The second-generation Honda BR-V has now made its on-sale debut in Thailand following its initial ASEAN launch in Indonesia close to a full year ago. Armed with a refreshed design and Sensing active safety as standard, its 915,000 baht (or RM114k) starting price is a little worrying, as we've previously speculated.
Much about the all-new BR-V has already been discussed, such as the fact that, like the all-new City generation that’s now in showrooms, it can be thought about as rather thoroughly refreshed versions of their predecessors with platform and powertrains carried over lock stock.
In the case of the B-segment 7-seat contender, its biggest leap forward is its much improved exterior design (subjective, yes) that looks generally classier and more mature. Inside, it benefits from a slightly extended wheelbase to boost cabin space even more - not that it was lacking before.
Its feature set and standard equipment have also expanded significantly, and depending on how Honda Malaysia plays its hand, could have big implications for how well it’s received locally when our turn comes.
Even the baseline model is relatively loaded up with 16-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights and tail lights, LED daytime running lights, and a 7-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. Oh, and Honda Sensing is also included.
That’s the first time we’ve heard about that a B-segment Honda in this region offering non-negotiable active safety. Kudos for the inclusion, but does it warrant that steep a price bump?
See, the BR-V costs between the equivalent of RM114k and an eye-watering RM121k in Thailand with the Honda Sensing safety suite being the tentpole new feature and price justification. We can rule out any mechanical upgrades being a contributing factor since the engine/transmission package is pretty much unchanged.
Its relatively minor dimensional (overall length, width, height) increase is also negligible as it’s commonplace for every car, especially ones designed with versatility in mind, to be larger than the model it replaces.
Still, that starting price is around RM25k north of what a local buyer here expects to pay for an older model (but still brand new, technically, in Malaysia) BR-V 1.5 E and, in Thailand, a whopping ~RM40k more expensive than the City Hatchback, a car that’s built on the same platform and is powered by the same engine.
There’s a specific reason for that, though. See, unlike the majority of other models in Honda’s Thai selection, the BR-V is fully imported from Indonesia instead of being locally assembled. This is puzzling as Honda was happy to let its predecessor roll out of their Ayutthaya plant north of Bangkok for years and years.
Being CBU and not CKD, it’s subject to a bunch more taxation (just like in Malaysia) that would make it dearer on the wallet anyway. So, instead of going the ‘kosong spec’ route to bring it closer to pricing parity with its rivals, the automaker decided to offer BR-V buyers as much standard equipment as they could cram in.
It’s not just us who are alarmed by the BR-V’s steep pricing in Thailand - they are too. At least Honda won’t have to worry about too many challengers there as there’s just the Mitsubishi Xpander and the Toyota Veloz.
The Mitsubishi, even in its most expensive GLS-LTD variation at around RM99k, might manage to hold its own in terms of mechanical specification and cosmetics flair but can’t really keep up with the BR-V in terms of tech and safety. Like the Honda, the Xpander too is fully imported from Indonesia but foregoes such luxuries to strategically retain shaper pricing.
The Veloz, known to us for being the higher-priced, better equipped, and jacked-up doppelgänger to the second-generation Perodua Alza, tries to be a fence-sitter. In Thailand, it predictably slots above the Xpander with a starting price of ~RM103k but is equally hamstrung by its CBU status.
Only the Premium variant can be legitimately compared to the new BR-V as that offers Toyota Safety Sense, more sophisticated cabin appointments, and modern connectivity options to match the Honda, but the penalty for that is a price tag of around RM108k.
Still, that’s some RM6,000 less for the top-rung Veloz compared to what Thai buyers would be paying for a baseline BR-V 1.5E in Thailand. Meanwhile, the step-up 1.5EL is approximately RM13,000 more than the Toyota there. Suddenly the Honda proposition isn’t smelling too rosy.
Once it (hopefully) does hit Malaysian showrooms, we reckon the next-generation BR-V will indeed be more expensive than the current one we have now, possibly bringing local pricing to start at RM100k or more just to account for the general tide of increased vehicle prices (due supply chain bottlenecks, more expensive raw materials) and buyer expectations for more features.
However, how high it might go will largely depend on whether the BR-V will be locally assembled in Pegoh, Melaka, or, like Thailand, be fully imported from Indonesia. If it's the latter, prices could mimic Thailand’s, but its success here could still be salvaged depending on the direction Honda Malaysia takes.
Keep it cheap-ish by cutting features and standard equipment, or position it as an ‘upgrade’ from even the Xpander and the Veloz - both of which are CKD anyway - by packing it with all the bells and whistles?
Though we’d like to think that Honda Malaysia will move heaven and earth to offer the best cars for the most accessible prices to us, the regional bigwigs didn’t bother to make the concession for local assembly in Thailand, a much larger vehicle market. The precedent has already been set.
And unlike Thailand, Malaysian buyers do have an established larger selection of compact 7-seat MPVs to choose from, especially with the imminent launch of the aforementioned Veloz and the disruptive arrival of the all-new Alza.
In view of an escalating competitive landscape, a fully imported BR-V priced out of bounds is perhaps a fight Honda Malaysia might be better off walking away from.
There's just something about cars. It's a conveyance, it's a liability, it's a tool; but it can also be a source of joy, pride, inspiration and passion. It's much like clothes versus fashion. And like the latter, the pursuit of perfection never ends.