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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Amaze: Honda’s game-changer

If Honda does not make pricing mistake it made with Jazz initially,there is no reason why Amaze should not do well.

Written by Roudra Bhattacharya | Published: April 6, 2013 3:24:54 am

If Honda does not make the pricing mistake it made with the Jazz initially and is able to produce enough units,there is no reason why the Amaze should not do well

Whenever one is really looking forward to something,Murphy’s law invariably comes into play—“Anything that can go wrong,will go wrong”. So,though I was nervously excited when I went to Goa to test drive Honda’s first diesel car in India—the Amaze (before the official launch on April 11)—I chose to remind myself that Honda had its task cut out,but could it get everything right? Merely being a good product was not enough since the Amaze is easily two years late in a market flooded with diesel cars,and it has to disrupt the entry sedan market by improving over the top-selling Maruti Suzuki Swift Dzire on all fronts. Given that the Dzire already ticked all the right boxes in terms of fuel efficiency,space and price,things definitely did not look encouraging.

Could Honda,a brand with a premium image and known for its design talent and smooth petrol engines,take the challenge to the diesel car market as well? In justifying a name like the ‘Amaze’,the Japanese carmaker had admittedly set a high target for itself. But going by what we know of Honda cars,and the no-nonsense Japanese attitude to life,I had a gut feeling that Honda would do everything to live up to the task even if it takes ages to launch. In most ways,I was glad that I got it right.

In terms of design,the Brio feels well proportioned in its three-box ‘Amazing’ avatar. This is good since,usually in compact sedans,the boot looks more like an afterthought that destroys the original design lines of the base hatchback—I’m thinking Maruti Dzire and Tata Indigo CS,where the Swift and the Indica were far better lookers,respectively. How did Honda do this? With the overall length restricted to less than four metres,what helped was the relatively shorter bonnet of the Brio,as compared to cars like the Swift. That left Honda engineers with more space to play with when they added a boot and a larger rear seat. Straight lines at the back and confident shoulder lines give the Amaze a broader and more upmarket look over the Brio. In fact,the Amaze will also be offered with an automatic option,but only with the petrol variant to start with.

Apart from a new two-slatted grille,the front has a very clear resemblance to the Brio,though the side profile from the B-pillar and the rear-end is distinct in design. To increase both rear seat and boot space,the car has been slightly widened from the back—the boot is the largest in the sub-four-metre sedans,at 400 litres,which dwarfs the Dzire’s 316-litre boot. Overall,the fit and finish is what one expects of Honda,with nice detailing in the tail lights and abundant use of chrome on the front and rear adding to the premium appeal. Quality carries on to the inside plastics as well and they do well to remind buyers that they have moved up in life by upgrading to a sedan from the sea of hatchbacks,albeit at a bargain. On convincing customers with a premium appeal,Honda does far better than the Toyota Etios,Mahindra Verito and even the Dzire—most cars in the mass segment lack the fit and finish that Honda maintains through its range starting from the Brio.

When it comes to the heart,there is no need in spending much time over the petrol. The petrol engine is the same 1.2 litre i-VTEC already seen in the Brio and the Jazz,putting out 88 PS of power. It revs smoothly,is reasonably fuel-efficient (18 kmpl for manual,15.5 kmpl for auto),but feels slightly lethargic when on an incline on the Western Ghats. So,I presume overtaking might be bit of a chore on the highways. But the petrol is not what all the fanfare is about; after all,diesel variants now account for 80% of sales,where available,and Honda is finally there.

The diesel engine,launched under the ‘Earth Dreams’ umbrella,may well be the real game-changer for Honda in India. To be used in the City,maybe the Jazz and a yet-unnamed utility vehicle that might be launched next year,the Amaze introduces the 1.5 litre i-DTEC powerplant into its Indian portfolio. The new diesel engine promises quite a lot,starting from the most fuel-efficient engine in the country (25.8 kmpl),to the highest power in class at 100 PS,to the highest torque in class as well,at 200 Nm coming in as low as 1,250 rpm. What this means is that it is a breeze to drive in city traffic,with power and acceleration coming in very early. Unlike other turbocharged diesel engines where the car feels slow in the first gear and suddenly gives a rush of power at around 2,000 rpm,the power delivery in the Amaze is linear throughout the rev band. In a drive spanning two hours,the car felt confident and very stable in a straight line,though a bit jerky around corners.

Honda has gone to great lengths to get everything right. Rare for diesel engines,the i-DTEC has an aluminium engine block that helps reduce weight – lower weight increases fuel efficiency. The focus has been on lower friction and weight throughout the engine,while Honda has even developed a new cooling system and a new low-viscosity engine oil (with Idemitsu) specifically for this engine. In fact,India will also be its global diesel engine base for major export markets like Europe where diesel engines are popular. The 1.6 litre i-DTEC used in the European Civic and the CR-V is essentially the same base engine as the 1.5 litre version used here,so components will be exported from India to all such markets.

But like they say,every rose has its thorn. Although it was tough to find faults with the Amaze,what put me off a bit was the plain Jane dashboard borrowed verbatim from the Brio. Now,even an entry-level sedan customer has high aspirations of luxury and carmakers need to meet that with more features. Though the quality levels in terms of touch and feel remain high,the design is very basic and lacks some features such as an automatic air-conditioning system. Plus,there is no CD player option in the company-fitted stereo. Also,while power delivery and efficiency are good and even vibration levels are well under control,the sound from the diesel engine invades cabin privacy to an extent.

In the end,the question remains,will the Amaze be the golden egg for Honda? In my opinion,if Honda does not make the pricing mistake it made with the Jazz initially and is able to produce enough units,there is no reason why the Amaze should not do well. Given the that Jazz is off the Honda menu as of now,I expect Amaze prices to start at around R5 lakh (petrol) and R6 lakh (diesel).

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