• The Brio has a modern and cheeky facade

  • Its rear echoes the design of other entry level models such as the Peugeot 107 and Toyota Aygo

  • The interior has a high specification, but there are a few minor issues

HONDA SA has entered the A-segment with the new Brio, a model that will pander to the entry level vehicle market where until now the company has not been present.

It is built at the company’s Indian plant, which also builds the Accord and Civic for the domestic market. This plant was established in 1995 and has an annual output of 120,000 vehicles.

Taking the fight to the likes of the Chevrolet Spark, Ford Figo, Kia Picanto, Hyundai i10 and Toyota Aygo, the Brio will appease the first time buyer with its cheeky styling and petit proportions that will be ideal for the urban sprawl.

At 3.6m long, 1.6m wide and 1.5m tall, it is a nippy vehicle to pilot around the urban jungle, as we experienced during our launch drive in the Johannesburg CBD.

With a wheelbase of 2.3m the cabin is reasonably spacious with decent head and legroom for both front and rear occupants. The interior is well laid out with switchgear that will not look out of place in its Jazz sibling, all of which makes it a comfortable place to be.

However, instead of the medley of three different colours adorning parts of the trim, which I suspect will look dated after a while, the company would do well to simplify this to just two colours.

Boot space, meanwhile, is pegged at 161l in standard guise, which is just sufficient for one or two sleep over bags or a couple of grocery shopping bags.

I did find the loading sill to be a touch too high for my liking and will without doubt make loading slightly heavier items a bit awkward.

Of course, for more versatility the boot space can be expanded to 519l with the easy folding down of the rear seats. Further storage nooks in the form of three cupholders as well as two bottle holders are offered over and above the cubbyhole.

Available in only Comfort trim — though a higher specified model is earmarked for next year — the current specification includes colour-coded bumpers and door handles and, with the exception of the wheel covers, which will no doubt be quickly dispensed with by owners in favour of aftermarket alloy wheels, it looks well poised.

Specification levels are quite high, with a thumping double din sound system with a USB port, steering mounted audio controls, air conditioning and electric windows all round, not to mention safety equipment including ABS with EBD and dual airbags.

Under the bonnet nestles a 1.2l i-Vtec engine, which according to Graham Eagle, sales and marketing director at Honda SA, is part of the same engine family that powers the Jazz range. It makes 65kW at 6,000r/min and 109Nm at 4,500r/min via either a slick-shifting five-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission. At launch we drove the former in both urban and open road instances and found the engine and transmission to have a good rapport.

Despite the peaky nature of Vtec engines, and the fact that we drove the vehicle at the power-sapping Highveld altitude, this one proved to have a very flat torque curve, which meant that there was no need to stir the gearbox to gain momentum. There is also relatively little of the buzzing when the engine is revved up to its 6,500 ceiling, which defies the small capacity nature of the engine.

Claimed consumption figures are 5.6l /100km and 133g/km of carbon emissions, though we managed about 5.9l /100km over the launch route according to the onboard computer.

Handling was tidy thanks to the MacPherson-type front suspension and rear torsion beam, while ride comfort was reasonably good, though I would have preferred the driver’s seat to have an adjustment for height as the current position is a little too high for optimal comfort.

Other than that, the electric steering was easy to use and imparted a feeling of quality that we have become accustomed to in the Jazz range.

Overall, perceived quality is quite similar to its Korean rivals, which should bode well for those who lust after better than average tactile quality. The company expects to move about 300 units a month, which it admits is not quite in the ballpark of its competitors, but with plans to further expand its current 34 dealers by at least four by 2014, that figure could be increased significantly.

According to Eagle, the Brio platform will spawn other future models, while a sedan variant of the model is also on the cards for local inception. The company says it is slowly clawing back to the 12,000 units it achieved before the slump in the market in 2009, which will require an increase of its current 8,000 units by about 50% next year.

In the greater scheme of things, the Brio enters a fairly saturated market where value for money remains at the pinnacle of the buying decision.

Thankfully, and unequivocally so, the Brio brings a little more to the table in the way of better tech and specification, not to mention the inherent build quality we have come to expect of Honda products.

Pricing is also very competitive thanks in part to the vehicle being sourced from India, making for a better exchange rate for our market.

Should it be marketed aggressively, competitors will have a very capable rival in the Brio to contend with, and they should take heed of this new entrant.

Pricing:

1.2 i-Vtec Comfort manual R119,800

1,2 i-Vtec Comfort automatic R129,800

Prices include a two-year/30,000km service plan and a three-year/100,000km warranty.