When it comes to out-of-town media events, Honda Cars Philippines has a simple but effective formula. The company chooses a destination, finds a good road, and lets you drive the hell out of its cars. Okay, maybe "drive the hell" is too strong a term, but there was never a dull moment behind the wheel when we joined test drives for the City and the Jazz. Recently, it was the Honda Brio and the Brio Amaze's turn to be driven by the motoring press.
After flying in to Camarines Sur in the morning, we convened at the humongous Honda dealership in CamSur, where no less than Yasuhiro Kumai, chief engineer for the Brio and the Brio Amaze, gave a presentation about the Japanese carmaker’s newest products. In a nutshell, Kumai-san explained that the Brio hatchback was developed under the principle of being "young and sporty," while the Brio Amaze sedan’s thrust was "family and premium."
After a scrumptious lunch, event marshal Georges Ramirez discussed the route and car assignments.
It was impossible not to get excited with the coastal drive Georges outlined. For 130km, we would drive from the town of Pili, where Honda Cars CamSur is located, and take our Hondas through Tigaon, and from there it would be oceanside views most of the way to our destination: Misibis Bay resort.
For the first day of driving, we were assigned a Brio Amaze S AT sedan. The trunk lived up to its promise of being a family car, because all our overnight luggage and gear fit easily.
The first part of the drive highlighted the Brio Amaze’s power. Honda is proud of the fact that its Brios have a 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine under the hood. This meant overtaking tricycles and buses--a common sight on provincial roads--wasn't a frustrating exercise, thanks to the 99hp on tap.
But it was in the twisties where the Brio Amaze shone. The Honda’s small dimensions (the turning radius is only 4.6m) made it very nimble when changing directions. The more we drove the Brio Amaze, the more we became comfortable piloting it. The pace Georges set for the convoy went from a little fast-paced to just plain fast. Glances at the speedometer confirmed that we were averaging 70kph on tight bends.
Throughout the journey, the Brio Amaze was comfortable and quite roomy. Yes, it’s a bit bare compared to its Jazz and City brethren, but the materials and the controls still had that solid feel we had come to know from the brand. HCPI president Toshio Kuwahara was right: The Brio and the Brio Amaze are every bit a Honda.
The tiller is thick and meaty, and even has thumb rests for better grip during spirited maneuvers. And that’s exactly what we did as we neared Misibis. At this point, the route on the map consisted of tiny squiggly lines, and Georges's pace was relentless.
It was a good thing the Brio Amaze was more than up to the challenge. There were times when we would overcome the limits of the small 14-inch tires, but the car is so balanced it will slide without letting you lose control. We really want to see what this baby can do with bigger tires and a manual gearbox.
Perhaps our only concern with the Brio Amaze is that the five-speed automatic has a close ratio of gears in the lower end of the power band. While this is great for city driving, where quick bursts of acceleration are needed, at midrange velocities we struggled a bit to find the power we wanted.
Again, a manual transmission might have made things easier. When we congratulated Kuwahara-san on their fine car during a rest break, we expressed our wish to try a manual variant at some point in time. He grinned, then he remembered our previous request to also try out a Jazz with a manual gearbox. He nodded and sauntered off with a smile. Maybe the Japanese exec was thinking: "Why can't this guy just enjoy the travel and the food like any other motoring journalist?"
Well, because we like to drive, that's why. The so-called perks and freebies--like the nice room in Misibis Bay we stayed in and the pili candy given to us--are just icing on the cake. And Honda is one of the most consistent carmakers when it comes to matching a fine car with a good road and a pleasant destination.
After a relaxing stay in Misibis, we drove to Legazpi City for our flight home. We drove the Brio hatchback this time. The route was a much shorter 40km, so we weren’t able to test definitively if the hatch handled better than the sedan. But we’d say the Brio was sportier than its sedan sibling. Although when it comes to storage capacity, the Brio Amaze definitely had the advantage.
There was a bit of disappointment going home because the picturesque Mayon Volcano was covered in clouds, and so we didn't get to see its perfectly formed peak. But we had good memories of our drive, including the discovery of the delightful winding coastal roads of Albay.
The Brio event fulfilled its purpose. It proved that being small and relatively affordable didn't mean settling for a lesser driving experience. We hope Honda doesn’t change its formula, both for events and especially for building cars.
UPDATE: We apologize for failing to mention the fuel economy of these cars. We noted 10.5km/L on the Brio Amaze as indicated by the on-board mileage calculator. This was done on twisty roads and with constant bursts of acceleration to keep up with the convoy. The figure should be significantly higher with normal driving.
Photos by Mikko David and Dinzo Tabamo