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May 22, 2019

First Drive: 2019 Honda Brio 1.2 CVT

Pause for a minute and imagine everything that a small car is. Ugly, terrible to drive, cramped—these are just some of the words used to describe what’s commonly considered as the lowest tier in motoring: the sub-compact or A-segment car. Now, open your eyes and see the 2019 Honda Brio. It’s the most affordable car in Honda’s stable, yet it manages to adhere to everything the Japanese carmaker stands for. It is, if you will, the “un-small small car.”

Everything starts with the styling. Compared to the startled look of the first-generation Brio, this new one looks every inch more refined. Lengthened by close to 200 millimeters, the stance is less awkward now. It keeps the front doors from the first-generation model, necessitating the continuation of that sharp side crease, though everything else is new. There are still some angles where it looks tall and skinny, but for the most part, it looks great. The Mobilio headlights do well to visually widen the front, despite the identical width with its predecessor, while the formal steel hatch at the back removes the sourness that most complained about before.

Despite carrying on with the first-generation Brio’s platform, the wheelbase’s been stretched by 60 millimeters. While that sounds like a miniscule number, it plays dividends in making the interior much more habitable. Jumping directly to the back, knees no longer scrape against the front seats anymore. The re-designed hatch also gives birth to more headroom, and with it, adjustable headrests. There’s a total of three in the back, but in all honesty, fitting two regular-sized motoring journos is the most possible. Even more impressive is the larger cargo hold. Grown by 83 liters, it now allows large pieces of luggage to fit without having to reduce the passenger count to two (there’s no split-folding function here).

Improved as the Brio is from the back, it’s from the front where it truly shines. Borrowing the Mobilio’s angular dashboard, it’s straightforward to use. Compared to other sub-compacts out there, the seating position is lower and sportier, aided by a well-positioned meaty three-spoke steering wheel and easy-to-read gauges. Like the first-generation Brio, the seats have fixed headrests (except for the RS), but are comfy even for long drives. The Brio scores big for its sturdy construction, amount of storage spaces, and easy-to-use digital type air conditioner while it gets minus points for its tough-to-operate infotainment system (thankfully steering wheel controls are standard) and footrest omission.

Perhaps Honda’s gamble is their decision to swap the previous generation’s 1.3-liter engine for, get this, a 1.2-liter one. The downsized motor gives up 10 horsepower and 17 Nm of torque in a car that weighs just 1 kilogram lighter than before (22 kilograms more with the RS). On the surface, it seems Honda’s levying a performance penalty to make it more affordable, but thankfully, that’s not the case.

Getting the most out of the engine still requires wringing the accelerator, but it’s confident enough to hit the highways. It can feel taxed with three people and luggage onboard, but the engine isn’t at all vocal thanks to impressive NVH; plus it’s smooth and refined even at high rpms. Swapping the traditional automatic for an Earth Dreams CVT should have dulled the responses, but it's actually quite the opposite. It picks up speed pretty quickly, at least until the needle reaches 120 km/h. Fuel economy is also good, registering 14.5 km/L in a mixed city/highway route (about 10 km/L in the city).

With a carryover platform, that’s in turn, based off the first-generation Jazz, the Brio keeps its crown as the best handling A-segment car. The steering has this immediacy that the chassis could match. This tandem makes the Brio a great dance partner; the only car in this price range confident enough to tackle winding roads and sweeping corners. What’s even better is the ride hasn’t been affected at all; it’s actually softer than the previous generation while also being impervious to road cuts or potholes.

The name “Brio” means verve in Italian and with that, Honda’s managed to choose a very apt name. Just as the first-generation Brio presented itself as a fun-to-drive small car, this second-generation model successfully continuous that trend. Honda’s penchant for making a well-engineered car continues here, and with that, enthusiast will reap the benefits by having a choice with qualities that exceed its class.


  1. the road test should have been comprehensive. are there tire and wind noise? are the brakes good and have short distance braking? does crosswinds disturb the car? and most importantly, the ground clearance is only 137(?)mm, would humps and going on up or down on higher parking ramps scape the undersides (front and rear)of the car? how about the acceleration and the known rubber band effect of CVTs?

    1. You’re one of the few people who still appreciate a longer review, which we will do in the future.

      To answer your questions though: there’s noticeable tire noise on the highway, but wind noise is controlled. Crosswinds don’t disturb the car. Brakes bite well but we don’t do instrumented tests. It does scrape against BGC’s high humps taken at speed full loaded. No rubber band effect at least during this drive.

    2. Hi Ulyses.
      Is it a big deal regards to the low clearance and scrapping? I am quite concerned that the front bumpers might tear because of this.

    3. We didn't have much issue with the front bumper and were loaded to 3 in the car. It did scrape (but not at the front, but at the side) when we went through those notorious BGC humps.

  2. Yes, the fact that it had no footrest is disappointing!

    1. Speaking of disappointing, imagine how many "disappointing" things you can find in the Wigo and Mirage. Those cars simply look and feel gross compared to the Brio. Fact lang. Haha

  3. I got this Brio 1.2 cvt and so far it really impressed me. Good for daily driving with class. The handling is great and the engine is very responsive. There are few things lacking though aside from there's no footrest as the shift lever part doesn't illuminate which makes it very hard to see those random letters at night. (if you are not familiar yet) The steering wheel's volume control doesn't have light too. Most low end automatic cars nowadays has this feature and I didn't expect Honda to miss this one. Is it possible to put led lights to these controls?


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