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2018 Honda Amaze: First Drive Review

  • May 21, 2018
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Honda entered the sub-compact sedan segment in 2013 with the Amaze. Back then, all we wanted from these pseudo-sedans was a separate compartment for luggage and the option of a diesel engine. What we got in return were hatchbacks with an elongated boot. But the game has changed significantly in the last half-a-decade and now we want these sub-4 metre sedans to shed the ‘booted hatchbacks’ tag and deliver a more premium experience. We drive the new Amaze to find out whether it has upped its game or not.


Space management - One word, brilliant!


For long we’ve seen Honda talk about its ‘Man Maximum, Machine Minimum’ principle. But it was never really conveyed as well as it is in the new Amaze. And the brilliance doesn’t really lie in the interior, it’s basically in the platform. Honda has managed to compress the engine bay to leave more room for the cabin and boot. And so, while the Amaze’s overall length remains almost the same as before (the new Amaze is only 5mm longer), there is a 65mm increase in wheelbase which has in turn resulted in an impressive 40mm increase in knee room for the rear passengers. That’s not all. Boot space is also up from 400 litres in the first-gen model to 420 litres in the new one. Those numbers are excellent, especially when you consider that despite being almost as long as the Maruti Dzire, the Amaze has a 20mm longer wheelbase and 42-litres of extra storage space.


Where the Amaze falls short of its peers, especially the Dzire, is in its overall width. At 1695mm, it is 40mm narrower than the Maruti. But we’re yet to find out how big an impact that makes when three people are made to sit abreast at the rear. On our first drive, the Amaze’s cabin appeared to be quite wide to us. But we’ll address these details in a more exhaustive review in the future.


Exterior design - A breath of fresh air


It might be surprising for many, especially for those who saw the sedan at the Expo and found it quite hard to like, that the Amaze isn’t really that bad to look at out on the road. We might have a difference of opinion, but I’m sure it would be restricted to how individual parts of the Amaze are designed and not its overall get-up. Let me explain.


The Amaze looks one size bigger than its counterparts - from any angle - and that is despite it not being the biggest car in its segment. Credit goes to the designers, who are possibly one of the first to make a three-box car under four metres in length look like a proper sedan. That’s how proportionate the design is. In my personal opinion, if the Amaze is made to wear wheels that are a size bigger (it rides on 15-inch alloys in the V and VX variant) with a slightly reduced profile, it should look very aggressive. And this aggression in design is a first for this segment - a reason why I sum up its exterior design as a breath of fresh air.


Interior - Modern


As mentioned previously, the Amaze’s cabin feels spacious. Apart from the increase in real estate, the design also adds to the sense of spaciousness. The dashboard, for example, is designed in a way that the car feels wide from the driver’s seat. The black-beige interior theme makes it appear roomy. There’s use of hard plastic all around but it doesn’t appear cheap. Apart from the flimsy-looking plastic used for the glovebox and the plastic panel that holds the USB and power sockets, the overall fit and finish inside the cabin is quite good. The use of glossy black inserts on the dashboard lends the cabin a premium touch. The steering wheel is new and looks much like the one on the Civic. There’s no leather on the steering, or anywhere inside the cabin for that matter, but it’s made of soft-touch plastic and feels upmarket. It looks like Honda’s engineers paid a lot of attention to make the Amaze look modern on the inside, and they have managed to do just that.


The Amaze’s dashboard is designed such that it is thick in the middle, with AC vents on top and a lot of space between the dashboard and the windscreen, like on most modern-day cars. The bigger dashboards these days are designed keeping safety of occupants in mind but they increase the chances of error in judging the car’s extremities. If you’re not amused with such a design, you’ll be happy to note that from the Amaze’s driver’s seat, most of us will be able to see the bonnet clearly and we’re sure that’ll help you estimate the car’s front-end better.


The third and most important aspect of a car’s interior is comfort and the Amaze scores well on this front too. The seats, both at the front and at the rear, are accommodating and well bolstered. This time around, the front seats get adjustable headrests in all variants except the base and these are also suitably designed to offer support. On the V and VX variants that we drove, the front seats were adjustable for height and alongside the tilt-adjustable steering wheel, it allowed getting into a good driving position a breeze. There’s no front armrest but I didn’t feel the need of it either. Personally, I have felt the need of a front armrest only when the bolsters on the front seats that offer lateral support stick out too much. That’s not the case in the Amaze. There’s an armrest with cup holders for the rear passengers though. However, there aren’t any rear AC vents. That said, Honda has improved the Amaze’s air-con and first impressions about cabin cooling are positive.


Engine & Transmission - Options galore


The second-gen Amaze is available with both petrol and diesel engines that can be had with either a manual transmission or an automatic. The 1.2-litre petrol engine and the 1.5-litre diesel are the same as before and make 90PS and 100PS, respectively. There’s an option of a 5-speed manual transmission and a CVT on both the engines this time around.

The petrol engine is the same unit as before, paired with the same transmissions. This engine is not a rev-happy unit and has most of its power and torque situated in the middle. Picking pace and maintaining it will require frequent gear changes to keep the engine in its zone. As a result, you see only the petrol engine getting paddle shifters with the CVT and not the diesel. Well thought, Honda.


It’s the first time that Honda is offering a CVT with a diesel engine and we had two doubts about the setup even before driving it. One, would a CVT, which generally keeps the engine running at higher revs make the 1.5-litre engine noisier. Two, the diesel-CVT combo is 20PS down on power when compared to the manual version. Will this power difference significantly affect performance?


We were happy to note that Honda has improved the sound deadening inside the cabin and it has lowered the NVH as well. The 100PS diesel engine is a peppy unit and the Amaze has shed some weight as well. As a result, the diesel-manual Amaze felt fun with ample torque available throughout the range, negating the need to shift down frequently for more power. We, however, felt that the gearbox was a bit rubbery but the shifts were sure and short.


If you don’t want to bother about shifting gears manually, Honda has an alternative this time around. However, the diesel-CVT combo gets a reduced power-torque output (80PS/160Nm). The carmaker says it’s been done in favour of better driveability. Is the lack of power apparent?


Yes, it is. But only when you’re out on the highway and need to accelerate quickly to make an overtaking manoeuvre. In all other cases, especially in the city, the powertrain shines. The CVT keeps the diesel engine in its peak torque zone (~2000rpm) when you need to accelerate the car in the city before dropping the revs suitably while maintaining speed. And since you would not need to use the engine’s full might inside the city much, the lack of power at the top doesn’t pinch either. Since there’s enough pulling power for the diesel at lower revs, you don’t have to manually keep the engine revs higher and as a result, there are no steering-mounted paddle-shifters with the diesel engine. However, Honda does offer an S mode that holds the revs higher.


Summing it up, if you drive a lot and mostly on the highways, we’d say go for the diesel-manual combination. If your driving is limited to the city but running is high, the diesel-CVT is our pick. While it’s silent and does its job, the petrol engine isn’t the most exciting units to drive.


Ride & Handling


The Amaze has reduced its weight but the platform is also more rigid now. Out on the highway, it feels stable at high speeds and is capable of holding on to a straight line effortlessly. However, changing lanes induces body roll. Quick lane changes at three digit speeds also make you feel like the rear tries to catch up with the front but it’s more apparent when you’re driving. At sane speeds and with gentle steering inputs, the rear passengers wouldn’t be uncomfortable. Out test drive was largely limited to straight roads mostly and we’d like to reserve our judgement on how it feels around corners for a later day.


The steering isn’t the most communicative although it isn’t vague either. At high speeds, it feels a tad too light while it’s on the heavier side at slow and parking speeds. It would have been better if it was the other way around.


Where the Amaze shines is in its ride quality. At city speeds, in particular, it absorbs most undulations without any crashing noise filtering inside the cabin, delivering a very European car like ride experience. Out on the highway, too, the suspension soaks all road uncertainties without breaking a sweat.


Verdict


Honda developed this new platform keeping the Amaze, a sub-4m sedan, in mind. It has resulted in making the Amaze more proportionate than ever. In fact, the design would make you believe that it’s bigger than what it actually is.


Honda has also offered all possible powertrains it could and that makes it easier for buyers to choose the Amaze with the right engine-transmission combination according to their needs. While the petrol engine isn’t the most exciting of units, the 100PS diesel engine will make you enjoy the drive and is our pick of the lot. The diesel-CVT is also potent, but only when it is driven in a relaxed manner.


The first-gen Amaze’s two other shortcomings - lack of features and high NVH (diesel) levels - have also been addressed in the new model. So, it is finally capable of delivering the big car experience that we now expect from other sub-4 metre sedans.


The Honda Amaze is priced from Rs 5.59 lakh to Rs 8.67 lakh (ex-showroom). That makes the entry-level price lower than what it was before despite the inclusion of more features. It’s the S variant (P-MT - Rs 6.49 lakh, P-CVT - Rs 7.39 lakh, D-MT - Rs 7.59 lakh, D-CVT - Rs 8.39 lakh) that we find well rounded with almost all the basic features that you’d want from a car at this price. The fact that it’s available with a variety of powertrain options makes it suitable for all buyers who’ve shortlisted the Amaze too.

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