You don’t have to be iconic to be special

The refreshed Honda BR-V brings more to the table
by Niky Tamayo | Jun 25, 2019

‘The BR-V is lean engineering done smart’

Over the years, Honda has made some iconic automobiles. Not quite Jaguar E-Type iconic...the Japanese carmaker’s version of iconic is more in line with what engineering nerds might consider iconic, but that’s just Honda’s way.

We’re talking cars like the Honda NSX, which pioneered the use of lightweight aluminum in modern chassis construction. Or the Type R line of automobiles, which took variable valve timing to the next level with their high-lift cam lobes, giving them superbike levels of zing and giving us decades of “VTEC kicked in yo” jokes. Or the humble Honda Civic, which brought joy to generations of drivers by offering lightweight construction, VTEC, and fancy dual-wishbone suspensions on what were ostensibly “commuter cars.” Or even the Honda Jazz, which provides Tardis-level interior packaging, the innovative mid-chassis fuel tank allowing the rear seats to fold straight into the floor for impressive space. All in a car with lightweight construction, VTEC, and a zest for life nearly unrivaled in its class.

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PHOTO: Lai De Guzman

The BR-V, on the other hand, is not one of Honda’s ‘iconic’ vehicles. While it is up to a hundred kilos lighter than some competitors, it is not any lighter than a Honda City. While it has VTEC (yo), 118hp won’t get your blood pumping when you’re hauling seven passengers plus groceries. There’s no fancy dual-wishbone suspension, just your standard front struts and rear twist beam like 99% of the other cars out there, with no Type R goodies under the skirts. It doesn’t even do the Jazz ‘Magic Seat’ thing. With the fuel tank between the rear wheels, the seats simply fold down rather than sink into the floor.

That said, the BR-V is a very honest car. There’s no raised floor to give the pretense of fold-away seats—as so many other manufacturers resort to. Instead, the seats fold out of the way to allow for some really tall items in the deep rear footwell and the trunk. The BR-V’s humble Brio-based roots show in the selection of plastics and panels inside, but this time dressed up with snazzier leatherette, with orange accents and contrast-stitching all over. If it was premium economy class before, maybe now it can qualify as spartan business class? All the perks of business class with 20% less legroom. Though, to be honest, the third row is much roomier than the one in the CR-V!

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PHOTO: Lai De Guzman

On the outside, the BR-V is peppered with cues designed to make it look more dynamic, more exciting than the Brio it is based on. For 2019, the creases in the bumpers that stand in as faux-vents get a little less faux, as black plastic inserts give them more dimensionality. The LED strips on the headlights now act as daytime running lights, giving the BR-V more presence on the road. A more open grille hints at greater power, despite the unchanged engine output. And new wheels...well, the new wheels look awesome.

More of interest to the tech minded are changes to the infotainment system. Here, Honda is finally applying Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Bully for those of you who have it. The wired system works faster than the Miracast wireless system that’s still available as a fallback, but you’d better have a good USB cable to take advantage of it. If you do, seamless screen mirroring, navigation, and music integration are at your fingertips.

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PHOTO: Lai De Guzman

Which is good news for those stuck in endless hours of Manila traffic, especially as the rainy season rears its ugly, soggy head. The BR-V’s 201mm ground clearance should prove a boon when traversing light floods—nothing above half wheel height, though!—and tall village humps. Don’t make the mistake of taking the ‘SUV’ tagline too seriously. With no all-wheel drive, there’s no way the BR-V is going mud-plugging, rock-climbing or tub-thumping.

That said, the BR-V is a b-r-breeze to drive. The front buckets provide good lateral support in spirited driving. Honda claims best-in-class power, and while that’s little to crow about, the power, snappy CVT, and light weight make it downright zingy in comparison to other small sevens. That CVT keeps it in the meat of the powerband at all times, and provides extra climbing flexibility compared to the ancient four-speed automatics in the competition.

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PHOTO: Lai De Guzman

Come the corners, the humble suspension and the economy-minded 195/60 R16 Bridgestone Ecopia tires acquit themselves well. There’s some give in the suspension, but it doesn’t bounce or wallow or rattle about. And the steering is relatively sharp and responsive.

Having driven the pre-facelift BR-V up to Baguio with a full load (including adults in the third row, yes), I’m not remotely surprised at any of this. The BR-V has always been a good car, and there’s not much that needed changing.

Well, not much that can actually be done without migrating it to the Honda Jazz platform. Which would bless the BR-V with that fancy mid-chassis fuel tank, a more flexible cargo bay, and a larger selection of engines due to the bigger engine bay. But then, that would entail a lot of engineering expense. The Jazz-based HR-V already costs more than the BR-V while delivering less utility. In the end, a Jazz-based BR-V would likely cost CR-V level money. There’s no business case for a compact seven-seater that pricey.

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PHOTO: Lai De Guzman

Instead, the BR-V is lean engineering done smart—a seven-seater with class-competitive space and class-leading performance that doesn’t sacrifice driving enjoyment for utility. And while the competition may be closing up, no one yet offers a drivetrain package that can remotely compare to the BR-V’s. Quite fitting. As, again, at its heart, Honda is all about the engineering. And while the BR-V probably won’t end up on anyone’s list of motoring icons, it’s as close as any car in this class will ever get.

2019 Honda BR-V

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PHOTO: Lai De Guzman
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