Honda’s most awaited car of recent times – the Amaze – will hit showrooms near you by the second week of this month. After driving it extensively on Indian roads, here is our take on the company’s first entry sedan and its first diesel car made for India.

The naiveté amongst Japanese manufacturers when it comes to choosing names for their cars obviously doesn’t extend to their ability to make the right model for the right market.

So, though the Amaze is a bit of an innocent hyperbole as the moniker for Honda’s next most important car, it probably has the ingredients to make it big in the market. And it had better be, given Honda’s current position in the Indian market.

Figuratively speaking, Honda has also missed meeting the famous Japanese process innovation – Just In Time (JIT) – with the diesel car coming in so late and just when the Government is trying to load ‘disincentives’ onto diesel cars.

It is a case of better late than never for Honda, but more importantly, the market for diesel cars is still going to be strong despite the new policy measures. Also Honda’s inherent strengths in quality and image as a maker of reliable cars will help it make that transition from being a manufacturer of petrol cars to one that is good with both fuels.

Honda has had diesel engines in its cars, mostly in Europe, for more than a decade. So, the fuel and its intricacies are not entirely new to the company. The 2.2-litre i-CTDi engine in the European Accord from 2003, the 2.2-litre i-DTEC engine in the European CR-V of 2008 and the more recent 1.6-litre i-DTEC engine in the 2013 European Civic have been popular diesels from Honda.

It is this 1.6-litre i-DTEC that has been borrowed for developing the new 1.5-litre diesel engine that finds its global debut in the Amaze for India. We had done an initial impressions drive report after driving the Amaze at Honda’s test track at Tochigi, near Tokyo in Japan. Here is the full test review report of the Amaze after driving the final production versions (both petrol and diesel) on Indian roads.

Familiar, yet different

There is no missing the fact this is the sedan version of the Brio hatch. There is a lot of the Brio evident at the front of the Amaze and the cab-forward design obviously gives it a touch of the hatch converted into a sedan look. But, Honda designers have cleverly packaged some sedan-like elements into the design like the two-slatted chrome grille and the new, wider front fender that make it look a bit bigger than the Brio.

Of course, the rest of the car looks more purposeful and sedan-like and much of that character comes through at the rear. The new tail-lamp design has been chosen to increase the perception of width.

The Amaze is about 380mm longer overall compared to the Brio. It is just shy of the four metre mark at 3,990mm. The wheelbase has also grown by about 60mm to about 2,405mm and this reflects in the amount of space that has been leveraged inside the car and in the boot. The overall width of the Amaze is the same as the Brio and the height is just up marginally by 5mm at 1,505mm. The Amaze gets a large 400-litre boot which should be more than adequate for most sedan buyers including some in the institutional segment.

The Amaze gets the same 175/65 R14 tyres and the 14-inch rims carried forward from the Brio. The rest of the design and exterior features remain the same. The Amaze gets power folding outside rear view mirrors. It also gets a new heat-absorbing front windscreen for improved interior comfort.

Diesel strength

The most awaited information about the new Amaze is of course going to be about the new diesel engine. Honda fans won’t be disappointed here. In terms of refinement levels, the 1.5-litre i-DTEC sounds like a classic Honda powerplant despite the difference in fuel.

In their successful quest to make this the most fuel-efficient diesel in India, Honda engineers have focused on weight reduction and friction reduction in the new engine. The 1,498cc engine itself is an all-aluminium open-deck high-pressure diecast block. Honda claims that mechanical friction has been reduced to the same level as a petrol engine of the same size.

One important new innovation in the Amaze that has contributed to friction reduction is said to be the new engine oil. The ultra low viscosity engine oil co-developed with Idemitsu and another Japanese company is said to have low viscosity properties even at low operating temperatures. The oil is also said to be as competitive in terms of cost as the current 5W-30 standard diesel engine oil.

New materials have allowed a reduction of piston and conrod weight and the double overhead camshaft (DOHC) mill also gets high-strength, light-weight camshafts. A high flow-rate, high-swirl head port also ensures that there are no pumping losses.

The diesel injection is via a common rail fuel system that operates at 1,600 bar pressure and the injection timing itself is finely controlled using solenoid injectors. There are combinations of pre and post injection cycles that Honda engineers have built into the system to optimise fuel efficiency. The only minor downside of the mapping is the judder at the time of cranking the engine.

The engine doesn’t rattle very much and even the characteristic common rail engine noise level is much less during the idling cycle. Though Honda engineers from Japan and Thailand said much work was put into sound deadening and noise isolation there is a quite a bit of noise ingress in the cabin at higher rpm levels and during hard acceleration.

Performance

The engine itself is a champ, accelerating smoothly and effortlessly, with none of the lag that is often seen in other turbocharged diesels. The peak power output of the engine is 100 PS at 3,600 rpm (Honda hadn’t confirmed the details of the India-spec Amaze earlier). The peak torque of the 1.5-litre i-DTEC engine is 200 Nm from a low 1,750 rpm. But, the best part of the engine is that almost 80 per cent of that torque is available from as low as 1,250 rpm.

Combining that with a short first and a taller second and third gears in the 5-speed manual gearbox that has been chosen, means that most city drivers can stay in second or third gear without the risk of running out of torque or of knocking setting in, if they are stuck in slow-moving traffic.

The gearbox itself is shared with the 5-speed transmission in the Brio, but for both the petrol and diesel powertrains in the Amaze, the gearbox has seen considerable changes to improve shift feel and ease. Special bearing guides are said to have been employed for increasing the smoothness of the shift.

The petrol powertrain in the Amaze is a straight lift from the Brio, without any changes to the engine characteristics. Changes induced by the ratios for the gearbox apart, the overall feel of the 1,198cc, four-cylinder engine is identical to the Brio. This was always a refined and perfectly tuned petrol engine for city driving. There is enough power and low end torque for crawling conditions and so it will be a perfect urban car. Peak power is the same 88 PS at 6,000 rpm and peak torque is also the same 109 Nm at 4,500.

The ride and handling quality in the new Amaze is very familiar. With the weight differential being just about 100 kgs between the petrol and diesel siblings and it being just about 60 kgs between the Brio and the Amaze, there is not much of a change in the handling department. The bigger wheelbase certainly adds to the Amaze’s level of confidence while cornering and even seems to just add that bit at high speeds on the straights.

The suspension settings are again a carry forward from the Brio and are the same in both the variants of the Amaze. The other factor that improves the ride quality of the Amaze for rear passengers is the 96mm thick rear seat cushion that Honda engineers have designed especially for the India-spec model. The driver of the Amaze gets seat height adjustment of upto 50mm and a increase in the amount of storage options compared to the Brio. There is also a new 3D, floating instrument cluster behind the steering wheel. Otherwise, the features in the cabin of the new Amaze are the same as in the Brio. The hatch also had loads of legroom at the rear and there is just as much room in the Amaze too. The only feature that could have been bettered in the Amaze is the finish quality of some of the plastic parts.

Bottomline

The biggest carrot that Honda will dangle over the eyes of potential entry-sedan buyers is the fact that the diesel Amaze is ‘the most fuel-efficient car’ in the country with a rated mileage of 25.8 kmpl (ARAI). Now that should be enticing enough even for petrol-heads to convert given the current fuel prices.

Hopefully, Honda has already learnt its lessons with getting its model pricing strategy right after the Jazz episode. I expect prices to be in the range of Rs 5.5 lakh to Rs 7.5 lakh. There is a lot riding on the shoulders of the Amaze and if the price positioning is set competitively, Honda India would have then let the proverbial cat out amongst the pigeons.

Update - The Amaze is priced at Rs. 4.90 lakh for the base petrol model, and the diesel range starts at Rs 5.99 lakh. Prices are ex-showroom, Delhi.

For a video of the Honda Amaze, click here.

muralidhar.s@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on April 1, 2013)
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