV) card despite Honda being adamant that it is in fact an SUV.

Now nearly three years down the line, the BR-V has remained completely untouched which, in essence, makes for a good thing when you take a closer look. Put simply, unlike the Brio on which it is based, the BR-V manages to eschew the MPV connotations somewhat thanks to its SUV-like chunky plastic cladding around the wheel arches and at the base of the doors, plus its silver front and rear skidplates and silver roof rails.

Despite the very vanilla White Orchid Pearl paint finish of our test car, the Indian-built BR-V with its combination of strong character lines, sweptback headlights with daytime running LEDs, sporty 16-inch alloy wheels and thick logo bar does at least rate as a bit of looker when compared to its fellow countryman, the recently updated Suzuki Ertiga.

Unfortunately, matters are less clear-cut inside where the BR-V’s interior appears comparatively outdated against that of the Ertiga and the Indonesian sourced Toyota Rush. While the combination of gloss-black surface and satin silver inlays do provide an upmarket feel, a sense of cheapness still lingers in the quality of some of the plastics, though this can be forgiven to an extent as the build quality feels solid.

The dated appearance, however, lies in the lack of a modern touchscreen infotainment system even on the top-spec Elegance tested here, especially as Honda does offer such a system in India.

As straightforward as the Bluetooth-enabled audio system is to use, it becomes truly irritating when wanting to pair to your smartphone as the process is decidedly frustrating which, admittedly, will improve with familiarisation. Once sorted out, the four-speaker audio system does at least provide an acceptable sound quality and also comes with USB and Aux inputs in addition to a single 12-volt socket.

Despite the spartan nature of the interior, equipment levels are decent and consist of volume controls on the steering wheel, an easy-to-use climate control system, electric windows all around, push-button start, electric mirrors, keyless entry, leather upholstery and ABS, but only dual front airbags.

It is, however, in the practicality stakes where the BR-V excels. In simple terms, it is huge and like the Ertiga, boasts seven seats, albeit with more space. While head and legroom in the second row will frankly draw few complaints, it is the third row that surprises. Gaining access is as simple as tugging the side-mounted lever that tips the 60/40 split middle row forward, which makes entry to the pair of individual rear chairs a breeze.

Depending on the position of the backrests of the second row, legroom in the third is surprisingly sufficient for small adults, although headroom will be a problem on longer journeys. That being said, the amount of space is still noteworthy and the amount of storage areas welcome, however, the quirky seat arrangement means that while the second row can be folded forward completely, the third row is hinged when titled, meaning there is no flat floor. Still, Honda claims a boot capacity of between 223 and 1 164 litres.

The biggest handicap of the BR-V, though, is its drivetrain. Although the high-revving nature of Honda’s VTEC engines are well-known, the 88kW/145Nm 1.5-litre petrol motor is strangled by an inequitably matched seven-step CVT that behaves erratically and become flustered when you need maximum power.

In spite of the box offering paddle shifters, it does the BR-V no justice and emits a typical CVT drone that becomes just as annoying as the lack of power low-down. The combination also resulted in a not particularly stellar best consumption figure of 7.5l/100km as Honda claims 6.2l/100km.

What makes this even more of a shame is that the BR-V rides rather well, no doubt as a result of its SUV-shaming 210mm of ground clearance and soft suspension.

A certain amount of praise has to go to the Honda BR-V at a time when vehicles of its kind are nowhere near where they once were. As spacious and not bad looking as it is, the bulking drivetrain and lack of features makes it pricey at R318 400. However, it does have the overall measure of the Ertiga and if you don’t mind rowing gears yourself, rather opt for the Elegance manual at R16 900 less.

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