With the Amaze, Honda embarks on a landmark innings in India. This is the company’s first compact saloon and first diesel car rolled into one and it has enormous potential here. The Japanese carmaker has a lot riding on the Amaze and it could very well catapult Honda to the pinnacle of the entry-level saloon segment. So, have they managed to get it right?
Based on the successful Brio hatchback, the new Amaze is almost specifically targeted at India. Its sub-four-metre length and options of a less than 1200cc petrol motor and less than 1500c diesel engine go towards ensuring that Honda can avail of the excise (tax on manufacturing) sops for small cars and make it affordable for the value-conscious Indian buyer.
What sets this car apart from other sub-four metre saloons is the cohesiveness of the design. Unlike the Maruti Dzire, which is the best seller in this class, the Amaze does not look severely truncated or chopped from the rear. The lines of the car flow smoothly over the Brio’s nose, onto the elongated roof and down over what is a very traditional looking boot. The reason it doesn’t look like an afterthought is because it isn’t one. Honda planned this Brio-based saloon from day one. In fact it looks positively attractive, with the two slashes across the side of the car and the nicely styled tail-lights. What allows the Amaze to keep this regular saloon profile is the fact that, unlike the Swift Dzire, it has a very short and compact nose.
Where Honda has spent money is in lengthening the wheelbase. More space between the wheels, of course, means greater space inside the cabin, and in this area the Amaze is an absolute delight. You can easily fit four large adults inside, with enough head-, shoulder- and legroom for all. The fifth passenger, sat in the middle on the rear bench, has less shoulder room, but the seat is still useable for short journeys. The longer doors also make getting in and out of the back really easy. The front seats are similar to those on the Brio, and though they are slender, they are comfortable on long journeys as well. The driver of the Amaze gets seat height adjustment (not available on the Brio) and rear-seat passengers get a new fold-away elbow rest as well. Other plus points include the dashboard with its low cowl that gives you great forward visibility. The one piece front seats with fixed headrests, may not appeal to a lot of Indian customers as such a design is perceived as cheap.
The dashboard looks similar to that of the Brio, and while this works well on the hatchback, it does look a bit low-spec here. Quality isn’t really the issue – the plastics are acceptable (though not as good as the Dzire’s) and there’s no issue with functionality either (there are no less than seven 1-litre bottle holders), it’s just the design that’s a bit spartan. The vents, centre console and instrument panel don’t ‘line up’ in the traditional sense and then there are some odd looking bits, like the joint of the glovebox that stands out like an upturned lip.
Still, you can't fault Honda on how well they have packaged the cabin --the dashboard has been pushed as tightly as possible to the front of the cabin and, as a result, takes up less space than a traditional one and this, combined with the slender seats, means there is more space for passengers. Compared to the Brio, the Amaze gets longer armrests and additional door pockets for rear- seat passengers, the rear speakers have been moved to the parcel tray and the rear seat cushioning is thicker too.
Otherwise, the audio system, sans CD player, the manual air-con control and three-spoke steering wheel remain the same. This top-end Amaze VX also gets electric folding mirrors, alloy wheels, a basic trip computer and a green 'ECO' light on the instrument console that lights up when you drive economically. Also, importantly, this car has a real boot which, at 400 litres, is pretty huge. It looks like it can easily swallow more than a couple of pieces of full-size luggage.
Now that we’ve established that the Amaze is truly spacious and comfortable on the inside, it’s time to find out what it is like on the move. Can it feel more grown up to drive than the compact hatch it is based on?
It is easy to get comfortable behind the wheel, the seat height adjustment for the driver makes a big difference here, and holding onto the thick-rimmed steering wheel feels good too.
Honda’s first diesel for India however, is a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand, power delivery and driving manners are brilliant, but on the other, it’s pretty noisy and nowhere near as quiet as other cars in its class. Let’s deal with the bad bit first. Start the engine and there’s a considerable amount of shock from under the bonnet, the engine rocking back and forth on its mounts as it fires up before settling down to a more quiet idle. The all-aluminium engine, though lighter, transmits more noise than a typical cast-iron-block diesel engine. Aluminium simply doesn't have the sound absorbing properties denser metals have.
Honda’s 1.5-litre, 98.6bhp ‘Earth Dreams’ diesel engine is otherwise a peach. It has been tuned to be responsive from the word go and unlike many diesels, there’s no delay between you putting your foot downand the car shooting forward. It starts pulling well from as low as 1200rpm and power flows in a seamless manner all the way to 4000rpm. In fact, the Amaze’s linear power delivery masks its performance because there is no sudden spike or surge of power. The wide powerband makes the Amaze really nice to drive in city traffic, where you need a responsive engine. You don't need to shift gears as often as in a Dzire and even when you do, you'll find the clutch is nice and light and the gearshift is positive and crisp.
However, unlike Fiat’s 1.3-litre Multijet engine that is used by Maruti and others, the Honda engine doesn’t rev as freely. Honda engineers say they have tuned the Amaze to suit the Indian driving style of shifting up early and rarely exceeding 3,500rpm. This diesel motor’s elasticity more than makes up for any lack of top-end punch and in fact, full-throttle performance is actually quite good. It takes 12.47sec to get to 100kph, which is approximately a second quicker than the Dzire diesel.
As for the petrol motor, it is the same as the one in the Brio and that means it has good part throttle responses. But, push on and you'll discover a weak mid-range, especially when you want a quick burst of power for overtaking. This engine performs best when you really wring it out -- top-end performance (like most Honda motors) is where the action is and there's plenty of fun to be had when you spin the engine past 6000rpm. Still, driven flat out, the Amaze petrol's super-light kerb weight of 965kgs, helps it post a rather impressive 0-100kph time of 13.27sec
We also drove the automatic gearbox-equipped petrol Amaze and it felt quite sprightly and energetic. Initial responses to the throttle are good (the automatic gearbox helps disguise the lack of bottom-end grunt to a certain extent), and the Amaze takes off from rest with a considerable amount of energy. Gearshifts are not particularly seamless and at low speeds, the transmission is slightly jerky. However, for ease of use, this transmission does the job and makes incredibly light work of traffic.
Honda has also taken care to give the Amaze good ground clearance, which is quite obvious by the empty space in the wheel wells. Hopefully this extra clearance (15mm more than the Brio’s) will keep the Amaze’s underbody clean on the worst of speed breakers and even with a full load. The raised long-travel suspension also helps it ride well over our badly built roads. Apart from the odd shudder when you hit a sharp edge, the suspension tackles potholes and bumps rather well.
What’s also impressive is that the jacked up suspension doesn’t really compromise driving manners. The Amaze feels well planted and precise to punt around corners, and this feeling of confidence and poise remains even when you go faster. What also adds to the driving experience is the steering, which, though electrically power-assisted, is quite accurate and well weighted. It is both light at low speeds and not overly light as you go faster, which really is nice.
Honda has hit the sweet spot with the Amaze. Despite being a sub-four-metre saloon, it looks properly formed and not truncated or ill-proportioned. The interiors are incredibly spacious for such a compact saloon and, the boot is large as well and it’s great to drive. The all-new diesel motor is perfectly tuned for Indian driving habits, so there is plenty of power just when you need it. The headline news however is the fuel efficiency, which is a record breaking 25.8kpl in the official Indian Driving Cycle. Real world figures will of course be lower but we expect the Brio to be incredibly frugal in daily use. To achieve such low fuel consumption with a 1.5 litre engine and near 100bhp is a monumental achievement. However, the Amaze isn’t perfect. The diesel is noisier than the competition and the dashboard, carried over from the Brio, doesn’t feel as special. Saloon buyers will expect a richer interior.
Look at the overall picture, however, and the new Amaze clearly has almost everything else buyers in this class are looking for, especially if Honda can match the expected sticker price of Rs. 5 lakh for the base petrol and Rs. 6.5 lakh for the base diesel, which puts it smack against the Dzire. If you are buying a car in this class or even anything else in this price range, we strongly suggest you check the Amaze out, it’s that good.
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