Just how big a deal is the new Amaze saloon for Honda? It’s not just a new car launch, it’s a make-or-break moment for a company that has, in recent times, fallen out of favour with the demanding Indian car-buyer. When the whole country suddenly went diesel-crazy, Honda stood its ground with petrol-only offering, but ultimately lost its commanding grip on the market to competition that followed the trend. So the Amaze is really a shot at redemption; a chance for Honda to return to its glorious past.
So while it’s a bit unusual, it’s not very surprising that, in this case, the car itself is somewhat overshadowed by the engine that resides under its bonnet. Honda’s first diesel engine for India has been a long time coming, and with petrol power now regaining popularity, one might wonder if its arrival is too little too late. Honda doesn’t think so, obviously, and is dedicating a lot of its resources to ensuring that the i-DTEC powerplant is heavily localised in order to keep the price competitive and to make sure the demand is met. It also makes a lofty promise, claiming this to be the most fuel-efficient engine in the country with a 25.8kpl Indian Driving Cycle rating, despite also being the most powerful in its class.
Honda has developed the Amaze specifically for India. It is less than four metres long, its petrol engine displaces less than 1200cc and its diesel less than 1500cc, so it qualifies for the government’s excise benefit on small cars. There are lots of other small but significant features on the car that are a direct result of feedback from Indian customers too, so Honda does seem to have done its home-work. Priced form Rs. 4.99 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi) for the petrol and Rs 5.99 lakh for the all-too-important diesel, not only is it competitive, it will undoubtedly become Honda’s best-selling model. There is definitely a lot riding on this car, so let’s see how well it fares on the road.
DESIGN & ENGINEERING
This is a saloon version of the Brio, there’s no escaping the fact, and as a result, you will tend to make comparisons with the hatchback. Viewed head on, the two are almost indistinguishable, save for a few minor details. The grille now has two chrome bars instead of the Brio’s single chrome strip, and higher variants of the Amaze get indicators in the wing mirrors and body-coloured surrounds for the air dam in the bumper, but that’s it. you can sense that most of the development costs have gone into the car’s rear.
Move over to the side and there’s a pleasant surprise in store. The boot has been very neatly integrated and, in profile, it doesn’t look abrupt or truncated as with other sub-four metre saloons. This is a proper three-box car. Part of the reason for this is that the starting point, the Brio, has a short nose and measures just 3610mm in overall length, so the designers had a lot of room to work with before they hit the 4000mm cut-off. This also allowed for a 60mm stretch of the wheelbase, most of which has gone into rear-seat legroom. They did, however, admit that working to a length limit was the hardest part of the design brief, and they have used a few neat design ‘tricks’ to keep thing attractive. The boot is very upright, but the wraparound tail-lamps and the thick chrome strip on the bootlid help disguise it. The rear door is much larger than the Brio’s, so there‘s a neat second crease running from the tail-lamp through the rear door handle to give some character to the flat sheetmetal.
The 14-inch alloys are different from the Brio, and there are separate wheel designs for petrol and diesel models. Bigger wheels and tyres could have given the Amaze a better look, a more planted feel and a plusher ride, but Honda says this would have added too much weight. In fact, lightness is one of this car’s biggest strengths, aiding its performance, driving dynamics and fuel efficiency. The base petrol manual model weighs just 950kg, and even a fully loaded diesel is only 1075kg.
Bringing the bantamweight saloon to a halt very effectively are disc brakes at the front and drums at the rear. The pedal feel is great and the ABS system (standard on the diesel, but available on the A/T and VX petrol variants only) is very well calibrated. However, only the VX variants get a pair of airbags to round off the safety kit.
In terms of build quality, the Amaze is in the same league as the Brio, which isn’t such a good thing in this class of car. It is well put together, but there’s a lightness to the doors and body panels that robs the car of some premium feel. Buyers of saloons even compact saloon, expect a certain feeling of solidity from their car.
As with the exterior, the front half of the Amaze’s interior is largely the same as the Brio, while most of the changes have been made at the back. That means the same asymmetric, three-tone dashboard with its circular air-con vents and hooded instrument binnacle. Here too, the design, materials and build quality, while suitable for a compact hatchback, simply do not cut it in a saloon car, and neither does the quirky looking rubber boot surrounding the base of the manual gearlever.
These days, a number of features, though not essential, have become de-rigueur on saloons, and a lot of these are conspicuous by their absence on the Amaze. The most obvious one is climate control-although, bear in mind, the City still makes do with a manual air-con. Other smaller omissions are button-operated electric central locking, speed-sensitive auto-locking doors and seatbelt height adjustment. Honda has, however, added electric folding mirrors, which aren’t available on the Brio, to the top Amaze variants, while also giving the saloon a rear defogger and covering up the ugly exposed body panels in the front door pockets.
The slim front seats from the Brio make a return, fixed headrests and all, and while they are very comfortable, even on longer journeys, they are lacking slightly in shoulder support. The already great driving position and outward visibility can now be enhanced thanks to the addition of driver’s seat height adjustment with a full 50 mm of travel.
The space in the rear seat is quite astounding for a sub-four-metre car; the lengthened wheelbase has really paid dividends here. Unless the front and rear occupants are over 6ft tall, there is more than sufficient legroom, and the headroom is better than the Brio thanks to the roof that stretches further back. Honda has taken on consumer feedback and really worked to improve the ambience back here. The seat is all new-wider, longer, with plusher cushioning and a flip-down centre armrest with two cup-holders. It’s really comfy, too, with good support for your back and thighs, though a third passenger might make shoulder room a bit tight. The seatback doesn’t fold down like in the Brio because of a strengthening brace behind it. The longer doors have allowed for longer side armrests (which house the window switches), the speakers have been moved from the doors to the rear parcel shelf for more width, and there are one-litre bottle-holders on each side. Speaking of which, Honda has managed to cram five bottle holders and four cup-holders into this car.
The 400-litre boot is big by compact saloon standards and will easily accommodate two medium-sized suitcases. The loading lip is a little high, but the aperture is wide, and the neat packaging means the wheel arches don’t intrude too much.
ENGINE, GEARBOX & PERFORMANCE
We’re familiar with the 1.2-litre i-VTEC motor, having driven it extensively in the Brio and the Jazz. Like all modern Honda petrol engine, it is near-silent at idle and has good overall refinement. Like the Brio, it’s available with either a five-speed manual gearbox or a five-speed automatic.
The Performance is similar too. Responses low down are great (better still with the automatic and its torque converter push) and it gets off the line eagerly. Unfortunately, it is let down by a weak mid-range, and you will find yourself shifting down every time you want to pick up the pace. This can be very annoying when you’re cruising on the highway, and here’s where you’ll really feel this engine’s lack of grunt. Its real strength is in its top end and it gets a second wind if you rev it beyond 4500rpm. However, here’s where things get quite noisy, and we can’t imagine too many Amaze owners will be gunning it to its redline in everyday driving.
The five-speed manual is a delight to use – very light and accurate, with a compact lever and short throws. The clutch is light too, which should be helpful in traffic. The automatic gearbox is closely related to the one used in just about every automatic Honda car in India. Honda uses a CVT automatic for the Amaze (and the Brio) in Thailand, but has opted to use the five-speed torque converter in India to save on import costs. It’s a good thing they have, too, as this ‘box works well with the 1.2-litre i-VTEC engine, with smooth and quick responses off the line. There’s a bit of a flat spot in the middle, however, amplified by the engine’s weak mid-range, so fluctuating your pace in stop-go traffic can result in some hesitation in the power delivery. Although the shifts themselves are quick and seamless, the gearbox doesn’t have the sharpest reactions to your throttle inputs. Punch your foot down to overtake and there’s a noticeable pause before it kicks down a gear, but once it does, it’s happy to let the engine soar all the way to its redline before shifting up.
Now, on to the 1.5 i-DTEC ‘Earth Dreams’ diesel engine, which has been derived from the larger 1.6 diesel that power European Hondas. This made-for-India 1498cc motor is a state-of-the-art four-cylinder engine that features 16 vales and twin overhead camshafts. Honda has focused on reducing friction and weight as far as possible, and to this effect has worked with Idemitsu to develop a special low-friction oil just for this engine. Also the block is all-aluminium, which reduces weight considerably, and the engine sits on liquid-filled mounts instead of standard rubber ones to minimize vibration.
Fire up this engine and what immediately become evident is that the great refinement that Honda cars are famous for is more down to its silent petrol engines. You will feel a shudder from the front of the car as the motor rumbles to life, before it settles down to a reasonably quiet idle. But the clatter starts as soon as you get off the line, and it never goes away. The vibrations can be felt in the pedals too. It’s like having a loud, chatty passenger in the car with you. This is a result of the engine block being made of aluminium rather the iron – the less dense material is nowhere near as good a sound and vibration insulator. It’s a bit of a sore point, but thanks fully it’s the only one; in just about every other way, this engine is an absolute gem.
Set off, and you’ll notice there’s precious little turbo lag. That’s because Honda has tuned the engine and the fixed-geometry Honeywell turbocharger for better low-end response. Unlike the compact diesels we’ve become used to, it produces its power in a smooth, linear manner, rather than with a sudden burst, and it has a lot of elasticity for a diesel engine. Peak torque of 20.4kgm is produced at 1750rpm, but there’s plenty of shove right from about 1200rpm, and it pulls strongly to about 3800rpm. The power then gradually tails of till it hits a very conservative 4200rpm rev limit. In fact, this diesel engine doesn’t rev anywhere near as high as some of its competition and this is because Honda’s research has shown Indian drivers tend to upshift early. The Amaze managed an impressive 0-100kph time of 12.97 sec, but we feel it could have been faster still if not for the rev lock Honda has installed in the interest of engine preservation (it will not rev past 2000rpm when the car is stationary).
The Amaze cruises quite well too, thanks to reasonably tall gearing, and the meaty torque spread makes light work of overtaking on highways. The only issue is that, even at cruising speeds, you can’t get away from the engine drone. At 120kph, the 1.5 diesel turns over at a vocal 2,800rpm
The clutch and gearshift on the diesel car both have a bit more heft to them than the petrol car, but they are still light enough and easy to operate.
RIDE & HANDLING
A similar MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear suspension setup to the Brio underpins the Amaze, albeit with all-new components, and the decent 165mm of ground clearance means that you won’t gouge bits of the undercarriage off on big speed breakers.
Because of the suspension’s long travel, the saloon handles larger bumps and craters very well, but because it is a bit stiffly set up, smaller undulations do unsettle it slightly. The relatively small 14-inch wheels don’t help either. To find a middle ground, Honda engineers tuned the springs for stiffness and the dampers for comfort, and added a stabiliser bar at the rear. The front dampers and spring have also been retuned for the diesel Amaze to cope with the extra weight of the bigger engine, but the difference is barely perceptible. The suspension itself is pretty quiet, but he car’s poor overall sound insulation means you will hear a lot of road an wind noise – the downside of Honda’s interior space maximising efforts.
All this suspension work has not come at the expense of handling, however. In fact, the longer wheelbase only adds confidence as you go faster, and when you’re going around corners. The electrically assisted steering is very accurate, and although it’s very light at low speeds, it does weigh up a little when you go faster. The diesel’s steering has been given added power assistance to handle the greater weight in the nose, but it still feels a touch heavier, and more reassuring, than the petrol.
Honda’s claim of 25.8 kpl for the i-DTEC engine is rated on the Indian Driving Cycle test. The good news is this engine still performs admirably in real-world conditions. Our tests returned 15.2kpl in urban conditions and 20.8kpl out on the highway, which is way ahead of its rivals. Honda says this engine’s efficiency belies its cubic capacity thanks to an ultra-low friction design, lightweight internals and a special ultra-low viscosity engine oil developed specially for it.
The petrol too return respectable figures. We saw overall figures of 14.75kpl and 13.8kpl for the manual and automatic version, respectively. The only downside is the small 35-litre tank which limits its range between fill-ups.
Just about everything you could ask for in a compact saloon.
The very concept of a sub-four-metre compact saloon is a contradiction in itself, but with the Amaze, Honda has managed to deliver a car that doesn’t feel compromised. The look is spot on and doesn’t make it seem like a low-cost engineering endeavor. More impressive still is the packaging, and this is clearly Honda’s best effort in this department. That it manages to deliver proper saloon comfort and space, particularly in the back, as well as a decently sized boot, is shining evidence of this. Then there’s the new diesel engine, which although designed to prioritise driveability and fuel efficiency, delivers on outright performance as well.
Shortcomings? The Amaze could have done with more equipment, a more upmarket cabin design and a better noise insulation. The diesel engine’s unimpressive refinement is more of a blow to Honda’s reputation of making near-silent engines than a deal-breaker for customers.
The Amaze was engineered from the outset for India, with Honda having done a lot of research on the market and the customers that populate it. And to the end, it delivers most things it set out to, and just about everything buyers in this segment are looking for.
Front seats lack shoulder support; rear space, comfort astonishing.
Petrol’s mid-range a bit weak, but new diesel is an absolute cracker.
Diesel motor is noisy at most speeds; cabin prone to road noise.
One of the best benefactors of the sub-4m excise reduction.
All diesel get ABS with EBD, airbags only on top VX variants.
A little choppy at low speeds, but improves considerably with speed.
Retains the Brio’s sharp handling traits, but is more stable as well.
BUILD & QUALITY
Decent quality, but lacks certain luxury touches you now expect in any saloon.