The compact crossover segment is a popular slice of the car market that’s boasting decent sales amid tough economic conditions. But it’s also becoming a little overcrowded. The latest addition to the segment is the new Honda BR-V.
Family-oriented buyers aren’t purchasing sedans and MPVs like they used to. A few are buying hatchbacks, but the rest are opting for SUVs. MPVs in particular are out. People just aren’t buying them any longer. Honda, for example, offered the Mobilio in South Africa until fairly recently, but discontinued it because of poor sales performance. In its place, we find the new BR-V, a vehicle that’s competing in the far more popular compact SUV segment. Its rivals are vehicles like the Suzuki Vitara, Mazda CX-3, Renault Duster and Peugeot 2008.
The big player in the segment, however, is the Ford EcoSport. Ford manages to consistently sell around 1 000 of these little SUVs a month. It might be a popular segment, but there’s no shortage of competition. The BR-V, however, has a couple of things in its favour. It’s a Honda, of course, so it’ll benefit from the brand’s perceived reliability. Secondly, it’s extremely well priced. Finally, it has seven seats, which is something few compact SUVs can boast.
In addition to the above, the BR-V also benefits from decent perform-ance. Powered by a 1.5-litre petrol engine, it delivers 88kW of power and 145Nm of torque. It is mated to either a CVT or a new six-speed manual transmission. We tested the manual version and found the BR-V surprisingly fun to drive. The rev-happy engine works well with the gearbox, and the vehicle feels nippy and agile. We didn’t carry seven people, though, and this is sure to have an impact on performance. Still, under normal circumstances, the BR-V performs admirably. Honda also says that the BR-V is relatively frugal for a naturally aspirated vehicle, claiming that it sips 6.3 litres per 100km. This is probably a bit optimistic under normal conditions, but you should be able to keep it under eight.
Built in India, the BR-V is intended to compete on price. This is evident in the build quality. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the SUV, but it doesn’t quite have that solid feel you associate with Honda. There’s no satisfying thud when you close the doors. But again, you need to take price into consideration. Build quality is good, just not great. The same can be said of virtually all its competitors. Quality simply has to be sacrificed when you’re trying to offer a well-specced SUV at this price point.
As mentioned earlier, the BR-V is largely unique in that it offers seven seats. How exactly is this accomplished in a (very) compact SUV? Well, you’ll be even more amazed when you see the BR-V in the flesh. It is not a large vehicle; certainly nowhere near the size of a more traditional seven-seater SUV. The third row of seating will not seat two adults comfortably over long distances, but this is true of virtually every seven-seater SUV. It is mostly for kids, and the BR-V’s rearmost seats can easily accommodate children when the need arises.
In a squeeze, it can accommodate a pair of adults, just not for pro-longed periods. Keep in mind, though, that luggage space will become limited when the third-row seats are in use (only 223 litres). Put the seats away and space increases to 691 litres. Fold down the second row of seats and you’ll have 1 164 litres of space. This is thanks to the ‘fold and tumble’ nature of seats, which allows for a maximum use of space.
Like a lot of vehicles in this segment (the Renault Duster being a significant exception), the BR-V is not available in 4WD. It’s 4×2 only. It really isn’t an SUV in the traditional sense. Very few BR-Vs are likely to ever see a dirt road. Despite Honda not wanting to call it an MPV it’s more about moving people around. It’s a vehicle for families; for taking the kids to school and navigating city traffic. It’s also worth mentioning, perhaps, that the BR-V doesn’t look like an SUV. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with its styling, but it’s more station wagon/MPV than SUV. Despite its diminutive size, the Ford EcoSport looks like an SUV. The BR-V doesn’t.
It looks like a people mover, albeit one with macho black wheel arches and 210mm of ground clearance. The interior of the BR-V is fairly basic but more than sufficient. You’ll find air conditioning, electric windows and even remote keyless entry. The entertainment system is a simple unit without a large touchscreen, but it has Bluetooth connectivity and a USB input. Overall, the Honda BR-V is a decent entry into the segment. It isn’t terribly exciting, but it boasts a good drivetrain and almost all the comfort features you could ask for. The third row of seats are a handy extra, but price is where it really wins. It starts at R238 900, with the most expensive model topping out at R288 300. Included is a five-year/200 000km warranty and three years of AA Roadside Assistance. Comfort and Elegance models also benefit from a two-year/30 000km service plan. Services are at 15 000km intervals.
Engine 1 497cc, in-line, four-cylinder
Power 88kW @ 6 600 r/min
Torque 145Nm @ 4 600 r/min
Transmission Six-speed manual
Safety ABS and dual front airbags
Ground clearance 210mm
Tyres 195/60 R16
Fuel tank 42 litres
Consumption 6.3 litres (claimed)
Price R272 900