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We took the all-new Honda Brio on a road trip up north to test how it performs on varied terrains. The question people were trying to push was “Can the small car make it up to Baguio?” The fact of the matter is that (almost) any vehicle can go up to Baguio. So the real question should be "can it go with relative ease, comfort to its passengers, and without making you question your life choices?"

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The 2019 Honda Brio 1.2 RS Black Top Navi CVT in Phoenix Orange Pearl | Photo courtesy of Neil Pagulayan

STYLING and SPACE

The all-new Brio is a sporty-looking hatch with enough angles and curves to make it interesting. While it shares the same platform as its predecessor, this one is a different beast entirely, with a different engine and better styling inside and out.

Without the optional black roof, the easiest way to differentiate the variants is by their front grille: S and V-tiered variants have the standard chrome with honeycomb pattern, while the RS models don the gloss black version that makes the Honda logo and RS emblem pop out nicely.

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The convoy climbing up to North | Photo by Honda Press

Staying with its sporty theme, the cabin of the Brio is all black from the carpet all the way to its headliner. Style-wise, the sad frog-looking dash has given way to a more pleasing design, and it's punctuated with either orange accents for the RS variant or chrome for the others. Despite being made up mostly of molded plastic, the dash and door panels look and feel solid. There were no rattling sounds from loose parts inside the cabin, and more importantly, you don’t hear that hollow tin can sound from the doors.

Speaking of sounds, all CVT models come with a new 7-inch capacitive touchscreen with Bluetooth, audio streaming, and USB connectivity. The system isn't fancy, but it is easy to connect to and enabled us to stream music flawlessly to the RS's 6-speaker setup.

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One good thing we’ve noticed across the newer Honda vehicles is that they’re bringing back the physical buttons for the air conditioning and infotainment systems. In theory, the sliders are more precise and present a neater control panel. However, and this is mostly by preference, it's faster and easier to fumble with actual buttons so that you don't have to take your eyes off the road.

For a small car, the Brio has a decent amount of wiggle room for the driver and passengers to get comfy in. Those sitting in front get racing seat-inspired chairs with built-in headrests (adjustable for RS trim), while the passengers at the back have a more adequately padded bench than the previous model. Another welcome improvement is the increase in trunk cargo space, which can now fit three medium bags and a small cooler on the bottom layer, plus more piled on top.

The 2019 Honda Brio 1.2 RS Black Top Navi CVT in Phoenix Orange Pearl - exterior | Photos by Mika Fernandez-David

PERFORMANCE

From our takeoff point in BGC, our convoy headed northward passing thru EDSA’s usual morning traffic. Our group of three was assigned a Phoenix Orange Pearl RS Black Top for the day, and we received quite a number of double takes. My time behind the wheel started in Marilao, and passing thru the NLEX - SCTEX - TPLEX triumvirate at speed, I was pleasantly surprised how firmly planted the Brio was. Despite its size, it felt solid and we didn’t experience any swaying due to gusty winds or passing big vehicles. Steering was responsive with just enough feedback to feel the terrain.

Powered by a 1.2 SOHC i-VTEC Engine, the Brio is obviously no pocket rocket but once it got some momentum, it easily maintained 100 kph at 2000RPM on the highway. Despite being designed as a city dweller, the Brio performed far better than expected. At the end of Day One, we found ourselves in La Union with the six official cars registering consistent fuel consumption in the 14 km/liter range.

The 2019 Honda Brio 1.2 RS Black Top Navi CVT in Phoenix Orange Pearl - interior | Photos by Mika Fernandez-David

The agenda for Day Two was lunch in Baguio, and a whole lot of twisties for dessert. This time we had the mid-trim 1.2 V CVT variant in Carnival Yellow. Aside from the RS-style additions, this trim is mechanically identical to the higher variant with the exception of being 20 kilograms lighter and having a different tire size. Fitted with smaller 175/65/R14 tires, steering was noticeably lighter but remained composed and handled the winding roads well.

If on the highway, the reduced power output of the smaller engine wasn’t felt that much, when you’re climbing, you tend to grasp at any amount of additional power you can get. To keep with the pace of the group, our shifter mainly stayed on S (sport) and L (low) while we were in the mountains.

When we parked the car that night, our onboard fuel economy gauge said we did almost 12 km/l.

The 2019 Honda Brio 1.2 V CVT in Modern Steel Metallic | Photos by Mika Fernandez-David

VERDICT

In the highly competitive segment where pricing, and not necessarily performance, directly translates to the number of units sold, Honda has produced a potential blockbuster. Offering an excellent value proposition, the Brio performs way above its class. Not only is it one of the better-looking hatches in its segment, but its performance also instills confidence in the driver that only a well put together vehicle can.

The Brio should be on the short list of anyone looking to buy a car in its segment, or even one step higher.

Read more about it here: Honda Launches Second-Gen Brio; Prices Start at P585k.