First Drive: 2016 Honda BR-V

First Drive: 2016 Honda BR-V
 

I hate to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but in the massive tapestry that is the automotive industry, manufacturers hold the biggest clout when it comes to influencing buying patterns. We buy what they want us to buy.

Carmakers invent new segments that nobody imagined would be necessary, inveigling consumers and creating a trend that their peers invariably end up following. Refer to the Mercedes-Benz ML-Class (now GLE-Class) as an interesting case study. First launched in 1997, it looked like an authentic off-roader, but was really intended for the cityscape instead of the bush.

Yet shoppers loved this rolling paradox, inspiring BMW to follow with the X5 and Audi with its Q7.

The SUV format has become de rigueur among all automakers.

We also have the crossover genre, which is a little harder to define.

Honda BR-V

Anything with a sprinkling of pseudo-rugged body cladding, roof rails and an outdoors persona could qualify, it seems.

At first glance, the new Honda BR-V could be placed with this company.

This week the Japanese brand released the latest addition to its local lineup, hot on the heels of the sexy new Civic.

Look beyond the chunky accoutrements and you might make an association with the Mobilio, the unassuming people-hauler that contended with the likes of the Suzuki Ertiga and Toyota Avanza.

That is no coincidence, because the BR-V owes most of its being to the Mobilio, which has been axed. Maybe we should say reincarnated.

More flamboyant clothing, a new name and a different mandate, the BR-V has transformed in a bid to tackle the burgeoning crossover-cum-SUV division.

Two names were mentioned by the bosses at Honda: Ford EcoSport and Renault Duster.

Honda BR-V

The blue-oval product might lack in substance, but it remains a strong sales performer. The robust French contender fares well when it comes to finding new homes too. So, should we cynically dismiss the BR-V as a reheated takeaway and provide other recommendations?

Not totally, as there are a number of virtues to be appreciated by those with practicality high on the list.

For starters, a unique selling point is that it’s a seven-seater.

You could go for the Avanza or Ertiga, but those are unashamed about their van personalities.

Urban families are going to want something with a bit of cool factor and perhaps this will resonate stronger. It sports a countenance that is similar to the larger HR-V and CR-V. The obligatory body cladding is part of the mix, as are roof rails and higher grade models get swish alloys.

The interior of the BR-V mirrors a style and layout similar to the current Jazz, shunning most of the Brio-derived items from the Mobilio.

Quality and fit are inoffensive overall, and confidence-inspiring sightlines are afforded from the helm. It sounds moot, but remember that most of the appeal of a crossover or SUV is the empowering seating position.

Honda BR-V

Our test stint at the launch was about 100km with one missed off-ramp adding a little more distance to the journey.

I can say with conviction that the BR-V does what it is supposed to pretty well. It has a pleasant and endearingly jaunty character around town, which is where it will spend most of its days.

The suspension is up to the task of dealing with the nuances of a third world country. On the freeway and through the quiet roads of the Cradle of Humankind area, it seemed content to perform — provided the driver did not demand too much from its power source.

There is one engine choice available, a 1.5-litre, four-cylinder petrol (88kW and 145Nm), which is paired with a six-speed manual transmission or a CVT. The latter was not available to drive.

Stick to the speed limit (as we all ought to) and the BR-V goes reasonably well. Inclines prompted shifting down a cog or three. With five passengers, a full load of luggage and a decent-sized pet, the humble output will face a challenge. Honda did not discard the idea of introducing new mills to the range over time.

There are three specification levels: Trend, Comfort and Elegance. The middle-range Comfort is expected to account for the biggest sales. But even the basic car gets niceties such as Bluetooth connectivity. Comfort and Elegance models get airconditioning for the third row of passengers.

Safety specification is consistent, with all versions benefiting from antilock brakes, dual airbags and auto-locking doors.

It must be noted that the Comfort is not standard with the two-year/30000km service plan that the other two gain.

The new BR-V is par for the course in the scramble to win a part of the crossover sales pie. Remarkable versatility and jazzy styling are two of its biggest assets.

BR-V Seating

Pricing:

Honda BR-V 1.5 Trend manual: R238900

Honda BR-V 1.5 Comfort manual: R252900

Honda BR-V 1.5 Comfort CVT: R268300

Honda BR-V 1.5 Elegance manual: R272900

Honda BR-V 1.5 Elegance CVT: R288300

Includes a five-year/200000 km warranty and three years of roadside assistance.