Redefining the small car driving experience

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    Honda Brio RS
    Honda Brio RS

    IF you want to test how a car can climb up to Baguio or Tagaytay without actually driving there, two places just inside Manila offers almost the same experience.

    Robinson’s Place Ermita’s elevated parking lot—coming in from the Padre Faura side is one. The steepest incline is just short of 3 degrees compared to the Old Talisay Road to Tagaytay. The other one is the Shangri-la Mall parking lot by the St. Francis Ave. side, which copies the steep grades of Kennon road missing it just by 2 percent grade at its steepest.

    Shangri-la’s parking lot approach was a noteworthy place to test the revised Honda Brio RS—a car that we wanted to review immediately after it was released, but didn’t get an invite to Honda Cars Philippines, Inc. Manila-Baguio-Laoag test drive event last year.

    Since there was no budget for a Baguio trip we decided to do the next best thing: bring it up a concrete representation of the winding climb. To the parking lots at Ermita and Mandaluyong. More on that later.

    The Brio is redefining the small car experience because, it does not feel like a small car.

    The Hyundai Eon is tiny. The capable and practical Toyota Wigo is compact but spacious.

    The Brio however is compact and spacious but manages to trick us all with illusions of space, pretending to be a subcompact car.

    Leg room, for example, was more than ample even for taller people, and headroom was good enough. One trick was using thinner seats, sacrificing a little suppleness and a little bolstering but is comfortable enough for a city slicker. The steering wheel felt stout and the dash curves into the windshield giving an illusion of depth—like what an infinity pool does.

    But all that converts in this satisfying illusion of space.

    There is an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system that dominates the dashboard. This is coupled to a 6-speaker array. It has all the usual niceties, with Bluetooth noteworthy as pairing was a breeze. The switches are all in the right places, but I did fumble with the door-lock-unlock button and the front window switch. The CVT gear shifter is well placed and the nice red trims inside plus the seat fabric patterns gets from me a five-stars for keeping with the RS traditions and a pat in the back to its designers for knowing what they want.

    Really youthful and millennial, but not enough to scare away the old folks.

    God bless Honda for making this wonderful little car available in manual transmission. Not only does this lowers the price of the Brio 1.2S M/T to a mere P598,000, early this year Honda offered the car for a down payment of only P28,000.

    Now on to Baguio, Robinson’s Place version

    The 1.2L engine proved itself on the road well. But going up a steep incline should prove to be a challenge. Unlike Kennon, whose curves are stretched out and incline longer,

    Robinson’s parking lot is a coiled snake. When I brought the Wigo here in manual trim it almost ran out of breath. When I drove the Eon, it almost died. But even at the lower end of the rev range the Brio’s CVT delivered, a bit hesitant, but didn’t feel like it was confused, it went up with confidence.

    At the steeper Shangri-la Plaza parking lot, the feeling was the same but less stressed because this was a long incline, not an abrupt, power robbing curve into the open parking spaces.

    The Brio is excellent on the highway, even at 100 kph it did not feel loose or distracted from the large buses and trucks gathered in the outer lane. The transmission will respond to needed inputs fast enough, but this is not a Civic Type R. Persistence with the throttle inputs is the key.

    How frugal was it?

    Here are two results. One is a drive measured from Alabang to Calamba then Calamba to Batangas via the SLEX and the STAR at a more or less constant 80 kilometers per hour (average). On the road going to Batangas (which had more inclines) we clocked 19.9 kilometers per liter. On the drive back to Calamba it was 21.20 kilometers per liter. Average that with the fuel economy figures to and from Alabang and it’s a respectable 20.8 kilometers per liter for the 4-way whole trip.

    Interestingly, last September, Honda, along with the Automobile Association of the Philippines, did a calibrated fuel economy run and the little Brio achieved a fuel mileage of 24.39 kilometers per liter. So, the numbers we achieved in the long drive was not too far from these official figures. What’s more we conducted in real world conditions, including the rather heavy traffic exiting and entering the end of the Batangas highway.

    I need not talk about the car’s exteriors. It speaks for itself. Powerful, beautiful and strong.

    This is how the Brio redefines the small car segment. It offers great value on all points—suspension, safety, engine performance, passenger space, and overall exterior and interior design—and that is what sets the pitch for the game. This car is so beautiful, owners won’t like to use it as a TNVS or a renter.

    This Honda best seller is giving little time to the other segment players to catch up. And for them, it is a long run to second base.