Car review: New Honda Mobilio MPV is a triumph of function and efficiency

Do you remember a time when there were no mobile phones, when there was no Internet, when people wrote letters instead of e-mail?

I do. It was a far less complicated period.

The new Honda Mobilio takes you back to that time, a time when a car's form generally took a backseat to its function.

The Mobilio is a compact seven-seater that Honda makes in India, Indonesia and Thailand, and which competes with other Asian-made Japanese models such as the Nissan Livina (not available here) and Toyota Avanza.

Price-wise, it also competes with the Kia Carens, a compact Korean MPV featured today too in Life! on Page E18.

But materially, the Mobilio is somewhere between the Avanza and the Carens. It is nothing much to look at, although some might argue it is a bit more stylish than the Toyota.

Its build quality, fit and finish are also slightly better than the Toyota's, but light years behind the Kia's high standards.

Its cabin is unabashedly plasticky, but decently put together. There are no sharp or coarse bits and there is no rattle when the car is on the move.

The doors close with a rather cheap hollowness, and the handles are beset with a sticky mechanism that is rather unpleasant.

But that's the form. In terms of functionality, the Mobilio surprises with plenty of verve and versatility.

Its modest 1.5-litre engine is a plucky little number. Combined with a whiny but effective continuously variable transmission and a lightweight body (below 1.2 tonnes), the Mobilio is adequately swift up to 90kmh.

There is a slight dip in accelerative power thereafter, but the car will nevertheless achieve three-digit speeds without too much trouble.

In day-to-day driving, it is unlikely you will find it lagging behind traffic. In fact, if you take it up to 5,000rpm - which it will reach relatively effortlessly - the engine allows the seven-seater to sprint ahead of the pack most of the time.

Its steering may be somewhat sloppy and its chassis lacking in refinement in the way it copes with corners and undulations (you get plenty of body movement), but the car serves its purpose in gettting a family from point A to point B.

The driver may not enjoy the drive much, but the other six occupants will not be the wiser.

Despite its compact stature, the Mobilio offers lots of room. There is ample knee-room in all three rows, although the vehicle floor is a bit high. This impinges on stretching room, especially in the last row.

Headroom in the last row is adequate if you are up to 1.7m tall, although the headrest could have come with more stages in its height adjustment.

You can flip and fold the seats with ease, so the car can easily lug Ikea flat-packs. It might not have the elegance and variations that the Carens offers, but on the whole, it still serves its purpose.

The same goes for its amenities. The air- conditioning system is manual, but it is frosty - with ceiling-mounted rear blowers. Windows are powered, but only the driver gets one-touch operation - and only for down.

Pretty much everything else is manual, but that does not take away the usability of the car. And even though you cannot adjust the tilt of the steering column, you will find that its fixed angle is just fine.

Besides its vocal engine, the cabin is fairly quiet.

Honda has thrown in a few frills to spice up the modest Mobilio. You get a decent infotainment system with a 7-inch touchscreen monitor. This comes with reverse camera (with cute guiding cones) and navigation.

Volume and channel controls can be accessed via steering-mounted switches. And there are various ports for you to plug your mobile devices into. The car even has a 12-volt 180-watt power socket.

The Mobilio's trump card, though, is its remarkable efficiency. It averaged 7.8 litres/100km for this test-drive, which is impressive and pretty close to its declared 6.2.

On that count, it will avail you to the running cost of a long forgotten era. If only its price tag were as nostalgic.

christan@sph.com.sg