First Drive: Honda Amaze

Introduction:top

Even without turning a wheel, there’s a sense that Honda has got it right, yet again. And this stems from the fact that present among us for the very first drive of this new car are the engine and product development heads. And as our interaction reveals, they aren’t very cagy either, which is quite a departure from typical Japanese officials at Honda.

But, before we jump the gun here, it must be said that the odds aren’t exactly stacked in Honda’s favour. It’s not every other day that the company makes a diesel engine, after all. Hitherto, it only had two – the 2.2-litre diesel which has been around for a really long time and the 1.6-litre engine that is too new to be regarded as legendry.

The second challenging bit is the car itself. Unlike most other car makers who design a hatchback with a sedan in mind, Honda’s Brio was thought of only as a hatchback. Clearly, the work to produce a sedan on the same platform would be not just more challenging but with high probability of getting things wrong.

 

Looks and design:top

The good news though is nothing of the sort has happened. In fact, having to design the sedan from the scratch (well, almost) has actually allowed Honda added flexibility to go the distance most other compact sedan makers haven’t even considered travelling. We are of course talking about the Amaze, a sub-4m sedan designed on the Brio platform but with enough alterations to make it more than just a hatch with a boot. 

Unlike the Maruti-Suzuki Swift Dzire for instance, the Amaze actually sits on a longer wheelbase compared to its hatch sibling. The only other car to have done this is the Sunny; but then, it isn’t exactly a sub-4m offering. Moreover, the Amaze has been redesigned with new body panels B-pillar backwards. It is wider at the hip and with it the shoulder room at the back has increased. The roof too has been re-profiled and has liberated more head room compared to the Brio. 

But, it is the kneeroom that’s truly outstanding, period. The room at the front of course continues unchanged compared to the Brio, but at the back, there’s more usable kneeroom in the Amaze than even the likes of the Chevrolet Cruze and the Hyundai Elantra. As far as the rear head room goes, the Honda is equally matched with the Dzire, but it offers more shoulder room making it a much more spacious car overall than the Maruti. 

And, yes, the boot is more usable too. We don’t have the official figures on its luggage capacity, but as our measurements reveal, the Amaze’s boot is deeper and taller and though it’s not as well shaped as the Dzire’s in terms of width, it can comfortably hold a lot more luggage.

 

Interiors:top

Honda hasn’t bothered to tinker with the interiors much; the dash is identical to the Brio with the Amaze only sporting a different set of instrumentation. The seats at the front continue unchanged as well and are comfortable to be in. At the rear, the seats have been redone. These have a bigger, more supportive seat bottom and the seatback is more reclined as well.

Things are quite the same from the driver’s perch too. But, when you begin driving the differences compared to the Brio are a lot more obvious. The steering for one is heavier, and in a good way – it’s not uncomfortable but more wholesome. The clutch continues to be light to operate but the feel and progression isn’t great. The shifts again are precise with short throws but are notchier than we would have liked.

 

Engine and performance:top

 

 

The Amaze’s performance truly impresses. The 1.5-litre four cylinder diesel is smooth and linear in its power delivery without sudden bursts of shove coming in with the turbo at full boost. It has good grunt in the low and mid range too which should make it an easy car to drive around in the cities. Plus, the gearing is well sorted - it is on the shorter side which helps cut the turbo lag immensely. So much so that even in 5th gear, the engine gets from 1000rpm to 1500rpm is no time. It is noisy though, particularly at higher rpms. 

This made for India 1.5-litre, four cylinder diesel is based on the new 1.6-litre diesel engine which Honda recently introduced in Europe. Everything from the construction to the materials to even the bore measurement of the engine is the same. It is an all aluminium engine designed to be the lightest in its class. It uses short skirt and light weight pistons along with high strength narrow crankshaft in order to bring down friction which, incidentally is only as much as Honda’s own 1.5-litre petrol engine. 

For India, Honda has worked on increasing fuel economy and low and mid range driveability. It has also been tweaked to handle our fuel quality better. The engine uses a small fixed geometry turbo which should help it develop between 85-90bhp. The same engine will be used in the Brio MPV as well as the new City due in 2014 but with higher power and torque figures courtesy a reworked ECU. Honda is also considering a VGT for this engine for higher outputs in the future.

 

Verdict:top

The Amaze when launched in April next year will be priced at a slight premium over the Dzire. Expect the price for the diesel (a petrol with the 1.2-litre engine from the Brio will also be on sale) to start at a little over Rs 6 lakh for the base and going up to almost Rs 8 lakh for the top of the line trim. At this price and given what the car and the diesel engine together offer, the Amaze makes a fantastic case for itself. As we see it, Honda certainly has delivered a winner here.

 

 

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