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Traditionally, MPVs are the go-to vehicle of choice for those looking to transport more than five people on a given journey. While that may be the case, most buyers aren’t enthralled by the boxy appearance of the people mover.

With the trend shifting toward high-riding SUVs these days, automakers are blending the two concepts to create a product that has the visual appeal of an SUV, with the practical capabilities of an MPV.

Which is why we were flown into Bangkok to get a little taste of Honda’s effort – the BR-V. Jointly developed by Honda R&D Asia Pacific in Thailand, and P.T. Honda R&D in Indonesia, the “Bold Runabout Vehicle” is specially-made to cater towards Asian markets, and has already been introduced in the both countries mentioned.

Soon, the seven-seater SUV (or crossover as Honda reps call it) will make its way into Malaysia, set to become the company’s first seven-seater SUV in the country. Indirectly, it also serves to fill the void left by the long-departed Freed that fell out of favour with buyers here due to its CBU price point at the time. So, is it any good? Let’s find out.

The BR-V’s exterior shares much in common with the Mobilio, a seven-seater MPV we don’t get here, in terms of looks and platform. However, the BR-V gets its own distinctive cues to make it appear prim and proper for its role.

First up, there’s a brand-new front fascia featuring Honda’s Solid Wing Face, more angular-looking projector headlamps (the Malaysia-spec car gets DRLs as well) and a revised bumper, all of which gives the BR-V a more “family” look when parked alongside the maker’s other SUV/crossover offerings – the HR-V and CR-V.

The side profile of the BR-V is nearly identical to the Mobilio, with only a few notable differences, beginning with the plastic cladding installed near the wheel arches. Elsewhere, the “floating roof” look contributed by the blacked-out D-pillar on the Mobilio has been done away with, and there are now roof rails to compliment the “Advanced Scene Hunter” persona of the SUV.

Much like the front, the rear of the BR-V also gets a makeover, featuring sharper taillights (with LED guide lights), linked by a red trim piece that runs across the liftgate. The lower apron also ditches the faux outlets that were near the reflectors, plus there is also a skid plate, the latter mimicking the look at the front. Adjust your vision to below the car, and you’ll find the temporary space saver tyre tucked away.

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If the BR-V appears to be higher off the ground, that’s because there’s precisely 201 mm of ground clearance offered here (claimed to be highest in the segment). In fact, the SUV measures 4,455 mm long, 1,735 mm wide and 1,650 mm tall, with a 2,660 mm-long wheelbase.

This puts it smack in the middle of the HR-V (4,294 mm long, 1,772 mm wide and 1,605 mm tall, with a 2,610 mm-long wheelbase) and CR-V (4,590 mm long, 1,820 mm wide and 1,685 mm tall, with a 2,620 mm-long wheelbase), although it has a longer wheelbase compared to the latter (+40 mm).

The overall package certainly compliments Honda’s survey results, where 58% of customers wanted an SUV that projected a sporty image, while 73% and 52% of respondents wanted a high ground clearance and high seating position, respectively. Though it may not be to everyone’s liking, it certainly isn’t jarring to look at, especially with those 16-inch dual-tone alloy wheels.

Inside, you’ll find seven seats (obviously), along with a dashboard layout taken directly from the Mobilio. Unlike the Indonesian-spec car, the one for Thailand, and to a larger extent, Malaysia as well, will get the familiar Civic FD steering wheel, and not the Brio-looking one.

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There’s very little soft-touch material here, aside from the leather used to upholster the seats and near the inner door handles. Everything else is trimmed in plastics that have a familiar Honda feel to it, and the overall fit and finish is satisfactory.

As for the kit list, the Thai-spec model we drove came with luxuries such as automatic air-conditioning, second-row air-con blower (manual adjustment), a touchscreen infotainment unit, keyless operation, reverse camera, steering wheel controls and the aforementioned leather seats. Millennials will likely scoff at the lack of rear USB charging ports, the preserver of their electronic devices during long trips.

We saw the latter during the preview of the BR-V at MIECC weeks ago, where the front of the cabin was cordoned off. Nontheless, this should point towards a high-spec variant that should come with the aforementioned goodies, although we’ll have to wait for official word from Honda Malaysia to confirm that.

Moving on, the main draw of the BR-V is the practicality that it offers, and enclosed within its 2,660 mm-long wheelbase are the adjustable second- and third-row seats. The former, which are 60:40 split-fold, offer one-touch tilt and tumble, can be slid forwards and back, and can be reclined at various angles.

The third-row meanwhile, can only be folded down (50:50 split) to allow for a flat-ish cargo area, or tumbled and hooked into place to expand the cargo space from 223 litres (highest in the segment) with the seats in “people-carrying” mode, to 539 litres when folded down.

With this much flexibility, there are a few possible configurations to be had beyond the standard carryall approach. For instance, folding down the second-row seats and sitting at the far back allows for a comical Alphard-inspired setup (think budget Executive Lounge) that is surprisingly comfortable.

Speaking of comfort, the seat base in the second row is pretty sizeable, and there’s plenty of headroom and legroom to accommodate someone around 180 cm tall. Meanwhile, the third row is pretty comfortable for those of a smaller stature (i.e. smaller adults or children), although it’s advisable to take a break on long trips to stretch the legs at regular intervals.

Of course, there are a few inconveniences with the seats. For instance, while the second-row can be tumbled with one lever pull for easy access, the bench will not hold its position when tumbled, so remember to put them back down before accelerating off. This could be rectified easily by installing the same tether hooks used on the third row to help anchor it in place.

There’s also no seat height adjustment for the driver on the Thai-spec model (although present on BR-Vs sold in India), much to the displeasure of my paultan.org/BM colleague, Izwa. Also, should you opt to set the car up for the pseudo Executive Lounge mode, you’ll have to put the seatback to its upright position before attempting to tumble it again to simplify your exit from the vehicle. Minor inconveniences, but present nonetheless.

Powering the BR-V is the 1.5 litre SOHC i-VTEC petrol engine found in the current City. Here, the mill provides 117 hp (or 120 PS) at 6,000 rpm and 146 Nm of torque at 4,700 rpm, with drive being sent to the front wheels via an Earth Dreams CVT unit that has been tweaked for the BR-V – expanded ratio range, reduced friction and reduced frame weight.

While punchy, the engine isn’t the quickest when it comes to gaining speed, and forcing the issue by stomping on the accelerator pedal won’t yield much beyond a busy-sounding CVT and high engine revs. As always, a progressive right foot is a more welcomed approach here.

Should you keep your expectations in check, the engine does perform well in an urban environment, providing good mid-range power for navigating the city streets, and at highway speeds, the engine’s decibel output is kept in check too.

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Our brief drive took us through the notorious traffic of Bangkok, on the highways outside the city limits and into the Ratchabhuri province, allowing us to experience a variety of road terrains ranging from comfortable highway tarmac to roads being resurfaced as well as small country roads.

Across the variety of surfaces, the BR-V’s suspension setup (MacPherson strut front/torsion beam rear) delivered a firm but compliant ride that displayed impressive adaptability. Primary and secondary ride remained composed and devoid of any drama, a definite plus point here.

The electrically-assisted steering is quick to respond to inputs, which makes it very useful when navigating tight Bangkok roads, although it does come at the expense of a lack of feel, but who buys a vehicle like this to hoon around anyway?

Elsewhere, NVH levels weren’t the best on the Thai version, but the implementation of insulation on the hood, dashboard, doors, roof lining and floor will be present on the Malaysian-spec version, we were told, which is certainly good news for us.

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Of course, our tour only involved three passengers in the car (with one being the driver), so it would be interesting to try out the vehicle again when it arrives here, this time with seven passengers (and possibly some cargo) to see if things are any different.

Safety-wise, the BR-V seen here comes with vehicle stability assist (VSA), ABS with EBD, dual SRS front airbags as standard. That means it qualifies for a five-star ASEAN NCAP safety rating, and will likely to be mirrored on our local-spec model as well. For your info, models without the stability control system gets a four-star rating instead.

In closing, the Honda BR-V is an honest, blue collar family car for the masses that ticks all the right checkboxes. Providing decent on-road performance, impressive people-carrying capabilities, comfort and a versatile interior, it performs its duties well, despite the odd quirk or two.

What else do you need to know about it? Well, the car will be locally-assembled in Malaysia, with CKD kits originating from Thailand, there won’t be a five-seater option like in Thailand, and more importantly, will likely be priced between the City (from RM73,782) and HR-V (from RM99,130) when it reportedly launches early next year.

As for competition, the BR-V will directly target the Toyota Rush, which starts at around the RM100k mark. Beyond that, other options are classified as MPVs – the Nissan Grand Livina and Toyota Sienta. Interested?

UPDATE: The Honda BR-V has been launched in Malaysia. Read the following links for more details.