Honda Amaze : First Drive

Honda turns a new leaf, no writes an all new book, by embracing diesel and pushing its Man Maximum, Machine Minimum formula to new heights in its new Amaze sub-four metre saloon, first expression under its Earth Dreams Technology proghramme. Adil Jal Darukhanawala has the story from Twin Ring Motegi in Japan

Honda Amaze static

There’s a kind of hush all over the automotive world, at least one that would be felt by all OEMs in the small saloon, large hatchback space. Well let’s not be bashful for once and say it up front: everyone from leader Maruti-Suzuki to Hyundai to Fiat to Tata Motors to GM and Ford have some serious competition to contend with in the form of the shockingly stylish and amazingly brilliant package Honda has conjured up, exclusively for India.

I am referring to the all-new Honda Amaze, the new sub-four metre saloon which is to be made only in Thailand and India but with our market being the first one to exclusively feature one of the newest diesel engines by any car maker in the globe. To associate Honda with diesel was near anathema for this proud Japanese marque which prided itself on its power-packed yet frugal petrol engines.

However the harsh economic environment coupled with an abject lack of offerings in a market so skewed towards diesel propulsion meant that whatever it might have had against the compression ignition engine has been jettisoned and in place has come that same vibrant, out-of-the-box thought process which harks back to founder Soichiro Honda’s avant garde innovative spirit. To say that old Soichiro would have been happy with the new i-DTEC range of small capacity diesel engines would be absolutely spot on! Related: Honda Brio-based entry-level sedan christened Amaze

However, before we move on to the all-new engine space Honda has waded into, we must focus on the new saloon, a car which is an Amaze-ing piece of automobile hatched out of the Brio baby. It is not about the 3990mm length of the car or its 2405mm wheelbase (50mm more than that of the Brio hatch) but the manner in which the fluidity of the exterior shape has been crafted.

It is not a stunted design like the Indigo CS (the car that created this segment) nor is it tacky like the Swift D’zire from Suzuki. It is one flowingly elegant design which makes style standout in a most elegant manner. To try and do this in a regular sedan is easy but to compress the whole in an even smaller package is truly virtue personified and the team under Junichi Teraoka, project leader on the Amaze has delivered mightily on this count.

Honda Amaze static

Everything from up front till the Bi-pillar is familiar territory but going pact that to the C-pillar and beyond to the tail end, the treatment is completely different and goes on to trumps all rivals. The slightly wedgy profile which emerges is one of the most appealing shapes out there but one which is so very Honda. And from here if you step into the cabin, especially the rear end that is, you suddenly come up on to a whole new expansive vista.

The 50mm extension in the wheelbase has not only liberated acres of leg room for the back bencher sahebs but the boot is just as cavernous. In fact many of us who drove three laps on a section of the Twin Ring Motegi circuit were of the opinion that the rear seat space is close to that of the class leading Honda City! The door opening angles have changed on the rear doors to allow better access and egress while the H-points have been better optimized making for a fantastic seating posture for those occupying the back seats. Further, at least for yours truly, the manner in which the rear seat backs have the headrests so very ergonomically positioned enhancing the comfort and convenience in a huge manner.

Honda Amaze front

The Amaze (termed the Brio Amaze in Thailand) we drove was one of just two fully built prototypes in the world and the only one in Japan with a diesel engine. (The Brio Amaze, with a petrol engine for Thailand was in that country where it is due for a reveal cum launch later this month). With at least another five to six months to go before launch in India, the interior trim had not yet been frozen but barring that aspect there doesn’t seem much wrong or out of place within the cabin which is so cool and so very Honda.

Honda Amaze review

Brings us then to the heart of the matter which, for any Honda, continues to remain its powerplant. A bit of history is wrought in here because for long Honda as also many other Japanese marques shunned diesels like the plague and the ferocity with which Honda’s engineers and management resented the compression ignition engine was vehemently felt. Grudgingly, for Europe a diesel was needed especially as regards its Accord plus also the CR-V and it was for these products that it came up with an all-aluminium block and head 2.2-litre i-CTDI diesel, reputed to be one of the most sophisticated engines ever to come out of Japan. However, Honda didn’t want to peddle this any beyond Europe given the complexity of the engine and also its ability to only run on high grade diesel with very low sulphur content.

Honda Amaze 1.6-litre i-DTEC unit

The harsh economic climate though was the one which forced Honda to re-evaluate its intransigence vis-à-vis its move to develop a range of diesels and with markets like India and Europe being huge on diesel acceptance and usage there had to be progress on all new small diesels and that is where the firm’s Earth Dream Technology programme got underway. This was close to 2010 when work began and as we have witnessed with the 1.6-litre i-DTEC unit which debuted at the Paris Auto Salon a month ago, the new 1.5-litre i-DTEC for India is just that very unit but with a shorter stroke and slightly different exhaust treatment. The move to a 1.5-litre displacement was also dictated by our excise dispensation and overall the architecture and design plus construction and ancillaries are common between the two.

Honda Amaze review

With the 1.6-litre in Europe rated for 120PS and 300Nm of torque, one can safely be looking at 110PS and about the same torque for the 1.5-litre here in India. No figures were released by Honda on the engine’s vital stats but what were divulged were the shorter stroke and also the same all-new 5-speed gearbox as on the European 1.6-litre i-DTEC unit.

The interesting thing about the new motor is that it makes do with a fixed geometry rotor in the turbocharger (sourced from Garratt) but the engine designers have said that a VGT is on the cards for more powerful versions indicating quite what we said over a month ago – larger powered versions  with the same displacement would be found to do duty in cars not just like the City but is also a possibility in the Civic giving a new lease of life for Honda’s mid-size executive express.

Honda Amaze review

However three laps of the new road circuit at the Twin Ring Motegi quickly gave us an early assessment of how the car’s performance and behavior and the one word to describe it is shockingly impressive! It has to be one of the most refined small diesel engines I have ever driven and that too at this stage of integration into a very small class of car its NVH characteristics show that it could just be the one challenger to take the fight to the 1.3-litre MultiJet which dominates the category in the country.

The light clutch action and the slick shifting 5-speed ‘box are perfectly matched to the engine’s revs and the car could slot into the fourth or fifth cogs from as low as 1200rpm and 45km/h, and from there on accelerate in linear fashion all the way to 100km/h with the rev counter hovering around the 1800-1900 mark and the Eco light yet on with the speedo needle at an indicated 90km/h plus! Gives strong credence to what the Honda boffins said would be one of the most fuel efficient engines in the country.

Honda Amaze review

The project team had been given a mandate to not exceed a weight limit of 30 kg over the Brio hatchback’s body structure even with the enhanced wheelbase and the saloon rear end and this was achieved making the new Honda an Amaze-ing piece of kit on the weight front as well, even with a larger diesel engine.

The subtle pointers as to how good thought in design terms and materials plus also placement have paid huge dividends and overall I can only state that this is the car that the competition needs to watch out for, it has the wherewithal to re-write the rules of the game and as one has seen from the few times Honda has been forced to the wall, it has come out fighting and overturned the odds. The Amaze is one more such back from the brink moment and it is for this precise reason that it will be raining telling punches on the competition. It is early days yet but do wait for more as we commence a rundown to the launch of the car in the second quarter of 2013.

Also Read: Honda's new 1.6-litre diesel engine unveiled


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