The five-door Brio hatch would sit under the $14,990 Jazz, giving a cheaper entry point to the Honda brand. The car hit the Asian and Indian markets in 2011, but while Honda Australia told Carsguide in January the Brio would not meet our Australian standards for at least four years, that time span may now be halved.
"It won't come in this generation. It is at least four or five years away," the managing director of Honda Australia, Satoshi Matsuzawa, said at the time, adding that "the current design is dedicated for India and Thailand, which is difficult to meet for the ADRs (Australian Design Rules that largely regulate safety standards).
However this week Honda has better news. "Certainly the regulations haven't changed, but we're much further down the track in terms of specification for the Brio and the safety level we can get in the car," Honda Australia director and general manager of sales and marketing, Stephen Collins, says.
"We're now more advanced in the study of the car and the business case -- we're not across the line by any means but we're further down the track. We can't give a firm time frame but we're hopeful that it will be an earlier date than originally planned. We'll have more information over the next month or two."
He says the business car should continue to stack up well as their plans for the Brio develop. "We think the sub-light segment is growing and likely to grow more in the future. Our predictions are it will be quite strong over the coming years, especially as urban customers are increasingly looking for small, efficient -- but still practical -- cars."
There's no indication yet on exactly how low the Brio price will go, but there's fierce - and growing -- competition in the city car field. The new $13,990 Volkswagen Up has just arrived stacked with features to battle against Holden's cheaper Barina Spark at $12,490, the even sharper-priced Suzuki Alto at $11,790.
Chery's J1 still holds the price lead at $10,990 but recent publicity about asbestos in the car's engine gaskets may deter even the dollar-watchers who would normally sacrifice spec for budget. "Clearly it would need to be positioned under the Jazz, and the reality in that market is somewhere between $13,000 and $14,000 for us," Collins says.
"Our strategy is really to provide good spec and good safety. Price is obviously important as it is in any segment, but we're not interested in a base model without much in it. We need to provide the features. The Brio is built in India and Thailand, and sold overseas with a choice of two four-cylinder petrol engines: a 65kW/109Nm 1.2-litre and a 73kW/127Nm 1.3-litre petrol, with either a five-speed manual or CVT automatic gearbox on offer.
Collins says the Australian spec would definitely include the automatic, which is seen as being crucial for the target young and budget city buyers. However it's likely we will get both transmissions with only one engine choice. "Our view is that it is critical to have a CVT -- we think to have only a manual would be very restrictive and would deter those types of buyers. We haven't made a decision on engines, but we try to keep our line-up relatively simple," he says.