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Honda Amaze review, test drive

10th Jun 2013 7:06 pm

Two firsts for a Honda rolled into one — a compact sedan and a diesel

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  • Make : Honda
  • Model : Amaze

After stubbornly refusing to give in to the dominating diesel trend in the Indian market for the longest time, Japanese carmaker Honda has finally succumbed. It made a 1.5-litre diesel motor specially for India and plonked it in the new Honda Amaze saloon.

Honda 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.

The Amaze 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 from Rs 4.99 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi) for the petrol and Rs 5.97 lakh for the all-too-important diesel,  it is very competitive. There is definitely a lot riding on this car, so let’s see how well it fares on the road.

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 springs 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 the car’s poor overall sound insulation means you will hear a lot of road and 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 25.8kpl 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 petrols too return respectable figures. We saw overall figures of 14.75kpl and 13.8kpl for the manual and automatic versions, respectively. The only downside is the small 35-litre tank which limits its range between fill-ups.

Honda Amaze
Honda Amaze

Rs 6.09 lakh * on road price (New Delhi)

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This is a sedan version of the Brio and as a result, 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.

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. Also, the wheelbase is 60mm longer than the Brio’s, which makes rear-seat legroom better. The boot is very upright, but the wrap-around 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 diesels, 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 sedans, even compact sedans, 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 sedan, 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 sedans, and a lot of these are conspicuous by their absence on the Amaze. The most obvious one is climate control  and 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 sedan 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 50mm 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 in 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 sedan 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.

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 engines, 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 powers European Hondas. This made-for-India 1498cc motor is a state-of-the-art four-cylinder engine that features 16 valves and twin overhead camshafts. Honda has focussed 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 minimise vibration.

Fire up this engine and what immediately becomes 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 than iron – the less dense material is nowhere near as good a sound and vibration insulator. It’s a bit of a sore point, but thankfully 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 off 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 12.97sec, 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.

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