Honda believes that its new compact MPV (small minivan), the FR-V, will be a hit with European consumers because of its unusual two bench ‘3+3’ seating layout, un-MPV-like external styling and a claimed superior driving experience.

Honda maintains that the FR-V package will attract customers who might consider a Renault Scenic for its versatility, a Volkswagen Touran for its quality and a Ford Focus C-Max for its driver appeal.

FR-V is made at Honda’s Suzuka plant in Japan and already sold in Japan as the Honda Edix. There are no plans for export market destinations besides Europe.

The car’s 3+3 seating layout immediately marks it out in a segment dominated by five and seven seaters (or, more accurately, 5+2’s). Only Fiat has previously opted for a six-seat configuration in its outrageously styled Multipla, a controversial car that has been lauded in some industry circles but ultimately turned out to be a slow seller.

Not surprisingly, Honda officials are anxious to avoid too many comparisons between the FR-V and the Multipla, which is also one of the widest cars on European roads. That said, they are more than happy to point out that while the outlandish Fiat and the FR-V share a similar seating set-up, the Honda is a lot less wide. Indeed, the FR-V’s body is the same width as the Renault Scenic and actually narrower than the Ford C-Max, Honda says.

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Why six seats and not five or seven? Honda says that if you’re a family of four, a five-seater only leaves room for one extra passenger while a seven-seater gives you surplus seating capacity that consumes boot space. But ‘3+3’ means more capacity, flexibility for extra passengers and room for luggage, claims Honda. Also, everyone sits close enough in two rows not to have to raise voices (promoting, in a phrase used at the journalists’ presentation in Jerez, Spain, ‘New Family Happiness’).

Young families with one small child could be ideal customers. A family day out inspired the FR-V after project leader, Masaaki Tsunoda, took his wife and young son out for a drive in a 1950s Cadillac featuring a bench seat up front. It meant that Tsunoda junior could sit between his parents and chat to them instead of languishing in the rear. The experience so impressed that FR-V’s 3+3 layout was born. That’s Honda’s line and the company insists that it has not copied Fiat.

Honda says that FR-V has a wide track chassis engineered to minimise body roll. The FR-V’s wide track (1550 mm front, 1560 mm rear) has permitted the use of lower (ie softer) spring rates, so ride comfort improves accordingly, the company says. Honda also says that its chassis engineers have arrived at a suspension geometry that optimises the position of the roll centre axis, ie that point about which a vehicle rolls during cornering.

Honda has set modest sales volume targets for FR-V in Europe. Honda plans to sell 20,000 units annually in Europe (of which 5,000 units will be for the British market). Sales start in November, but initially only petrol-engined variants will be available – a 1.7 SOHC VTEC and 2.0 DOHC i-VTEC . A 2.2 i-CTDi diesel becomes available in the middle of 2005. 

The 1.7 litre is mated to a 5-speed manual transmission the 2.0 litre is mated to a 6-speed manual transmission. FR-V will not be made available in Europe with automatic transmission because Honda does not see the need for it in a segment that it says is 95% manual transmission.

Honda UK’s PR chief, Paul Ormond, told just-auto that Honda expects very little sales overlap with other models in Honda’s line-up because Honda’s UK market share is relatively small at around 4% and the compact MPV market is growing fast and incrementally. “We expect that FR-V sales will be 90% conquest,” Ormond said.

However, Honda does admit to some overlap with the Honda Stream model but says that the model will be continued through 2005, catering for those who want an automatic and helping to support resale prices on it.

For FR-V Honda is targeting existing C-segment and D-segment car customers as well as those compact MPV owners who are choosing their second C-MPV and ‘would like to upgrade to better quality.’

In Britain, FR-V sales commence in November and variant prices are as follows: 1.7 SE, £14,750; 2.0 SE, £15,700; and 2.0 Sport, £16,400. Diesel prices will be announced closer to launch, but the company points out that the premium for the Accord CDTi diesel over the 2.0 litre petrol equivalent is currently £1,300.

Dave Leggett




















































Source: Honda