Honda Amaze 1.5L Diesel ; driven

Vidyut Yagnik

In 2011, GTO had written this article (Honda India : The Way Forward) on what Honda needs to do to move forward in India. If you look back at the suggestions from that thread, Honda has certainly gotten the ball rolling on its sub-10 lakh portfolio; the Brio was launched at a reasonable price point while the Jazz got its much awaited price cut. The City also received a price correction, an upgrade of features as well as a CNG kit. Still, in a diesel obsessed market, Honda is the only car manufacturer to lack an oil burner in its product range. The petrol line-up can only go so far. 

Enter the Amaze Diesel, the first compact sedan from Honda to have a diesel heart. The Amaze couldn't have arrived a moment too soon. Marking Honda's entry into the 6-8 lakh rupee sedan segment for the first time, and its first diesel too, the Amaze is an important car for the Japanese manufacturer. Honda invited a select group of media to a sneak preview of the Honda Amaze diesel prototype. We got to drive the car at the Twin-Ring Motegi, Honda's R&D test track in Japan.

The Amaze is basically the Brio hatchback with a boot, just as the Swift & Dzire, Vista & Manza and Polo & Vento. When I first saw the Amaze in person, my impression was that of a very smart looking sedan. Unlike the boring Etios or quirky Dzire, the Amaze is extremely proportionate. It looks like a chic, proper sedan and not one whose boot seems to be an after-thought.

From the front, the Amaze is nearly identical to the Brio. The twin-slat chrome grill is new, while the bumper insert now matches the body colour. The prototype didn't have fog lamps, but these will be added to the production car. The real action is in the lateral and rear profiles. Viewed from the side, the Amaze looks like a balanced design. It's hard to believe that Honda have managed a design so proportionate and yet, kept the length under the 4 meter bracket to avail of the 12% excise taxes instead of 24% in India. The car has a small footprint with its compact dimensions and length of 3,990 mm. However, the wheelbase at 2,405 mm is 60 mm longer than the Brio's. The rear doors are larger than on the Brio and they get a quarter glass too. The highlights of the side profile are the 2 sharp creases that together run the length of the car. The first crease starts from the front bumper and ends at the rear door, whereas the second crease starts from the rear door and runs right up to the tail lamps. These two creases do make the Amaze appear longer than it actually is.

The rear end gets the now ubiquitous chrome strip. It's fairly large and meets the tail lamps at either end. While on it, I must add that the tail lamps look similar to the pre-facelift version of the Honda City. The rear bumper sure has a lot of cuts and creases, making it look edgy, especially in the silver body colour of our media car.

The body panels are fitted with tight, consistent tolerances for the most part. However, I spotted some uneven gaps around the boot area and hope these are down to our car being a pre-production test mule. The quality of plastic and rubber used, especially the door beadings, is satisfactory. The doors close with a precise albeit tinny clunk you would only associate with light-weight Japanese & Korean cars. The Brio is a feather weight at 920 kilos, tipping the scales even lower than the Swift. Chances are, the Amaze could be lighter than the Dzire.

The Honda Amaze is designed primarily for India & Thailand and appears to meet most of the target markets' needs. Just as on the Brio, we can expect India-specific changes like a retuned suspension, additional ground clearance and a different interior shade. The Amaze will start off with a high level of localisation. It will inevitably be higher than the Brio which was launched with 80% local content.

The car I drove was a prototype and thus, wasn't equipped with the final feature list. It was somewhat of a top variant with alloys, ABS, dual airbags and driver's seat height adjustment.

Why does the Amaze get a diesel, and not the City?
That's one of the first questions that'll come to your mind. Why bring an all-new sedan with a diesel engine, instead of plonking that oil burner into the City's engine bay? Honda's explanation is simple : It didn't make any sense to re-engineer the current City platform to accommodate a 1.5L diesel. The City is approaching the end of its life cycle, and the next generation City is expected in early 2014. On the other hand, Honda couldn't wait that long for a diesel sedan! With the Amaze in the development stage, Honda decided to engineer it for a diesel variant. Fact is, to have a crack at the entry-level sedan category in India, the Amaze needed to have diesel power. It wouldn't have a chance without one.

The interior is very similar to that of the Brio. Expectedly, the dashboard is identical between the hatchback & sedan siblings. The only real change is the tachometer that is marked till 5,000 rpm only. A pleasant addition is height-adjustment on the driver's seat. Several Brio owners complain of the low seat positioning, this is definitely a welcome move. Other than that, and just like on the outside, the difference between the Amaze & Brio is at the back.

For an entry-level sedan, the interiors are well-screwed together. Obviously, there is no soft touch dashboard in here, yet the interiors feel better than in cars like the Etios and Verito. Whatever cost cutting is there, it is not that obvious. Inside the seat back pocket, you'll find soft textured material. The rear bottle-holder (between the front seats) has a small carpet on its base. The Indian Amaze will most probably get a black & beige colour combination (like the Brio). This colour palette is similar to other Hondas sold in India and popular with customers. What looks cheesy is how the body colour is prominently exposed on the front door pockets & the rear door panel.

The dashboard looks basic for the most part. It isn't very deep like in other cab forward designs. Strangely, the stereo is positioned and angled towards the front passenger, and away from the driver. As is typical with Honda cars, most buttons are from the XL size parts bin, including those for the stereo and air-conditioner. Even the outdated fresh air <-> recirculate lever is big. If you have driven a Honda City before, you will find familiarity with the meter fonts & their orange illumination. The meter cluster stays illuminated during the day and is very easy to read on the go.

The steering is a standard 3 spoke design, unlike the Jazz & the City whose wheels are Civic-inspired. The Amaze’s steering is small in size and wonderful to hold. The A-pillar is thick, but doesn't obstruct visibility that much, partly due to the low positioning of the ORVMs (wing mirrors). Frontal & lateral visibility is top notch, further aided by the huge greenhouse. The ORVMs are decently sized and have a wide field of vision. The interior mirror, on the other hand, is narrower than I prefer. The front seats have phenomenal knee room, thanks to the large travel range of the seats and scooped in dashboard. Plus, with the huge front windows, the cabin feels very airy. The front seats have integrated neck restraints (cost-cutting). They protrude out enough for you to comfortably rest your head on them from time to time. The thin front seats also get decent lateral support by C1 sedan standards.

Open the wide opening rear door and you will be pleasantly surprised. There is space, and so much of it! Rear legroom leaves a strong impression. The Amaze is decidedly roomier than the Maruti Dzire. Yes, cars like the Logan, Etios & Manza have more space, yet you won't call the Amaze cramped. Honda's packaging brilliance shines through when you realise that the Amaze's wheelbase is the shortest in this class, shorter than even the Dzire & Fiesta. Legroom at the back is adequate for a 6 foot tall passenger. The rear seats are contoured, unlike the flat Etios bench. There's a comfortable armrest with two cupholders too, while the integrated neck restraints (headrests) jut out like in the City and provide good support. The floor is nearly flat, meaning there is no scarcity of foot room. On the flip side, the limited cabin width means that the rear bench is best for two only. Also, rear headroom is strictly average. Being 6 feet tall, my head wasn't touching the roof when I was sitting in a normal position. Although if I sat a tad upright, the roof brushed against my hair.

There is a reasonable amount of storage space in here. The glove box size is par for the course (but the XL size lid would have you believe otherwise), and the front door pockets are wide. They can hold 1 litre bottles. Two large cup-holders are placed right ahead of the gear lever, with another storage cubicle thrown in. Rear passengers get door pockets that can hold a 500 ml bottle and some knick knacks. Both front seats get seat-back pockets.

Boot space is adequate. Luggage capacity is noticeably more than that of the Dzire and the boot is well designed with minimal intrusions. While the exact specification wasn't shared, the boot looked to be in the range of 350 - 400 liters. The Amaze's rear seat doesn't fold down.

The all-new 1.5L i-DTEC motor will debut in the Honda Amaze. This engine is from a new family of diesels that consists of 1.5L, 1.6L and 2.2L displacements. The 1.6L & 2.2L are primarily for the European market. The 1.6L i-DTEC will power the European Civic and the 2.2L will find its way into the CR-V and Accord (including in India).

Initially this 4-cylinder 1.5L i-DTEC will only be available in India. It's basically the same 1.6L block with common internals, but a reduced stroke to bring down the displacement to <1,500 cc. This allows the Amaze to avail of lower excise benefits (12% instead of 24%). The 1.5L also makes do without a Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF) and has a smaller fixed geometry turbocharger (the 1.6L gets a variable geometry turbo). Honda didn't reveal the power ratings, albeit we can safely assume figures in the range of 90 - 100 BHP and 200 - 210 Nm of torque.

Honda states that this powerplant has been developed specifically for Indian driving conditions, including the lower diesel quality. Engineers studied driving styles in various metros like Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Kolkata and Chennai. Matsukado San - head of diesel engine design - concluded that Indian driving conditions require maximum driveability, i.e. low rpm performance. This is exactly where Honda chose to focus. He also stated that the engine has been tested extensively with low quality diesel, high sulphur content and a low cetane number to ensure long-term reliability.

Here are a few highlights of the new motor:
• The engine is badged "Earth Dreams Technology".
• Development work started in 2007.
• Lightest diesel engine in its class.
• Vertically mounted intercooler.
• Features an aluminium block, high strength narrow crankshaft, lightweight pistons and high swirl + high flow rate head design.
• Mechanical friction (@ 1,500 rpm) is similar to petrol engines (lower than other diesel engines).
• Engine is mounted on liquid-filled mounts, instead of rubber units, to reduce vibration.
• 1.5L diesel to be manufactured at Honda's new engine plant at Tapukara, Rajasthan.
• BS-4 compliant. A DPF can be added to make it BS-5 compliant in the future.
• The engine uses a new blend of oil that is neither fully synthetic nor mineral.

The i-DTEC motor settles down to a silent idle. When walking past the car, you may not even notice that there's a diesel under the hood. There is a faint clatter, yet it's well within acceptable limits. On the inside, at idle, it's nearly impossible to tell that you are in a diesel car.

Revv up though and there's no escaping the diesel clatter. The clutch is very light and extremely "un-diesel" like. The Amaze moves swiftly from a standstill with no throttle input at all. A gentle release of the clutch is enough. There's hardly any turbo lag, with the Amaze pulling easily from as low as 1,200 rpm. Post 1,500 rpm is when the engine is in its element and performance becomes stronger. Driveability is simply fantastic and the 1.5L diesel will be amazing to drive in urban traffic conditions. You'll seldom need to downshift, unlike the several other models running 1.3L MJD engines. The Amaze has very linear power delivery with no kick from the turbo (like the old Swift). This car can comfortably potter around town in 3rd gear @ 20 kph without undue vibrations or lugging.

The motor revs till ~4,200 rpm, although it's pointless to do so in a diesel. You are better off shifting early and enjoying the torque lower down the rpm range. Outright performance should be brisk, considering the light body weight. Of course, these are only initial impressions made on the basis of a short drive; you'll have to wait for our full Official Review for a clearer picture. The gearbox is typically Honda slick. This, coupled with the light clutch, should make the Amaze a breeze to drive around town.

This engine does get rather noisy at higher rpms, but it's nowhere as bad as the Etios / Liva diesels. Under a normal driving style, NVH levels are satisfactory, though I do feel the Dzire has an edge here. Matsukado San commented that our car, being a prototype, didn't have any firewall insulation and combustion noise wasn't tuned out either.

From the few laps around the Motegi R&D circuit, it became apparent that the Amaze is tuned on the softer side. The focus appears to be on ride comfort rather than handling. The suspension's behaviour cannot be fully analysed as I was driving on a clean and smooth circuit. Let's hope it's better than the ride quality that we typically see on Indian Hondas (read = strictly average). There was a certain amount of body roll too. The steering felt better weighted than that of the Brio. This could be down to the additional weight of the diesel engine. It's still an electric power steering with little feedback though. The tyres on our prototype vehicle were similar to the Brio : MRF ZVTV in 175/65 R14 size. The brakes were reassuring and the sedan stopped well in the one corner we tested braking on.

Other Points:
• Team-BHP first broke the scoop on the naming of this car here (Honda Brio Sedan to be launched in 2013. EDIT : To be called "AMAZE").

• Final specs, variants and pricing will be known at the time of launch in April 2013. That's also when you can expect a full Team-BHP Official Review.

• All pictures have been provided by Honda. No cameras were allowed on the track. Interior pics weren't shared as the cars were unfinished prototypes.

• A li'l reliable birdie tells us that the ARAI rating will be anywhere between 22.8 - 24 kpl, and that the power ratings will be 99 BHP / 210 Nm torque. Of course, as of date, these are Honda's internal targets only.

• The 1.2L petrol may NOT be available initially in India. We can safely assume that it'll be offered as an option later. Thailand, however, will see the Amaze 1.2L petrol first.

• The Amaze follows Honda's concept of "Man Maximum, Machine Minimum". The lightest engine & spacious interiors in what is a 4 meter sedan are part of that motto.

• The next generation City will get this diesel engine, perhaps with a VGT to differentiate it from the cheaper Amaze.

• Honda remained tight-lipped when asked if the Brio will get this engine, or a 3 cylinder 1.2L unit. GTO caught the Brio diesel being tested in Mumbai. For more, seethis thread (*SCOOP* Honda Brio DIESEL caught. EDIT : Now caught on VIDEO!).

• Our Honda Brio MT Official Review is located here (Honda Brio : Test Drive & Review). The Brio AT review can be found here (Honda Brio (Automatic) : Official Review).

• Considering that the Brio recently got a 5-Speed Automatic, the Amaze might also have a petrol AT variant on offer.

• Disclaimer : Honda invited Team-BHP for the Amaze test-drive. They covered all the expenses for this driving event.

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