Honda’s market share in India has been on the decline for quite some time now and if there’s one factor responsible for this, it’s the Japanese auto maker’s lack of a diesel engine offering. In fact, the drastic shift towards diesel over the past couple of years has probably hit Honda the hardest among all manufacturers in India. While Honda has blamed India’s poor fuel quality for the delay in bringing a diesel engine here, the simple fact is that Honda has traditionally had an antipathy to diesel. Changing market dynamics, however, have forced it to put its prejudices aside to develop an all-new, 1.5-litre diesel engine that will debut on the forthcoming Honda Amaze saloon.
The Honda Amaze is essentially a saloon version of the Brio hatchback already on sale in India. Like the Maruti Suzuki Swift Dzire, against which Honda benchmarked its car, the Amaze is a sub-4m saloon that will be available with a 1.2-litre petrol and a 1.5-litre diesel engine, which will qualify it for the excise duty sops offered on small cars. In terms of design, it’s easy to establish that the Amaze is built on the Brio platform. The two cars look very similar from the front, but Amaze’s front bumper and an additional horizontal chrome slat on the grille distinguish it from its hatchback sibling.
However, from the front door onwards the two are different. For starters, the Amaze sits on a 60mm longer wheelbase which, along with the longer roof, warrants larger rear doors. The integration of the boot section is quite neat and the rising window line gives the Amaze a sporty stance. The boot is quite spacious (for a sub-4m saloon), with enough room for two large suitcases.
Open the doors and you’ll find the cabin is a carry-over from the Brio hatchback, so you get the same dual-tone dashboard with its offset centre console and comfortable single-piece front seats. We expect the top-end Amaze to come with steering-mounted audio controls, an audio player with USB connectivity and a rear defogger, the latter something that was missing on the Brio. But more than the features, buyers will take a liking to the space the Amaze has to offer. There’s good room in the front and the wheelbase extension has freed up a generous amount of leg space in the back as well. It’s a whole lot roomier than the Dzire and the light fabrics and large windows only help to this end. Even seat comfort is good, though some may find the rear seat a tad too reclined.
But perhaps the biggest strength of all is the Brio’s new 1.5-litre diesel engine. It’s the downsized version of Honda’s new 1.6-litre engine for the European market, with a lot of weight-saving features to make it the lightest engine in its class. Honda hasn’t disclosed power figures yet but we expect power to be in the region of 90bhp and 21kgm of torque. The engine is tuned for good drivability in typical Indian city conditions and that’s something that came shining through within a few minutes of our drive. Part throttle responses are good, there’s good pulling power from as low as 1,200rpm. If there’s a weakness it’s that the engine doesn’t like to be revved, which is quite unusual for a Honda. Power tapers off quite drastically after 3,800rpm and then begins to feel laboured.
In view of this it’s best to change gears early via the slick shifting five-speed gearbox and light clutch. The drivability aspect apart, the engine also scores on refinement. It’s quiet at idle and only gets noisy post 3,000rpm.
Our brief drive at the Motegi race track in Japan didn’t give us time or conditions to judge the Amaze’s ride quality but it should be similar to the Brio on this front. The two cars use the same suspension hardware though the Amaze’s front springs have been stiffened to deal with the additional weight of the diesel engine. An interesting fact is that the Amaze’s steering feels better weighted than the Brio’s, which we found to be a tad too light. However, manoeuvrability and cornering manners are just as good as the hatchback.
So there you have it. Honda seems to have the right product with the right engine. All that Honda needs now is to give the Amaze the right price to take on the Swift Dzire. If Honda can price the Amaze in the Rs.6.5-7.5 lakh (ex-showroom) band, it will be in a position to silence its critics and reclaim a large chunk of its lost market share in one amazing move.