STELLENBOSCH - Yes, it's another light crossover. And, yes, like every other light crossover, it claims to address the whole spectrum of requirements that the modern-day young family might have. But, Honda's new BR-V has a trick up its sleeve ... seven seats. Unlike the EcoSport/Duster/Captur/Cactus et al, the BR-V can seat seven in comfort (really; we tested the third row on the local launch and found it can just about accommodate two adults) while preserving enough boot space for school backpacks and the like.
Flip the third row forward and the boot measures a class-leading 691 litres. Jump into the second row and there's loads of leg-and headroom (the seatbacks recline and, on Comfort and top-spec Elegance models, the bench slides). If there's a more versatile light SUV/crossover in our market, I haven't driven it.
Locally, the BR-V is available with one engine – Honda's venerable 1,5-litre, naturally aspirated petrol engine – two transmission options (a brand-new six-speed manual and a CVT) and three trim grades: Trend, Comfort and Elegance. Built on the same platform that underpins the Brio and Mobilio (the latter has been discontinued locally), the BR-V measures 2 655 mm between the axles, which explains the generous internal dimensions, and 4 453 mm nose to tail. Ground clearance is a lofty 210 mm, which makes rough gravel-roading a real possibility (although the BR-V can't tow), and all models ride on 16-inch wheels, steel on the Trend and alloy on the others.
Majoring on standard specification rather than sophisticated finishes, the BR-V's cockpit is a study in simplicity. All models feature Bluetooth and USB/aux-in ports, air-con, electric windows front and rear, ABS and two airbags. Comfort adds, among other items, seat-height adjustment, an automatic function for the climate control (as well as ventilation ducts for the rear passengers), electric mirrors, the sliding function on the middle row and seatback pockets. Finally, the Elegance model gains leather trim, bumper garnishes, an upgraded speaker system and keyless entry and start.
Seating comfort up-front is good (although, if you're tall, you might struggle with legroom below the steering column; the driver's seat doesn't quite move far enough back) and sight lines clear thanks to the elevated ride height and fairly narrow pillars. A lack of reach adjustment for the steering is a slight annoyance, but otherwise I didn't have any qualms getting my 1,85-metre frame comfortable.
On the road
I drove the Elegance model, which benefits from the design enhancements but is otherwise identical to the other models (as an aside, Honda expects up to 70% of buyers to opt for the mid-spec Comfort). The ride is composed at low speeds, but slightly less so at higher velocities where coarse tar filters through to the cabin. Overall, though, the BR-V is an enjoyable car to pilot thanks to light, quick steering, good body control and easily modulated clutch, brake and throttle pedals. The new six-speed transmission is a pleasure to use, and would be my recommendation over an energy-sapping CVT.
The engine, however, is slightly less of a success. It's rowdy and devoid of the low-down torque expected of a vehicle that's designed to carry families. Conversely, given Honda's stellar reputation for reliability and the relatively simple tech compared with downsized, turbocharged units, the powerplant should be bulletproof.
Honda claims an average fuel-consumption figure of 6,3 L/100 km, which is not as unrealistic as these tend to be, as I averaged 7,2 L/100 km during the launch drive.
Overall, then, the BR-V is a worthwhile addition to the ever-growing light SUV/crossover market. In addition to its USP of seven seats, it boasts a strong, respected brand heritage, solid standard specification and sensible pricing (R238 900 to R288 300). I suspect it might soon be Honda's best seller locally...
See Full Honda BR-V price and specs here