Honda has been on a roll lately. The brand’s new rash of crossovers and MPVs is bringing new customers through the doors in droves. The new Asian-market BR-V and the global HR-V, in particular, present a unique dual-pronged attack on the subcompact-crossover market.
At first blush, the Honda BR-V looks remarkably like the Mobilio it is based on, down to the stepped beltline, albeit with extra black side cladding. But a slightly longer wheelbase, a 210mm ride height, fatter tires, and sexier styling make all the difference in the world to crossover-crazy buyers.
Thin seatbacks and wide doors provide for a spacious interior. While the cabin is on the narrow side, there’s lots of legroom in the first two rows, and the tall roof as well as the reclining seatback means even our gangly test drive editor fits in the third row. At least for short trips.
Seated behind the wheel, you appreciate the work that has gone into differentiating the BR-V from the Mobilio. Aside from the cheap-looking (but effective) ceiling vents, the interior looks much like that of the higher-class City. Indeed, the BR-V drives much like the Honda sedan, with the same light touch, effortless CVT, and confident body control. Unfortunately, the low seat point and the lack of height adjustment leave you wondering if this isn’t indeed a City in disguise. Toyota Avanza drivers literally look down upon you as you pass each other on the street.
Thankfully, Honda isn’t kidding about that ground clearance. The BR-V takes in stride tall humps and steep parking ramps that would catch out a sedan. Despite the ride height, the revised dampers and suspension vis-à-vis the Mobilio give it a lot of mechanical grip. The only dings on its backroads performance are the grabby rear drum brakes (capable, but hard to modulate) and the lack of rear suspension travel—odd for a car with this much ground clearance.
Yes, crossover-ish aspirations notwithstanding, the BR-V is clearly not meant to go far beyond your typical half-developed farm road. But for the daily grind, it’s perfect. A narrow width and good sightlines ensure that threading through traffic is a breeze.
Both S and V variants come with the 1.5-liter engine and the CVT from the City, with Sport and Low modes to make up for the lack of paddle shifters. Despite the heavier body, both deal with even the steepest of climbs with no issue. The most you could ask for is a little more engine braking from the CVT in Low mode for hill descents.
While lacking the HR-V’s pull in high revs, even in Sport mode, the BR-V feels just as quick through traffic, and pips the HR-V by about 1km/L in urban economy. On the highway and with a full load, it returns an impressive 20-22km/L at 80kph.
And price. Starting at under P1 million, the BR-V offers a lot of space, utility and style for the money. Not surprising, then, that buyers just can’t get enough of it.
SPECS: HONDA BR-V 1.5 S CVT
Engine: 1.5-liter SOHC I4
Power: 118hp @ 6,600rpm
Torque: 145Nm @ 4,600rpm
Transmission: continuously variable
UP NEXT: Honda HR-V 1.8 EL CVT
The new HR-V certainly looks the part of the comeback kid. Dramatically styled, with slashing flanks and a wide stance, it is perhaps the sexiest five-door in Honda’s local lineup. While based on the Jazz/City platform, it boasts a wheelbase that’s just a hair shorter than the CR-V’s, which yields excellent rear legroom.
Unfortunately, that swooping roofline takes a toll on rear headroom compared to the Jazz. The extra width, on the other hand, pays dividends in terms of elbow room in the second row. And thanks to the same ULT folding seats as the Jazz, cargo capacity is cavernous.
The front row is dominated by a double-tiered console that puts the shifter closer to your hand and provides extra-deep cupholders to lose change and small items in. The lower tier allows you to keep gadgets plugged in and away from prying eyes.
Interior quality is a definite step above the BR-V on this leatherette-clad EL variant, but the base E, which is a fairer comparison, gets fabric seats and large swathes of easily soiled dark fabric on the doors. Both variants get the same HDMI-capable touchscreen infotainment system. Where the BR-V simply gives you different equalizer presets, the HR-V’s adjustability is slightly superior. And even the E variant gets a rear camera.
That said, Bluetooth sync is a bit difficult, and the sound isn’t quite as crisp as I’d like. And neither of these cars come with navigation as standard, though it is offered on the top-of-the-line Mobilio. What you do get with the HR-V, however, is the sense that you’re buying a better-engineered product. Panel fit feels better. The doors close with more authority. The steering feels firmer as well.
While handling initially feels a bit dull versus the BR-V, barrel through a corner at speed and the balance feels keener, more adjustable. The brakes are stronger and easier to modulate. And that 1.8-liter engine really starts to sing at higher revs. Sadly, the motor feels a bit soft at the top of its range, leaving the HR-V feeling underpowered in relation to the depths of its talents. Hopefully, a turbo 1.5-liter isn’t too far in the future for this one.
In more pedestrian use, the car returns a decent 7-9km/L—halfway between the CR-V and the BR-V—in urban traffic. Thanks to the tall final drive of the CVT, revs stay well below 2,000rpm at a cruise. This allows for 20km/L on the highway, but it feels like much more of a chore getting there than in the BR-V. This might be down to the extra-wide 215/55 R17 Dunlop Sport Maxx tires, which also judder quite a bit over rough roads.
It’s a small price to pay for the HR-V’s sexy stance and sporty handling. You could go one better by upgrading to the Mugen package with its extra cladding and 18in wheels, but at P1.5 million, that’s perhaps a hurdle too far for Honda’s tween-sized tall hatch. At the P1.25 million to P1.35 million range, it feels just right.
SPECS: HONDA HR-V 1.8 EL CVT
Engine: 1.8-liter SOHC I4
Power: 139hp @ 6,500rpm
Torque: 172Nm @ 4,300rpm
Transmission: continuously variable
UP NEXT: The verdict
In the face of it, this is a patently ridiculous comparison, as the HR-V and the BR-V sit at different price classes. But the base HR-V 1.5 E, which lacks our test unit’s leatherette, is only P60,000 clear of the range-topping BR-V 1.5 V, which gets leatherette and nav over our 1.5 S. On the low end, our base P989,000 BR-V is only P7,000 more expensive than the Mobilio RS, while offering better driving dynamics, styling, and utility. There’s no hiding the fact that an MPV lurks under that stylish skin.
The HR-V, on the other hand, feels like a proper crossover. You sit higher up, with a more confident view of the world around you. Driving dynamics ape the new Civic rather than the darty Jazz that the HR-V is based on. This Honda provides nine-tenths of the CR-V experience—but also at nine-tenths of the CR-V price. Go crazy with options and you end up just P20,000 shy of the base automatic CR-V.
The BR-V, on the other hand, offers more space and spec than the HR-V for less money. And unlike other Asian-designed Hondas, it feels and looks enough like a ‘real’ Honda to pass muster. While the HR-V is undeniably a higher-quality product and will no doubt snag many buyers moving up from sedans, the BR-V presents a better value for local buyers, while sacrificing little in terms of quality. A huge surprise, considering the Brio source material.
Mind blown? Ours, too.