For the good part of this decade, Toyota has been the ridiculed for the high prices and low safety feature of its cars, while Honda has been winning praises from the general public. The once-mighty Toyota, which used to be the best-selling non-national brand in Malaysia for over two decades, lost its mantle to Honda in 2016.
It took Big T quite a while to shape up and prepare for a counterattack, but the recently launched seven-seater Toyota Rush - a direct rival to the seven-seater Honda BR-V - is a testament that competition brings out better value for consumers.
The Rush is offered in two variants – 1.5G and 1.5S, estimated at RM 93,000 and RM 98,000 respectively, with deliveries to begin in January. At a glance, that’s more than what Honda charges for the BR-V 1.5E and 1.5V, priced at RM 80,900 and RM 87,701 respectively.
However it is the Rush that offers more for your money. Some of the safety features included are not even available in a higher range Civic. Safety and value are two things that you don’t normally associate with Toyota.
Where the Honda offers only two airbags, Toyota offers six across the Rush range. It also more than matches the Honda’s hill-start assist and electronic stability control, extending the list to include blind spot monitor, 360-degree panoramic view parking camera, autonomous emergency braking (Pre-collision System) and rear cross traffic alert – all of which is not even available in a higher range Civic.
The inclusion of rear cross traffic alert is appreciated for a tall riding vehicle like a Rush as regular reverse cameras are not sufficient to alert the driver of approaching cars, motorcycles or even pedestrians when reversing out onto a busy street.
Crucially, these safety features come as standard for all Rush variants, except for the Pre-collision feature, which is only available in the 1.5S variant.
The Rush’s camera-only Pre-collision system is a rather simple system. It’s more sophisticated than the ones used on a Perodua Myvi but it’s nothing close to the camera plus radar-based Honda Sensing system used in the Accord, CR-V, and Odyssey.
Still, Pre-collision offers the two most important functions you need: forward collision warning and autonomous emergency braking. The system works at speeds of up to 100 km/h. Collision is avoidable for speeds no more than 30 km/h (subject to road and tyre conditions). Beyond that, the system reduces the severity of the collision.
Inside, the Rush is also a better place to sit. In the 1.5S variant, the leather materials are of a higher grade than those used in the BR-V. The Rush’s seats are also thicker, firmer and offer better support than the BR-V. The two-tone finishing in the interior also give the Rush’s cabin little more flair.
Both the second and third row seats also offer more legroom than the BR-V, which is surprising even though the BR-V has a 15 mm longer wheelbase. Toyota’s own internal data claims that the Rush offers 57 mm more legroom in the second-row than the BR-V.
However, it’s also a case of two steps forward and one step backward for the Rush, as its air-conditioning lacks a front demister and you can’t adjust the blower to divert air to your feet. If the front windscreen fogs up in the rain, you have to either manually switch the air-conditioning to fresh air mode (disable recirculation) or lower the windows slightly.
However, the Rush’s biggest weakness is powertrain refinement. Underneath the Rush’s slightly snazzier body are still mechanical bits derived from the utilitarian Avanza, which is also developed by Daihatsu.
At speeds, the Rush’s 1.5-litre naturally aspirated engine buzzes more than the BR-V. The latter shares the same underpinnings as a passenger car Honda City/Jazz and is thus slightly more refined.
Contrary to popular opinion. The Rush’s 1.5-litre Dual VVT-i is not related to the Vios’, despite having the same 1,496 cc capacity. The front-wheel drive Vios uses an aluminum block 2NR-FE engine while the rear-wheel drive Rush uses a steel block 2NR-VE engine developed by Daihatsu, used mainly by the Perodua Myvi and Toyota Avanza.
The Rush’s 4-speed automatic also means that gear ratios are adjusted more for acceleration and there isn’t enough spread for the engine to make a lazy cruise on highways. At a speed of 110 km/h, the Rush’s tachometer was already hovering at around 3,500 rpm.
The BR-V’s CVT-type automatic is not every enthusiast driver’s favourite (but if you want an exciting drive, why are you looking at these cars?) but it’s highly effective in keeping the engine revs at its most optimal range. Our time with the Rush is not enough for us to evaluate its fuel efficiency but we don’t think it will be better than the BR-V.
The Rush’s Avanza underpinnings also means that it can never be as comfortable or as agile as the passenger car-based BR-V. With just two persons onboard, the Rush’s ride quality can be below average but the ride gets better with more load.
It might sound odd but the BR-V is actually more comfortable than a Honda City, as it’s a regional model aimed at the region's poorer road conditions. Plus, the BR-V’s longer wheelbase and wider track than the City also helps. In fast sweeping corners, the BR-V is surprisingly well composed, when judged by the standards of a budget seven-seater. The same however cannot be said for the Toyota Rush.
Being a rear-wheel drive, the Rush has a significantly smaller turning radius – 5.2 metre versus the front-wheel drive BR-V’s 5.6 metres, making the Toyota ideal for tight U-turns and parking.
Also, the Rush has a 220 mm ground clearance versus the BR-V’s 201 mm. Depending on what you want, this can be both good and bad. The taller ride height means that the Rush won’t be as agile as the BR-V but it’s definitely more capable at wading through flash floods. Urban SUVs don’t need four-wheel drives but flash floods are something many of us encounter during the monsoon season.
The more space-efficient front-wheel drive BR-V also offers slightly more boot capacity (233 litres) than the rear-wheel drive Rush (217 litres), which has to pack more mechanical bits under the boot floor.
There is no perfect car. Each has its own pros and cons. Consumers have to make a choice between driving comfort and safety features. Evaluating the type of driving conditions that you encounter most will help you decide better. If you don’t travel at highway speeds for extended periods of time, perhaps the Rush’s higher levels of safety equipment might make it a better choice. The BR-V on the other hand, is better suited for longer distance drives.