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Pumped up to take on the likes of the Ford EcoSport, yet packaged like an MPV, the new Honda BR-V carves a compelling niche...

Given the growing popularity of the light-crossover segment in our market, the decision by Honda Cars South Africa to replace rather than complement its existing seven-seater Mobilio would have been an easy one to make. The new BR-V is similarly packaged, yet boasts that fashionable pumped-up look that makes SUV/crossovers so popular, plus its name places it neatly within Honda's existing, well-liked SUV family.

The new entry point to that range, the newcomer makes the most of its versatile Brio-shared platform and boasts exterior dimensions greater than those of its more premium HR-V cousin. Consider, too, that the BR-V's wheelbase is 30 mm longer than the overall larger CR-V's and you begin to understand the packaging potential of Honda's newest offering.

If 2 660 mm between the axles masks the fact that the BR-V offers the same 210 mm ground clearance as the likes of the Ford EcoSport, the presence throughout the range of black plastic wheelarch-cladding and silver roof-rails at least lends the Honda a sense of rugged purpose. Where entry-level Trend models are fitted with 16-inch steel wheels, Comfort (as tested here) and top-of-the-range Elegance versions gain identically sized alloy items; the latter specification is further distinguishable by chrome-look scuff plates, front and rear, as well as front foglamps.

While leather upholstery uplifts the cabin of Elegance models, the cloth-trimmed seats fitted to lesser versions concede little in the way of comfort, or indeed perceived durability. Also welcome is height adjustment on the driver's seat which, together with the usual fore and aft movement, helps offset the absence of reach adjustment on the steering column while seeking out an optimal driving position.

If the quality of plastics featured in the BR-V's cabin are decidedly firmer to the touch when compared with the likes of the Jazz and HR-V, the build quality of the newest Honda is nevertheless among the finest we've experienced from a vehicle in this class. The inclusion of chrome-look highlights adds a touch of flair to proceedings.

Although nowhere near as comprehensively equipped in terms of infotainment tech as more premium members of the Honda family, what the BR-V does offer is a full-bouquet audio system (USB/aux-in/Bluetooth) set in an uncluttered facia layout that includes similarly uncomplicated climate-control settings (the latter not available in Trend guise). Rear-seat passengers gain air outlets controllable for fan speed.

Mimicking the seating layout of the Mobilio, Honda should be commended for its packaging of the second and third rows of seats. Split 60:40, the middle bench offers fore and aft adjustment for increased legroom, while both the second- and (50:50-split) third-row backrests can be reclined.

Access to the rear bench is made easy thanks to a simple, one-touch, fold-and-tumble action on the middle row. Should additional seating not be required, the rearmost bench folds and tumbles away to free up 440 dm3 worth of luggage space. Worth noting (and not always a given in this segment) is a useful 192 dm3 worth of packing space offered behind the installed third row.

While the middle cushion of the second set (fitted with a lap belt only) should be considered the cheap seat, the four remaining pews beyond the front seats offer impressive (adult-size) comfort. If there is a criticism of the cockpit, it's the absence of either a parcel shelf or heavily tinted rear windows behind which to store valuables out of sight.

Carried over from the Mobilio range (and featured in the Jazz, Ballade and HR-V line-ups) is Honda's perky 1,5-litre petrol engine. Introduced with the BR-V, though, is the option of a newly developed six-speed manual gearbox where the previous alternative to a CVT was a five-speed self-shifter. While the obvious advantage of an additional cog is improved efficiency on the open road, we found that the corresponding revised ratios allow for more refined power delivery around town, particularly off the line, when compared with the Mobilio. The new transmission also helped improve on the Mobilio's fuel-route figure, despite the BR-V's 75 kg weight gain.

It's not all good news for the BR-V's powertrain, however. Where the free-revving 88 kW motor proves keen round town, it struggles to settle into the background on the open road, making its presence known by registering 3 000 r/min at 120 km/h. A lightweight clutch action and corresponding precise shift pattern are, however, advantageous when it comes time to call on overtaking power reserves stowed in the lower ratios. It's also a gearshift action that's frequently called to action when the BR-V is fully loaded.

On that note, Honda has managed to find an ideal compromise between a firm suspension setup capable of carrying heavy loads (although not able to tow), yet one that still allows compliance over uneven surfaces. Impressively, it's a layout that, despite the BR-V's raised ride height, successfully manages body lean while cornering.

Equally lightweight in its operation is the electrically assisted power steering. Combined with a tall driving position, the arrangement helps the BR-V feel both light on its feet and easily manoeuvrable, especially round town. That said, considering the vehicle's overall length (4 453 mm), the relative width of its D-pillars and the absence of park sensors, care should be taken when reverse parking. Remember, too, to leave enough room for the tailgate to open.

In terms of safety systems, while the driver and front passenger are afforded airbags,  it's worth noting that the passenger-side item cannot be deactivated and that the BR-V does not feature Isofix child-seat-anchor points. Despite the fitment of drum brakes at the rear, standard ABS throughout the range helps bring the Honda to a halt in an emergency with relative assurance.
They're small in stature and big in character, but which of these tough little SUVs is best?

Whether you see them as a genuine lifestyle companion or a marketing contrivance, SUVs and crossovers have become the automotive equivalent of a Swiss Army knife, dealing with everything from round-town duties to the school run, motorways and even, on occasion, straying onto dirt roads in search of adventure. Therefore, it’s understandable that the entrance of a new model into the hotly contested segment for small SUVs/crossovers is met with a ripple of excitement, growing to a veritable groundswell of expectation when said newcomer wears the Toyota badge. Forming the entry point to Toyota’s lifestyle stable, the Rush faces stiff competition from both established players in the field, as well as upstarts from Chinese firms such as Haval.

The crew

In essence, the gathered cars can be split into two categories: those based on MPVs from their respective stables; and those with car-based underpinnings. Falling into the former bracket are the Rush and BR-V. The Rush can trace much of its mechanical lineage to Toyota’s basic but venerable Avanza MPV, while Honda’s BR-V is essentially a rebodied and mildly reworked version of the now-departed Mobilio and has become the sole seven-seater in the firm’s local line-up.

Spun off the platform underpinning the robust Logan budget sedan, the Duster (which has, of course, since been replaced) treads closer to the small-SUV line than the others, especially when you bear in mind the 4x4 model is a particularly capable off-roader.

As for the H2, its roots are a little harder to trace but it’s one of a host of models based off Haval’s family of unibody chassis and can therefore be linked to any number of sedan and crossover models from the firm’s extensive global line-up.

Why is this relevant? Well, each family counters the others’ particular strengths and weaknesses – from packaging to driveability and everything in between – meaning buyers’ decisions won’t be based on looks alone. Even so, we’d be kidding ourselves if we were to exclude the aesthetic element.

Style vs. space

On paper, the Rush, with its bold nose, bulging bonnet and cross-over cladding, ticks the requisite styling boxes and looks reasonably rugged. Meet it in the metal, though, and there’s no escaping the fact that these elements have been applied to a decidedly Avanza-shaped frame. However, while its bluff sides and tall profile with a strong downward curve to its nose may not scream pseudo-SUV, it does play host to a particularly spacious interior.

In other markets, the Rush – also badged as a Daihatsu Terios – is fitted with a third row of seats but South Africa gets only a five-seat arrangement with a sliding second-row bench, likely in an attempt to keep the newcomer from treading on the seven-seater Avanza’s toes. Losing the rear bench does, however, create a load space which comfortably eclipses those of its rivals, albeit without the added security of a tonneau cover.

The BR-V contains its spacious innards in a frame that, with its two-box profile and roof rails, has a touch more crossover flavour than the Rush but still doesn’t quite manage to hide its dowdy MPV roots. The third row can be rolled away to free up a similar amount of luggage capacity to the Rush, although the boot becomes little more than a sliver of airspace with seven aboard.

Thumbing its nose at the others’ genteel curves and creases, the Duster is unapologetically chunky and utilitarian in its styling, and possessed of a handily proportioned boot.

Looking very much the sophisticate in this company, the H2 is evidence the Chinese have finally realised the correlation between chrome and class isn’t 1:1. Block out the badge and you could just as well be looking at any number of upmarket European small crossovers and, while its boot is the smallest here at 232 litres, it’s still decently proportioned.

Behind the wheel

Climbing into the Rush, you’re immediately aware of the commanding view of the road the seating provides, but that’s about where the benefits of the lofty perch end. With limited rake adjustment for the steering column and the lowest seat-height setting still rather high, taller drivers will find the wheel uncomfortably close to their lap. The chunky propshaft tunnel of this car’s RWD configuration eats into the footwell, leaving little space to rest your clutch foot.

Although hewn from hard plastics and finished with faux stitching, the Rush’s cabin feels well screwed together and the two-tone trim lends some liveliness to the atmosphere. The neat touchscreen infotainment/sat-nav (standard fitment) system sports a crisp interface and sits usefully high on the facia.

The Duster’s infotainment system, although function-rich and with an interface as chunky as the exterior, sits way down by the driver’s knee and forms part of a cabin that’s well enough constructed but marred slightly by the scatter-gun layout of some ancillaries. Thankfully, the driving position is a touch more natural than the Rush’s, if not quite as commanding.

With their closely set gearing and snappy (albeit in the Duster’s case, slightly rubbery) gearshifts, these two prove suitably brisk and wieldy round town but things begin to go awry when motorways beckon. That close gearing sees the Rush’s rev-happy 1,5-litre engine climb to about 4 000 r/min when travelling at the national limit, with intrusive differential whine accompanying the thrashy soundtrack.

It’s better at 3 200 r/min on the motorway in the Duster and, with a mite more torque and better NVH suppression, it doesn’t feel as strained as the Toyota’s frenetic-but-seemingly unburstable 2NR-VE engine. The consensus among the team is both of these cars would benefit from a tall sixth gear to make motorway driving less of a droning affair.

Although it’s only 11 kW up on the Rush and Duster, the BR-V’s 1,5-litre unit manages to be both free revving and acceptably refined. It’s also coupled with a pleasingly snappy gearbox and easily modulated clutch, making it a breeze to pilot.

Another Honda-ism is the interior, which is awash with hard plastics but ergonomically well considered and solidly put together. While it does feel durable, though, the BR-V has a certain light, slightly hollow overall feel to it, sitting at odds with its otherwise bulletproof build.

The H2’s turbocharged 1,5-litre inline-four is comfortably more powerful than its rivals’ naturally aspirated units and even bests them when it comes to refinement. This is especially apt, as the Chinese car’s cabin leaves the others’ interiors in the shade. Slush-moulded trim panels, quality switchgear and a design that’s both ergonomically sound and solidly constructed make the H2 feel a cut above the rest in its segment.

Unfortunately, the H2’s drivetrain is a chink in its otherwise polished suit of armour. The engine behaves a bit like an old-school turbo unit, wading through palpable lag before delivering the goods at higher revs. Lifting off the throttle sees it quickly drop out of the power band. Factor in a notchy gearshift that cannot be hurried and the result is sometimes laborious progress to the meat of the performance on offer, often necessitating extra revs to keep momentum going. The heavy 1,52-tonne H2’s 13,50-second 0-100 km/h sprint is the slowest in this company, while it (literally) lags anything from four to six seconds behind the others when overtaking from 60-80 km/h in top gear. With the turbo finally turning, the H2’s top-gear 100-120 km/h time sees it claw back some respectability, being the second-quickest.

The Rush’s ride, although sometimes choppy, doesn’t succumb to ungainly rebound and manages to iron out most obstructions in its path. It’s in the driving experience where echoes of the related Avanza begin to emerge. With its narrow track, long wheelbase and a profile that presents a good deal of sheetmetal, the Rush has a top-heavy feel to its demeanour. Brisk cornering unearths significant body lean, while a profile that presents a good deal of metal to crosswinds can make it feel a bit unstable when caught in a gust.

In fact, with its 220 mm of ground clearance, stability control (the only car here so equipped) and mechanical robustness, the Rush seems better suited to a leisurely pace on dirt roads. It’s only when the Duster makes an appearance that the Rush has to concede some rough ground. Although marginally down on ground clearance, the Duster’s impressive axle articulation and suspension is adept at taming rutted surfaces and tarmac, and make it a versatile go-almost-anywhere vehicle. Although its steering feels slower geared than the Rush’s, it’s nonetheless pointier and the additional weight lends the Duster a more substantial feel.

Although its 210 mm of ground clearance matches the Renault’s, the BR-V doesn’t have quite its dirt road-taming ability. That’s not to say it’s averse to straying off the tarmac but its real talents lie with its well-balanced on-road persona. The steering is typically Honda, being accurate and pleasantly weighted, if not feelsome, and the ride and body control are resolved to the extent of being more hatch-like-wieldy than its rivals here.

Latest Resutls for Honda BR-V

Manufacturer Specifications

Standard - standard Optional - optional
  • Cloth upholstery: Standard
  • Seats quantity: 7
  • Split rear seat: Standard
  • Folding rear seat: Standard
  • Air conditioning: Standard
  • Climate control automatic air conditioning: Standard
  • Cup bottle holders: front + rear
  • Antilock braking system (ABS): Standard
  • Electronic brake distribution (EBD): Standard
  • Brake assist (BAS/EBA): Standard
  • Driver airbag: Standard
  • Front passenger airbag: Standard
  • Airbag quantity: 2
  • Automatic drive away locking: Standard
  • Alloy wheelsrims: Standard
  • Power steering: Standard
  • On board computer multi information display: Standard
  • Bluetooth connectivity: Standard
  • Aux in auxiliary input: Standard
  • USB port: Standard
  • Powersocket 12V: front
  • Central locking: remote
  • Remote central locking: Standard
  • Electric windows: front + rear
  • Electric adjust mirrors: Standard
  • Highlevel 3rd brakelight: Standard
  • Rear fog lamps lights: Standard
  • Rear spoiler: Standard
  • Metallic pearl escent paint: Optional
  • Fuel Type: petrol
  • Fuel range average: 667 km
  • Driven wheels: front
  • Driven wheels quantity: 2
  • Gearratios quantity: 6
  • Gearshift: manual
  • Transmission type: manual
  • Front tyres: 195/60 R16
  • Reartyres: 195/60 R16
  • Spare wheel size full: Standard
  • Length: 4453 mm
  • Width excl mirrors incl mirrors: 1735 mm
  • Height: 1666 mm
  • Wheel base: 2655 mm
  • Ground clearance minimum maximum: 210 mm
  • Turning circle wheels body: 10.6 m
  • Load volume / capacity: 223-691-1164 L
  • Load volume / capacity: 1164 L
  • Unladen/tare/kerb weight: 1185 kg
  • Gross weight (GVM): 1790 kg
  • Towing capacity - unbraked: 0
  • Towing capacity - braked: 0
  • Fuel tank capacity (incl reserve): 42l
  • Fuel consumption average: 6.3 l/100km
  • CO2 emissions average: 151g/km
  • Power maximum: 88 kW
  • Power maximum total: 88 kW
  • Power peak revs: 6600 r/min
  • Power to weight ratio: 74.3 kW/ton
  • Torque maximum: 145 Nm
  • Torque peak revs: 4600 r/min
  • Torque maximum total: 145 Nm
  • Torque to weight ratio: 122.4 Nm/ton
  • Acceleration 0-100 kmh: n/as
  • Maximum top speed: n/a km/h
  • Engine position/ location: front
  • Engine capacity: 1497 cc
  • Engine size: 1.5l
  • enginedetailshort: 1.5
  • Engine + detail: 1.5
  • Cylinder layout: inline
  • Cylinders: 4
  • Cylinder layout + quantity: i4
  • Cam: dohc
  • Valves per cylinder: 4
  • Valves quantity: 16
  • Variable camvalve timing: Standard
  • Warranty time (years): 5
  • Warranty distance (km): 200000 km
  • Service plan: Standard
  • Service plan time (years): 2
  • Service plan time (distance): 30000 km
  • Roadside assistance time: 3
  • Service interval (distance): 15000 km
  • Brand: Honda
  • Status: c
  • Segment: passenger car
  • MMcode: 25073310
  • MMVariant: BR-V 1.5 COMFORT
  • MMintrodat: 2016-09-01
  • Introdate: 2016-10-10
  • DuoportarecordID: HondBR-V1e2

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