|Photos by Ulysses Ang|
There’s no underscoring the Mobilio’s importance in Honda’s conquest plans for the Philippines. It’s their first properly-designed 7-seater that tops out below the one million mark (no, the 10-seater CR-V doesn’t count). It’s for the man who needs the extended family space once a month while having to drive it alone to work for the rest of the 29 days. A huge chunk of Filipinos love that—just look at the latest CAMPI sales report. So how does Honda plan to persuade Mr. Family Van to their side? They could have relied on frou-frou, but instead, they stick to what they do best: engineering.
Competing in the small or entry-level MPV segment (formally known as the AUV segment), Honda refuses to call the Mobilio an AUV; and for good reason: it doesn’t look or behave like one. Although social media has developed a distaste for the frontend, what can you expect given it’s developed from the Brio/Brio Amaze platform? Also, it’s in much better shape than other choices out there, so zip it. The profile is more station wagon with the teardrop shape peppered with the usual Honda styling cues. It’s refreshing like Katy Perry before the fourth video or Russell Brand. Plus, unlike the videos on perpetual loop, there’s the RS variant sitting atop the range too with sportier bumpers, side sill garnish, alloy wheels, and spoiler to keep things interesting.
So while you’re still figuring out whether you can see naughty bits in the pink clouds for the nth time, let’s get to the Mobilio’s own naughty bits. Fitted with a 1.5-liter i-VTEC engine and Earth Dreams CVT from the Jazz/City, it’s the most powerful one in its class with 120 horsepower and 145 Nm of torque. But this isn’t power for the sake of power. The decision is made purely because Honda engineers didn’t want to sacrifice performance even when fully loaded. They could’ve fitted a 1.3-liter engine and call it a day, but that won’t work. It’ll just make the driving experience suffer.
As it is, the Mobilio’s engaging to drive. Loaded with four people aboard plus luggage, there’s enough grunt to make it feel lithe. From Seda Hotel in Bonifacio Global City, the convoy made its way to the South Luzon Expressway and STAR Tollway. Though there’s usable power down low, the drivetrain truly comes alive when the engine goes past 4,000 rpm. The CVT adjusts quickly, shuffling its infinite ratios to keep things interesting. It’s refined with low wind, road, and tire noise. That said, with the convoy traveling consistently at high speeds meant the CVT had to keep the revs up resulting in a drone-like exhaust note. It’s not overbearing, but you know it’s there. Honda says it can do 16.6 km/L based on their tests. On this occasion, it does 9.2 km/L in the city and 14.4 km/L on the highway—not bad considering the omission of ECON mode.
Just as surprising is how the Mobilio actually feels like a proper car. Not a car on stilts, but a proper car with a proper sense of balance and center of gravity. On the straightaways heading to the Batangas Port, it feels tight and stable. There’s no need to do minute steering corrections like in the Brio and Brio Amaze. It still gets affected by crosswinds, but only to a very minor degree. After the ferry ride, the roads to Puerto Galera from Calapan turn twisty. There, it shows good agility. The steering is quick; enough to keep up with the left-right-left transitions and the body roll is very controlled. On the tighter parts, the non-independent rear suspension does rear its ugly head with tremendous amounts of understeer, but at least the tires didn’t squeal even once. The brakes too, although offering good pedal modulation, don’t bite as well in the initial pedal stroke. In terms of riding comfort, there’s nothing to criticize here. It absorbs ruts and the occasional road cuts very well. Clearly, it’s the best AUV…err…MUV to bring through a mountain pass. And it’s a bonus that the passengers won’t complain.
And while you’re enjoying the drive, everyone else remains comfortable inside the smartly-designed cabin. There’s no hiding the Brio origins (down to The Jetsons’s Rosie-the-Robot glove box), and that’s not such a bad thing; it’s constructed solidly with good levels of fit and finish. The only differentiating factor is the Mobilio has a unique gauge cluster and the RS has silver trimmings around the A/C vents and windows switches. Ergonomics are quite good save for the non-RS 2-DIN audio system which is hard to read in its default blue dot-matrix screen (it’s customizable though). The RS benefits from a Garmin-based touchscreen navigation system that works. All but the base E offer the convenience of Bluetooth hands-free telephony as well. The driver’s seat adjusts in just four ways, but the resulting position is comfortable. The second row offers rake adjustment and folds and tumbles in a 60/40 split with a one-touch mechanism. Access to the third row is easy and if you don’t plan to bring the grandparents (or yaya), it folds down in a 50/50 split for luggage space. With the third row down, there’s 223 liters of luggage. With it folded, it goes up to 470 liters before topping out at 521 with it tumbled. If there’s one single criticism you can level at the seat design is that the third row locks into place with a hook to the second row. No fancy locking mechanism here.
Whether you dig the front-end design or not, there’s no denying that Honda’s first try in the 7-seater, entry-level MPV market happens to be the best one. The drive from Bonifacio Global City to Puerto Galera and back shows the high level of engineering and work done to get it right. It’s designed top-down to be a proper family transporter with none of the shortcuts. Nothing feels compromised or cheap. What’s more, the Honda of family haulers has gotten the price mix correct this time as well. It’s not going to break the bank with prices that range from P 807,000 to P 967,000. This is a quality piece of work with all of the niceties and none of the naughtiness.