Honda BR-V adds zest to entry level Crossover

By Lee Pang Seng

HONDA Malaysia’s strategy to make car ownership exciting and affordable is certainly making waves and inroads. Well on its way to achieving 100,000 car sales for the first time this year, we could relate to its ambitious goal after finally getting a drive impression in the BR-V.

Well, an earlier appointment didn’t go through so we had to wait after everyone was done. But that’s okay; at least we got to enjoy an all-rounded look at Honda’s model strategy. The BR-V is an entry-level proposal into Honda’s world of Crossovers and it couldn’t have come at a better time.

With the global swing in car buying taste towards SUVs (sport utility vehicles), of which the Crossover has branched out from, the BR-V meets the needs of the younger set who are looking for more mobile lifestyle space without burning a hole in the pocket. Okay, it costs more than the national brands but it’s not far out of reach.

As we own the Perodua Alza, our curiosity about the BR-V was all the more fired up even though one is an MPV and the other a Crossover. We feel, however, the design and functional approach are similar. After a few days, we could relate to the Honda character in the BR-V and all the features that it had to make living with it a lot more comfortable (the model we drove was the top V model).

That means it has more upmarket items as standard, including the Smart Entry with Push Start Button facility (our favourite simply because we don’t get to enjoy it in our Alza), leather upholstery, auto air-conditioning system, rearview camera (another item that we find very useful), electrical tailgate lock, 6.1-inch display audio, to name a few.

This also means that it costs more; just a tad over RM90,000 or RM90,010 to be precise on the road without insurance. The lower-spec BR-V E model at RM83,210 would have been a closer match to what we are used to in the Alza. Nevertheless, being a Honda gives the BR-V a step up the status ladder and that’s how we are going to base the review on.

As of now, the BR-V is the most affordable non-national Crossover and that has become its strongest selling point. With attractive loan terms, it is within the reach of the up-and-coming set who obviously subscribe to the lifestyle motoring quality that this Honda provides. For the moment, it has very few peers.

It is a seven-seater Crossover with the expected interior flexibility; entry to the third row is best done via the left side. Honda has designed the centre row seat on that side to fold away completely at the touch of the side lever. This is practical and a safety issue as that is the pedestrian side where getting in and out should be done.

The third row seatrests are equally split and foldable two ways; fold flat if you don’t need that much additional space or fold completely away for the 539 litres if you need more. For longer items, fold the 60:40 split second row seatrests and you are ready for some furniture shopping at Ikea. With all the seats up, there is sufficient space (223 litres) at the rear for a hamper and some light paraphernalia for a weekend outing somewhere with the family or friends.

This is despite the fact that the BR-V is quite compact being the entry-level Crossover model. It runs on a wheelbase of 2662mm, which is shorter than that of the Freed but good enough to give this Crossover good interior space. It is also not too heavy with a kerb weight of 1240kg for the V model and 1231kg for the cheaper E variant. That makes it lighter than the Freed and about the same weight as the previous Civic.

For power, Honda has its sufficiently strong and reliable 1.5-litre 16-valve SOHC (single overhead camshaft) i-VTEC engine. This is an undersquare engine with 73.0mm bore and 89.4mm stroke to displace 1497cc. The output is constant across all the power units that are used in the other Honda models such as the City and Jazz; 88kW (120PS) at 6600rpm and 145Nm at 4600rpm. The transmission is a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT).

Improvements were made in the electronic engineering of the CVT so that initial and passing acceleration would be comparable to that of an automatic transmission. There is that typical transmission roar (from the belt as it operates to shift the ‘gears’) when we stepped on the accelerator to pick up speed. Other than that, we are happy with its grittiness to pick up the pace and go.

It was easy getting up to the 110km/h cruising speed on the highway and had to keep our adrenalin in check as the BR-V would be just comfortable moving along at 140km/h and beyond. The engine speed is not high turning at about 2300rpm at 110km/h. If the tachometer needle is at 3000rpm and above, you had better smile for the speed camera.

We also did quite a bit of urban driving and covered more than 200km in all. The fuel tank needle was still above half tank, which suggests that the BR-V was rather frugal on petrol consumption. With the real-time fuel consumption indicator (reading in km per litre) on the instrument panel as a guide, we drove rather prudently most of the time, flooring the accelerator only to overtake and for a spot of high-speed driving.

The body profile is smoothened enough in the wind tunnel to curtail air turbulence reasonably well. You won’t hear much rustling around the door mirrors or the front roof section on the highway, and road noise is similarly nicely dampened. We did notice some dashboard rattle on the driver’s side though that curiously surfaced more during night driving.

Another characteristic typical to Honda cars, or at least the lower range, is the stiff damping for the suspension. The BR-V mirrors that of other Honda models at this level in suspension details being independently sprung all round with MacPherson struts in front and a torsion beam design at the rear.

The stiffer damping and sterner anti-roll bar made driving through winding roads fun as it was more dynamically in control as we pushed it some through the corners. The BR-V stayed quite flat at pretty good speeds and through fast sweepers. We also found the Electric Power Steering (EPS) giving us sufficient directional feedback to take confidently to our regular winding road routes.

In ride, the 195/60 R16 Bridgestone Ecopia tyres complement the suspension in providing a comfortable experience. However, when the road gets patchy and bumpy, the stiffer rating of the suspension system led to mild jolts. This appears to be a common trait to the respective Honda models at this level, which is bearable given the positives in a more confident dynamic quality.

As an entry-level Crossover, we found little to fault the BR-V for what it could offer. It has the smart good looks to bring out the lifestyle image. There is ample room to go to the beach with family or friends. The rear folks get sufficiently cooled with dedicated aircond vents for them. Its performance, dynamically and acceleration, is up to mark and you could stretch your fuel ringgit if you want to. And just as important, it’s affordable. Little wonder that the BR-V has become quite a hit since it showed up.

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