Honda Amaze Diesel CVT: Road Test Review
- Aug 16, 2018
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A good morning
A streak of daylight filtered into my hotel room through a gap in the curtain and as soon as the alarm went off, I was out of bed in a flash to open them to get a glimpse of the sky. The sun was just peeking over the horizon and there were just a few light clouds in the sky. This was important as rain was is a strict no no this morning. Who wants a wet and slippery track when you have over 200PS of race car to drive.
A little later in the day, as our taxi pulled into the pit lane of the Kari Motor Speedway, I caught my first glimpse of the new Ameo Cup race cars.
The first thing that you notice is the rather large, all carbon fibre wings mounted to the stubby rear boot. The 17-inch race alloys shod with newly developed MRF race slicks fill the wheel arches better than any production set could. With the first race of the year just a month away, they were already wearing their full race livery, complete with sponsorship stickering, driver names and blood groups added to the windows. If you have a keen eye you’ll notice the body colour-painted roll cage and race seat peeking out at you from inside the completely stripped down cabin.
After a short driver briefing, we learn a few details about the car and what has gone into its development. The Ameo Cup car can be considered to be the first race car exhaustively developed by VW in India. It’s powered by the same 1.8 petrol from the Polo GTi. A race exhaust, mild turbo tune and Motec electronics combine together to give it 205PS, making it the most powerful race car to roll out from the Chakan factory yet. Interestingly, the DSG twin-clutch gearbox from their race Polo/Vento has been ditched for a new 6-speed sequential race box from 3MO. Why? Simple, the shifts on this system are even quicker than on the DSG unit.
The 3M0 unit is usually paired to a sequential shift lever, but VW felt that this would mean a steeper learning curve for the novice drivers that this championship is aiming to attract and promote, hence the easier to use paddles.
The Ameo Cup car has also required significant development in the suspension and weight distribution department. With the shorter wheelbase to play with, the Ameo Cup needed new spring rates all around (slightly softer since it’s lighter than the Vento) and the fire extinguisher and battery have migrated to the spare wheel well for better weight distribution. The washer wiper fluid reservoir has also shifted from the nose to where the left rear seat would have been, shifting more weight rearwards. Even the engine has been moved slightly lower and slightly to the right in the engine bay to line up with the transmission package, which, in turn, has aided in lowering the centre of gravity. It borrows the 334mm brakes and calipers from the Golf R32 up front while the rear discs are from the Polo GTi, both fitted with special race compound pads. This keeps costs down and also improves braking and feel. But, how much does the Ameo Cup car cost? Just in terms of parts it is said to cost over Rs30 lakhs!
Time to get in
Climb past the roll cage into the snug OMP racing seats, and you are greeted with what looks like a digital screen behind a neat alcantara-wrapped racing steering wheel. On the left is a key pad with a number of functions on it that are new for the car this year. In addition to housing the mains, ignition and fire extinguisher controls, it now also sports a pit lane limiter and launch control aside from other basic functions like the lights, windscreen washer and toggles for the digital dash layout. The rest of the car has been completely stripped and though you still have blower vents on the dash the blower only blows onto the windscreen for defogging. All around you, everything else is bare metal criss-crossed with the beams of the FIA-spec roll cage. In the left foot well you’ll see the actuator that controls the sequential gearbox and if you manage to peer rearward you’ll see the windshield wiper fluid reservoir to the left and the fire extinguisher in the spare wheel well.
It’s a special feeling sitting in a race car and it only gets better when you thumb the starter and here VW had a small surprise for us. After switching on the mains, the digital screen starts up welcoming you: “Welcome Alan D’Cruz”, “Thank you Ameo Cup car”. After the mains you switch on the ignition circuit and you’ll hear the engine priming, then thumb the starter button till the engine catches with a loud growl. It’s not the sweetest sounding growl; it’s more raw and guttural but it’s still music to my ears. Yes, it was going to be a good morning.
It’s GO time
Now, this takes a bit of acclimatising. To start off, you need to use the clutch. Yes, there is one. Press in the clutch and grab first on the right paddle and you hear and feel a nice ‘clunk’ from the sequential box accompanied by a big number 1 displayed on the dash telling you that you have engaged first and are ready to roll out. The racing clutch is fairly light but with the tall first gear, it required quite a bit of slipping to get moving and it’s very easy to stall while pulling away. Except for pulling away you never need the clutch and shifts are taken care of solely by the paddles.
As I rolled down the pitlane my senses were assaulted with the roar from the open exhaust, the whine from the new transmission and little stones from the dirty pit lane rattling around the bare metal of the wheel wells, having being picked up by the sticky MRF slicks. Yes, a race car is a very loud place indeed but at that moment I wouldn’t have chosen to be anywhere else.
Throttle to the floor and I was quickly through first gear and had to engage second in no time. Pulling on the paddle shifter at 6000rpm brought another solid ‘clunk’ as the 6-speed shifted into second. It’s a super fast shift and done at the right engine speed, it’s both heard and felt as the full throttle shift sends the full 320Nm of torque to the next cog. Shift too early and the shift becomes a lot harsher so there’s no driving this thing slowly then.
The first corner comes up soon after exiting the pit lane in Kari and the Ameo turned in beautifully. It’s super precise and very neutral in balance. It’s neither as tail happy as the old Polo TDis were nor is as on the edge as the Vento was. Somehow, VW has managed to create a pretty forgiving chassis that is super quick as well. In fact, at the Chennai circuit in the hands of one of VW’s ace drivers, the Ameo was over four seconds faster than the Vento it replaces. Some of this new found speed is also down to the new engine that’s more powerful but also extremely linear. The power comes in smoothly and very progressively so you always feel in control of all 205 horses under your right foot.
The new brake setup is really good too. They are quite light for a race car but very powerful and progressive. Combined with the super grip from the MRF slicks, it was possible to complete all braking in a straight line when hitting the brakes just before the 50 meter board at the end of the Kari straight, before diving right into turn one. On the bumpy circuit, the stiff setup required most of the braking to be completed in a straight line else the bumpy nature would cause the car to start pushing wide as the front end hopped over the ruts on the track. You also have to be very precise while shifting down through the gearbox when braking. If you grab a downshift too early then software built into the system will miss the shift, choosing to protect the gearbox and chiding you with a missed apex as you run wide. After a few laps I found that the nature of the gearbox, the powerful engine and stiff chassis setup required you to be smooth on the throttle and the brakes while being very precise with downshifts. This forces you to be a better and faster driver rather than a hooligan, making it a perfect training ground for new drivers.
As with all good mornings, no matter how much time you have in a superbly setup race car it never is enough and my time with the Ameo cup car was over by noon. The new Ameo Cup car despite being a lot more expensive than the outgoing car is now only around Rs50k more expensive. Now it costs Rs 8.5 lakhs for a full season that’s packed with 10 races. No doubt, the Volkswagen Motorsport India Ameo Cup is a great way to cut your teeth in the world of motor racing.
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