With the gap between petrol and diesel prices narrowing, petrol cars are making more sense than ever before. And, the three compact saloons here are more suited to the short city hop than full-size saloons. It’s exactly the kind of environment in which the lower price tag of the petrol car has a big advantage over the diesel car. What we have here are three cars that fit the bill. There’s the Honda Amaze, the Maruti Dzire and the Chevrolet Sail. These cars have 1.2-litre petrol engines, two are less than four metres in length and all are priced under Rs 7 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi) – making them quite a lot of car for the money. Now the Sail may not be a sub-four-metre saloon, but Chevrolet’s pricing strategy means that, at Rs 6.41 lakh for this fully loaded LT (ABS), you get a bigger saloon for less than the other two, which makes it even more car for your money. Still, at Rs 6.64 lakh and Rs 6.51 lakh respectively, the Amaze VX and the Dzire ZXi are good value in their own right too.
What are they like to drive?
With just 1.2-litre engines powering them, you might expect these three saloons to be wanting for performance, but that is not the case. Take the Sail for example – the engine makes 85bhp and 11.52kgm of pulling power, which translates into decent performance in real-world conditions. The engine is pretty responsive to part-throttle inputs and feels fairly easy to drive in traffic as a result. However, the power delivery flattens out after the rather lively initial response and then it starts pulling strongly again when you reach the zone between 4000 and 6000rpm. Add to this a clutch that doesn’t offer much feel (so it’s easy to stall when moving off), and a gearshift that isn’t the best around, and you have a car that is only mediocre on the performance front – a fact backed up by its 14.5sec 0-100kph time.
The Amaze is amazingly refined at idle and responsive when you’re driving around in traffic. The gearshift is superb, the clutch is light. It’s not incredibly silent when it is near the redline, but it does sound a lot sportier than the Sail. The light weight Honda at 965kg gets a 0-100kph time of 13.3 sec.
The Dzire feels even better than the Amaze when you’re pulling away from low speeds in high gears. It has an almost immediate response to small throttle inputs, which makes it very easy to drive in traffic with minimal gearshifts. The Dzire is smooth and quiet at idle as well, and it feels at least as refined as the Amaze when you’re driving it around. There is some whine from the engine near the redline, and isn’t as happy to spin fast as the Honda, but that’s the only grouse we had with it. With 86bhp on tap the performance is good, and even if it’s not as quick outright as the Amaze, it holds up well.
Ride and handling
The Sail has the stiffest ride at low speeds - you can feel everything the tyres are going over. A lot of this stiffness disappears as you go faster, but then again, the car does tend to get unsettled over the bigger bumps. It’s not the most fun to drive either. The steering isn’t the most consistent and, above 100kph, the car doesn’t feel as planted as we would have liked it to be.
Both the Amaze and the Dzire have much better rides, whether at high or low speeds. Around town, the Amaze’s suspension is quiet and absorbent and there’s little of the sharp vertical movement you get in the Sail. The suspension handles bumps and craters very well and the decent 165mm of ground clearance is good as well. However, the poor overall sound insulation means there’s quite a bit of road and tyre noise that enters the cabin.
The Dzire has no such problems. It’s a quieter, more refined car. In fact, the Dzire’s low-speed ride is even better than the Honda’s, partly because it gets bigger 15-inch wheels and a tuned rear suspension for the comfort that saloon car owners expect. As a result, you get a nicely pliant ride at low speeds with some pitching as you go faster. The Amaze’s stiffer suspension setup gives it the slight edge in stability as the speeds rise, though. Agility is very good and it surprises you with how comfortable it is in corners. In the hectic traffic of the city, it’s the Amaze’s lighter, more measured controls that make it the easiest to drive as well.
Honda has paid a lot of attention to maximisng the space on the car. A short nose and an increased wheelbase from the Brio add to it. To that extent, the front seats are slim, the dashboard is pushed forward as much as possible and the door pads have been scooped out for more width. The result is a rear seat that’s seriously spacious in relation to the Amaze’s compact exteriors. There’s good legroom – more than the Sail! Decent headroom and the Amaze can easily seat two adults comfortably; three abreast at a pinch. The only grouse we had was that tall people might find the fixed rear headrests too low to be of any use.
The Dzire also has a comfortable rear seat and it even betters the Honda’s seat on thigh support. But the Dzire’s rear seats don’t offer as much knee room as the Honda’s and the small windows do make you feel quite claustrophobic.
The Sail’s rear seats fall a fair bit short on comfort. The seat cushions are too firm, there isn’t enough thigh support and the fabrics feel downmarket as well. The raised floor under the front seats can be used by the rear passengers as a foot rest. The Sail will seat three abreast the easiest.
Move to the front of the Sail and again, you’ll find seats that are quite firm. The ergonomics aren’t great either – the power window switches are placed on the centre console and the gearlever is a bit too far back. The space available is good, but the hard plastics, plain design and bland colours aren’t particularly appealing. It is a simple design and buyers might be disappointed with the single-DIN audio system in a class where two-DIN is almost the norm.
The Amaze shares its dashboard with the Brio which is very basic, functional design. Honda has taken a radical, asymmetric approach with the dashboard, but we feel it doesn’t really work. The vents, centre console and instrument panel don’t line up in the traditional sense and there are some odd looking bits, like the shut-line
of the glovebox, which stands out like an upturned lip. The instrument cluster looks a bit too plain as well, and doesn’t have the sophistication of the Dzire. However, the driving position is near perfect, the low dashboard cowl gives you great visibility out and the front seats are comfortable, if lacking a bit of shoulder support.
It’s the Dzire’s dashboard we liked the most. The V-shaped centre console, the digital displays for the audio and climate control system and the stylish steering wheel all add to the ambience. The front seats are the most comfortable thanks to their excellent size, cushioning and support. Still, the dashboard cowl is high and this does limit visibility to a certain extent – it’s something new drivers might not like.
As for in-cabin storage space, the Amaze has no less than nine cup and bottle holders, and big door pockets as well as a cubbyhole ahead of the gearlever. The Dzire also has door pockets capable of holding one-litre bottles, a cubbyhole ahead of the gearlever and a unique slot on the right of the steering wheel that can hold a mobile phone. We also like the pop-out cupholders on the dashboard that sit ahead of the air-con vent – they keep your beverages cool. The Sail’s storage spaces come in the form of a deep, rubber-lined cubbyhole ahead of the gearlever, space under the rear seats and big door pockets.
As for boot space, the Amaze with its 400 litres of space offers you the most. The Dzire has the smallest at just 316 litres, while the Sail, despite its extra length has just 370 litres of space. It is clear that Honda has really outdone itself on the interior packaging of the Amaze.
Buying & owning
The Amaze VX is the most expensive car here by a small margin – but at Rs 13,000 more than the Dzire ZXi. It also has the advantage of being the most fuel-efficient car here – it gave us 12.5kpl in the city and 17kpl on the highway.
At Rs 6.51 lakh, the Dzire ZXi is quite good value considering it has the best equipment, best build quality and the most upmarket interiors. Fuel efficiency is good too, we got 12.4kpl in the city and 16.8kpl on the highway. Both Honda and Maruti offer identical warranties of two years or 40,000km and both have widespread dealer and service networks.
The Sail is priced very well at Rs 6.41 lakh, considering it is a bigger car than the other two. We didn’t get a chance to properly test the fuel efficiency of the Sail, but going by the official ARAI figures, it shouldn’t be too far off from the others. It does, however, come with a fantastic three-year/1,00,000km warranty, pointing at how much faith Chevrolet has in its product.
Equipment & safety
Out of the three, the Dzire in top-of-the-line ZXi trim is the best equipped here. Inside, you will find a dual-DIN CD player that supports USB and AUX, and plays through six speakers. It’s also the only one that features climate control. In terms of safety, it gets dual front airbags and ABS with EBD. On the outside, the Dzire ZXi features 15-inch alloy wheels.
The Honda Amaze VX gets similar levels of equipment, minus the climate control and CD player, but it does have electrically folding rear-view mirrors, which are absent on the other two cars. It also features a dual-DIN music system with steering mounted controls on the VX trim. As for safety, only the VX gets dual front airbags, while ABS with EBD and keyless entry.
The Chevrolet feels the worst equipped, here with the notable absence of climate control and steering-mounted audio controls. But it is the only one here whose audio player features Bluetooth connectivity. Safety wise, the top spec LT ABS car gets dual front air bags and ABS while the LS trim one step below is equipped with a single, driver-side airbag and ABS as an optional. All these three cars in their top trims feature keyless entry as well as all four power windows.
The Sail is quite a competent car by itself. It’s bigger than the other two, looks like a proper saloon and has some essential equipment as well. That it costs less than the others and has that incredible warranty makes it quite an attractive proposition. But frankly, it is outclassed here. It isn’t as comfortable, the engine isn’t in the same league as the others, and the ride and handling aren’t as good. But the biggest disappointment lies with the way the Sail simply doesn’t feel as premium as the others here, and that is quite a serious issue when you are buying a saloon.
The Dzire, on the other hand, feels premium. It’s got the best looking interiors, fantastic front seats, a great low-speed ride and plenty of equipment. But the rear seats are quite cramped and the boot is tiny, and in this regard, it is closer to a hatchback than a saloon.
The Amaze is the winner of this test simply because it is the most practical car here. It’s got reasonably good interiors, a smooth, adequately powerful engine and a great balance between a comfy ride and entertaining handling. Sure, the cabin may not have the premium feel of the Dzire, but it isn’t far behind enough to lose serious points here. That Honda has squeezed out so much passenger space, especially at the rear and given it properly comfortable seats and a usefully big boot only adds to its practical nature.