Honda Brio Automatic : First Drive
There is something afoot on the small car menu and for sure the Brio is not your usual decaf! Getting into the small car segment invariably means aping the usual culprits but then that is just not Honda and that’s the reason why the Brio came into being. Of course, again, it was a major exercise for the Japanese giant which for want of the exact word, laboured to get to grips with its own demons and then some more of the market-induced kind before going low and small for emerging markets just over a year ago. It is not that Honda doesn't know how to make small cars, only that it never wanted to do that at price points which were mentally too low for its engineering prowess as also its stature in the pecking order. However to remain not just a manufacturer of renown but also hold on to its place in developing markets where its existence had been battered by illogical decisions of the pricing kind, its efforts to go low and small were decisive.
The Brio, designed and built to a price, was the outcome for Thailand and India and so far in just over a year it has found space in 25,000 households in the country. Does this number make sense when the competition – read Maruti-Suzuki and Hyundai, are doing much more and also that the Brio wears the big ‘H’ logo proudly on its face? Just not Honda, or a very different type of Honda?
The innovative spirit and the can-do mojo of this Japanese OEM seemed to be in short supply but recent developments within the precincts of power within the company has kick-started a new surge to get back to Soichiro Honda’s can-do ability. So while all-new hardware is already under development to be spread across the product spectrum and with that magic word ‘diesel’ already now in the Honda lexicon, what you will see from now on are small primers or appetizers to keep the juices flowing as the all out assault on the senses commences from early 2013. Till then though the charm offensive comes in small tasty love bites and the first of these is the Brio Automatic which we drove today on a sunny morning in and around the National Capital Region.
Everything about the new car is the same visually as the one which debuted last year but there is new found convenience which the Brio aims to offer as yet another pleasureable attribute to reinforce the company’s tagline for the car: “it loves you back” – whatever that means! Given that the Brio is at best a city slicker operating in the tight urban environment where the cut and thrust of the daily grind is a chore, the obvious delights of the car have been further enhanced with the adoption of a five-speed automatic transmission, as an option to the five-speed manual. This is probably the first major move to a multi-cog automatic in this segment of car in the Indian market and I am sure that being proactive will do a world of good to the Honda brand which needs a hand and a leg up over its own lofty propositions.
This new class leading automatic is, contrary to conventional thinking in this day and age, a torque converter-type of transmission system but one which is compact and innovative in its build. Employing a three-shaft layout along with a common driven gear for the top two speeds plus an ultra-thin torque converter, this unit is electronically linked to the 1.2-litre i-VTEC mill’s drive-by-wire system. A shift hold mechanism is in-built into the gearbox and overall the unit is well matched to the power and torque characteristics of the small 1.2-litre engine.