I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had to correct people – it’s not bra-ee-oh, it’s Bree-o. Get it? Good, now let’s get on with business. We’d first sampled the Brio back in 2010 when Honda showcased a striking concept hatchback which took centre stage for the Japanese brand and all news sources flashed happy stories about the car.
Then, in the last quarter of 2011, we drove the production version on some very nice roads down South, and were blown away. When I entered office after returning from the drive, Dhruv asked me casually – how was it? The only reaction I could manage was one raised eyebrow, massive smile and a head nodding in confirmation of the fun I’d had. I’m a complete hot hatch buff and after a very long time, a little car had managed to make me laugh and giggle – the Brio. Yes, I loved the Figo, too, but it hasn’t been as involving overall – it’s got a brilliant chassis and it does rousing handling like no other car in its segment. But the engines aren’t particularly what you’d call engaging and that, really, is the fly in the ointment for me.
The Brio does things a bit differently. It’s got a lovely engine and (manual) gearbox combination, a great soundtrack and, even though the handling may not be as sharp as the Figo’s, and the ride may be a bit compromised, it’s still a bunch of fun to throw around. An enthusiast wants a glorious noise from the tail pipes, great seats and a lovely steering, and a bit of a naughty character from the car. The Brio ticks all these boxes, and some, and this makes the Honda slightly more connecting emotionally, I’d say.
We’ve had a laugh taking it to the Buddh International Circuit and going tyre-squealing with it. We’ve not yet set a lap time in it, but we will do so before it is time for the Brio to go back. So, by now you’d have realized how much fun this little squirrel is and how much we love it. So when Honda sent us an invite to drive the automatic variant of the Brio, we were a bit worried. Dual clutch jobs aside, the conventional automatic ‘boxes have, quite literally, been miserable. And the thought of going from a brilliant manual gearbox to a dull automatic was creepy!
All specs of the car are the same – save for the numbers and pattern of the stick in the middle. It’s a 3-shaft layout, torque convertor affair with a common driven gear for the top two ratios mated to a drive-by-wire throttle mechanism. For most part, you’ll be fine with the lever slotted into D, but if there’s a sudden need to floor the pedal and gain rapid momentum, there is a slight bit of delay from the pedal to communicate a gear change to the transmission. But Honda has acted all smart and given us a solution to this. There are two more modes – D1 and D2, and, as is expected and much like in a manual gearbox, they’d hold onto their respective gears for eternity if you’d like, without shifting even at the rev limit. Even in the plain D mode, if you have your foot deep into the metal, the gearshifts take place at the absolute red zone of the rev counter – this I like!
So, the fun (well, most of it) is still intact and the Brio’s convenience quotient has gone much higher with this automatic transmission, and she should thank its elder sibling, the City, for it for lending this magnificently mated gearbox to the Brio. It’s got a tacky tagline, “It loves you back” which I’ve never approved of, but I do love it, and it does give back a lot – even this automatic.