With its new FR-V, Honda is hoping for a similar conclusion. Taking its inspiration from the Fiat Multipla’s highly acclaimed 3+3 seating arrangement – imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, etc – the FR-V adds styling and flexi-innovation.
But while the Multipla sells poorly, mostly because of its controversial looks (although they have been toned down with the recent facelift), the FR-V appears dynamic with its low roofline and low sills.
Honda is being typically cautious in its stated UK sales targets: 5,000 next year, between 6,000-8,000 in 2006, split almost 50:50 between fleet and retail. Privately, executives are confident of far exceeding those volumes with style conscious, multi-income, mature (35+) families the core market target.
Honda says four factors influenced the FR-V’s design: minimising the width – it’s less than C-Max and Multipla – but with sufficient space for three seats, no compromise on safety, and a centre seat that does not hinder the driver.
As a result, both centre seats slide forward and back in a V formation to create more room for passengers. It calls the 3+3 configuration “family happiness” as children can sit up front with their parents.
The flexibility doesn’t end there. The front centre seat can fold down to form a table and opens up to reveal additional storage space, while the rear bench will fold flat in just three actions to create almost 600 litres of additional luggage space (the standard boot space of 439 litres is also pretty good).
On sale from November 15, customers initially choose from two petrol engines, a raspy, rather underpowered 1.7, priced £14,750 and the more impressive 2.0-litre, priced £15,700 for the SE and £16,400 for the Sport.
The highly acclaimed 2.2 i-CDTi diesel, currently in the Accord, is added in June 2005 – and will account for more than half of sales. It’s likely to add around £1,000 to the petrol price. In-house NCAP testing by Honda suggests the FR-V will achieve four stars occupancy, three stars pedestrian and four stars child protection when the official results are released in January.
The FR-V might not be the first 3+3 to market – and it’s unfair to describe it as a Multipla copy – but it might be the one that really makes the biggest impact in the compact MPV sector.
Strengths: Flexible, and comfy) 3+3 seating layout, engaging drive, quality, looks
Weaknesses: Noisy, gaspy 1.7 engine, wide pillars, restricted view in rear seats, lack of diesel
Opportunity: Grab some of the mini-MPV market
Threat: Face-lifted Multipla, supply
The USP: 3+3 with style
Prices: from £14,750
Engines: 1.7, 2.0 VTEC
Transmission: 5sp, 6sp man
Performance: 1.7: 0-62mph 12.3, top speed 113mph; 2.0: 10.5s, 121mph
Efficiency: 1.7: 37.7mpg comb, 179g/km CO2; 2.0: 33.6mpg, 199g/km
CAP RV (3yr/30k): 47%
Rivals: Fiat Multipla, VW Touran, Citroen Picasso, Ren.Scenic