The brand image that Honda has built in the Indian subcontinent is one worthy of envy, and it has dominated many a hard-fought segment.
Honda is one of the few manufacturers who can lay claim to the accolade of having almost every model in their line-up dominate its respective segment at some point or the other, and their cars speak volumes of the kind of quality and reliability that Honda is now synonymous with.
In its latest attempt, it plans to tackle the small-car segment with the introduction of the Brio in India.
It remains to be seen whether Honda can take the fight to the current segment leader: Maruti Suzuki.
One of the first things to strike you once you get in to the Brio is that Honda has optimised this car to make the front seats a priority with regards to space.
The rear seat and the boot space, as a result, are slightly compromised. On the outside, Honda has been quite aggressive with the design; the tipped forward stance of the car with the large, fighter aircraft-like fake air intakes under the headlights give the car plenty of attitude. The low window line gives great all-round visibility from the front seats.
Under the hood, you will find the same engine that powers the Jazz in India. The 1198cc four-cylinder engine with 90bhp feels extremely active. The power-to-weight ratio is also bumped up in comparison to the Jazz thanks to the 70kg deficit that the Brio enjoys. The engine remains smooth and rev-happy while providing class-leading fuel efficiency.
The electrically adjusted steering found in the Brio is a breeze to work through traffic, and as a result, cross-town journeys feel less stressful. The steering does suffer from a slightly vague feel and a complete lack of communication with the road however.
Low speed ride quality has suffered to a certain extent with many road undulations filtering into the cabin. High speed mannerisms are much better and the Brio feels quite planted. While taking corners slightly hard, it possessed good grip and adequate stopping power. Overall, the Brio makes for quite a relaxing car to drive, much like the Jazz. In fact, the only significant differentiator between the two cars is the contrast in cabin sizes.
Glance at the spec sheet and you'll note that the Brio has a shorter wheelbase length than the Jazz by 150mm. In spite of that, the Brio can still seat four six-footers in decent comfort and this is down to the car's clever packaging.
Honda has installed seats with thin backrests, the scooped-out glovebox allows the passenger a bit more legroom and the doorpads used are very minimalistic as well, yielding plenty of additional space in the process.
Cost cutting, however, is evident. The seats have no adjustable headrest. Only a pane rear glass is used instead of a costly hatch and there is no rear defogger or wiper.
Pricing the Brio sensitively will be of paramount importance to Honda. Initially, India was promised an August debut of the Brio, but the earthquake in Japan is likely to push the launch date to the end of the year.
(inputs from Shapur Kotwal)