2018 Honda Amaze: First Drive Review
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Back in 2013, the Amaze ushered in the company’s first diesel engine to the diesel-hungry Indian market. Soon, the second-gen Amaze will debut the first-ever diesel-CVT combination in the country. So we find out if the diesel-CVT is as good as Honda claims it, and if the Amaze has become better overall
This is the all-new Honda Amaze. Everything from the chassis to the body shell, the interior design, the features, safety equipment and, very importantly, the transmission has been changed. The engines are not all-new but get improvements of their own for improved driveability, fuel efficiency and comfort. Honda says the goal for their R&D Asia Pacific department was to make a ‘one-class-above’ sub-4 metre sedan based on the feedback from both existing owners of the previous-gen sedan as well as potential customers of the all-new one.
Honda also had to take into account how the competition has intensified in the past five years, especially with Maruti Suzuki stamping its authority on the segment with the Dzire. It says the Amaze is not just a better product, but also offers a better ownership experience. Here’s our impressions of the new Amaze based on a hectic drive schedule in Bangalore’s varying weather.
Honda calls it the ‘Dauntless Solid’ design, the goal being to give the Amaze a premium and sensational first impression along with doses of added masculinity. It may not appeal to everyone, but there is no denying that the new Amaze looks a class apart from the competition.
Honda seems to have chosen to go with the boxy look to cash in on the rising interest among Indian buyers in cars that look like SUVs. The front, with its tall and long bonnet, Honda’s signature ‘Solid Wing Face’ grille and broad headlamps make the Amaze look wide. The headlights now get LED guidelamps but miss out on projector headlamps altogether.
From the side, the Amaze looks much more proportional than the car it replaces - this is after all a car that was designed from the ground up to be a sedan, and is not a hatchback with a luggage compartment stitched onto it. The boxy dimensions become even more evident when the Amaze is looked at from the side, with both the bonnet and the boot being in parallel with the front and rear bumpers, respectively. The 15-inch alloy wheels are larger than the 14-inch units on the older car and complement the new, bolder look of the Amaze.
Like the front, the rear too feature signature Honda elements on it. The overall design seems to have taken inspiration from the Civic and the Accord. These include the taillamps which extend onto the boot, a prominent boot lip and a stylised bumper. But this is where the Amaze could have looked better, the boot lid could do with some sort of ornamental addition to reduce the bulk, especially on variants painted in the new Radiant Red Metallic option. We did see Honda use a chrome bar on the boot of the unit they showcased at the 2018 Auto Expo and we expect the carmaker to bring it back at the time of launch or at least offer it as an accessory.
Talking of colours, the Amaze gets a total of five options. Of these, only the Radiant Red and Golden Brown (think brown like on the Honda City) are exciting. Safer options include White Orchid Pearl, Lunar Silver and Modern Steel (grey).
Honda calls the interior theme of the new Amaze ‘Serenity Passion’. It combines solid-looking design elements, warm and comfortable colours along with traces of exciting details around the cabin.
First impressions are quite positive. The interior design of the new Amaze is a great improvement over the previous car whose pre-facelift version was heavily criticised for being too much like the Brio hatchback and featuring some questionable material choices.
The all-black upper dashboard continues the wide-design theme from the outside, making the cabin feel larger than it actually is. The black dashboard and the upper door trim is divided by thick piano black inserts that add an element of excitement to the inside. The rest of the car features beige plastic and fabric that lends the cabin an airy and spacious feel.
The centre console features CR-V/Civic-inspired AC vents on the top, a new touchscreen/2-DIN audio interface, climate control unit and all black gearshift console on the floor. The chunky steering wheel design is reminiscent of the units on Honda’s larger cars (which are not currently on sale in India) and the instrument cluster features a large driver information screen flanked by two analogue counters.
The front occupants will love the wide and well-contoured fabric seats with the well-designed adjustable headrests that are very comfortable without being overly soft. The driver can find his/her perfect driving position with the help of the height adjustable seat and tilt-adjustable steering wheel. A telescopic adjustable steering along with height adjustable seatbelts would have made the Amaze even better in terms of ergonomics.
The chunky steering wheel feels nice to hold and have well-contoured thumb grips. The analogue dials, which now feature a clock-like shiny black background and white lettering, are legible even at a glance and the central MID shows a lot of important data in a neat layout. The view out of the front is great even though the dashboard is tall when compared to the competition. The thick C-pillar does reduce rearward visibility, especially on roads that merge into traffic at an angle.
The advantages of the 65mm longer wheelbase, along with pushing the engine and transmission almost all the way to the front of the engine bay, is clear when you get into the Amaze’s cabin. Two six-footers can sit behind each other with enough knee room for the person sitting at the back. However, the Amaze remains a comfortable four-seater at best. There is a handy foldable centre armrest with cup holders for the rear passengers to make the journey more comfortable. Surprisingly, the rear passenger will have to worry about headroom, which is at a premium despite the boxy exterior design. Matters are compounded because of the fixed rear headrests, which are not the easiest to rest one’s head on if he/she is tall.
There are some complaints though; the fit and finish of some the parts could have been better and the cost cutting measures show through. The lower half of the dashboard, including the glovebox, flexes on touch! The buttons on the steering wheel are made of hard clear plastic that do not feel good to touch and had already begun to fade.
A First: Diesel CVT
Like the older car, the 2018 Amaze continues to be offered with two engine options - a 1.2-litre, 4-cylinder naturally aspirated i-VTEC petrol and a 1.5-litre, 4-cylinder, turbocharged i-DTEC diesel. Both motors can be had with either a 5-speed manual or a CVT automatic. At a time when the competition is using automated manual transmissions (AMT) to cater to an increasing consumer base that demand for convenient automatic cars, Honda has decided to invest a lot and develop a CVT. Theoretically, a CVT offers the best of all worlds - smooth operation, good acceleration and great mileage. But it has traditionally not been applied to diesel engines due to its complexity, which adds weight and cost.
Honda has had to make compromises to the diesel engine to make it compatible with the CVT. It loses 20PS of maximum power and 40Nm of peak torque, which Honda claims have been done to make the Amaze CVT more driveable and not suffer from the typical torque surge associated with turbocharged diesel engines. The Amaze equipped with diesel-CVT combo also loses out in terms of fuel efficiency with a claimed mileage figure of 23.8kmpl as compared to the diesel MT, which returns 27.4kmpl. The difference in fuel efficiency feels stark as the difference in mileage of the petrol-MT and CVT is just 0.5kmpl!
Honda’s claims of increased sound deadening and changes made to the diesel engine to reduce NVH levels can be felt when you turn the ignition. Press the pulsating white start/stop button and the engine rumbles to life and settles into a nice rhythm. The Honda Amaze diesel certainly feels less noisy than before, but it is not whisper quiet. The difference can be stark if you sit in the car after having driven the super quiet petrol-powered variants of the Amaze. However, the sedan has loud A/C fans and a decent sounding 4-speaker surround sound system to drown out any engine noise that manages to creep inside.
The drop in power and torque figures are not apparent when you drive the Amaze diesel CVT in the city. The CVT holds revs in the 1500-2000rpm range, where the i-DTEC EarthDreams diesel makes most of its torque, and the car is propelled forward in a smooth manner. The engine is a bit gruff below 1500rpm and the CVT endeavours to keep the engine ticking above it for the best interior experience. While we did not encounter any stop-go traffic on our test route in Bangalore (for good reason), the engine and transmission were very smooth at low speeds in our simulated runs with repeated accelerator and brake inputs.
Where the diesel-CVT feels out of its element is out on the highway where the power and torque deficit results in a very relaxed acceleration. Mash the pedal and the revs rise dramatically, but the progress is not the kind that pins you back in your seat. You could use the ‘S’ mode on the gear lever to keep the engine on the boil at higher rpms to help overtake slower vehicles, but the noise accompanied with the engine climbing up the rev range is not followed with rapid acceleration. The Amaze diesel CVT works best as a city car thanks to its smooth power delivery and better fuel efficiency (our car showed an average efficiency of 18kmpl with aggressive driving).
If you want the Amaze but spend a significant amount of time on the highway, the more powerful, manual transmission-equipped variant is the way to go. The gearbox is slick shifting, the clutch light and the engine eager to be revved. At most times, you can amble about in third gear around the city, but when you want to put the foot down the Amaze diesel has enough torque and power in reserve to help move you along - fast.
The petrol-powered variants, either in manual or CVT guise, are best suited for those who do not wish to spend as much, will not drive much and still find the new Amaze diesel a tad too noisy. The 1.2-litre engine develops 90PS of maximum power and 110Nm of peak torque and needs to be pushed to get similar performance as the diesel. This results in a lot of gear changes and ringing out the engine to its 6900rpm limiter. With the CVT, driving the car enthusiastically can lead to one getting irritated with the drone. Both the petrol MT and CVT variants are best used as city commuters driven in a relaxed manner.
Ride and Handling
The new Amaze is based on an all-new platform that uses more high-tensile steel, helping it reduce weight while improving torsional rigidity. The suspension, both at the front and rear, get revised geometry, camber angles, damper angles and use urethane bump stops to improve the ride in all areas.
These changes can be felt when driving over all kinds of surfaces. Some of our colleagues termed it ‘European’ without the negatives associated with such a ride. The Amaze handles potholes with aplomb, ironing them without a single squeak. The urethane bump stops transmit fewer vibrations into the cabin and reduce the suspension noise to a very large extent, letting only the sharpest of bumps to be felt inside. Road undulations do not seem to unsettle the Amaze, even when driven at triple-digit speeds.
This is not to say the Amaze is very smooth at high speeds. In a straight line, the Amaze will hold its line and not bounce even when it encounters sudden bumps on the road. But try to change lanes at these speeds, or go around a corner, and the Amaze showcases a significant amount of body roll. It is never unnerving, but it forces you to change direction in a gentle manner at high speeds. The steering does not weigh up as much as we would have liked at higher speeds but feels direct nonetheless.
The good news for the rear passenger is that the Amaze will not feel like a boat ever; while comfortable, the suspension doesn’t tend to bob over high-speed undulations, making highway runs very relaxing. In the city, the Amaze will feel like a car from another segment altogether in its ability to smoothen out uneven roads, which makes it a great car to be chauffeur driven in!
Honda knows that the Amaze needs to be on par or better in terms of equipment to appeal to customers in this segment. And the Amaze does have a long list of features to do just that. LED position lamps (NOT DRLs) adorn the bottom of the headlamps. The 15-inch alloy wheels look striking while the shark fin antenna is a welcome change from the wire-type unit on the older car. Both the front doors get a smart keyless entry system - to get in you just need to place your hands on the front door handles to unlock them and use the button on the handles to close the doors. The trunk can be opened electronically using either the dedicated key on the fob or a button above the number plate holder.
Inside, the Amaze gets a push-button start/stop system. The button pulsates white when you press the clutch (or brake in the CVT) and turns red when you switch on the car for some added drama. All variants get a steering wheel with telephony and multimedia controls on the left side. The VX variant, on the other hand, gets cruise control buttons on the right side.
The Amaze is fitted with the second-generation Digipad AVN system. It now features a more responsive touchscreen, customisable layout, inbuilt navigation, Aux-in/USB/Bluetooth connectivity and is also Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatible. The Amaze gets only four speakers connected to the multimedia system and the sound quality is just about acceptable. It also gets a reverse camera, which is missing even on the larger City!
The standard safety equipment list is long too - ABS, EBD, dual front airbags and ISOFIX anchor points are offered as standard on all variants.
For now, we know that the top-of-the-line variant in the Amaze lineup will be the VX, with the V placed just below it. The petrol-CVT and diesel-CVT are available only in the lower V trim, which makes them miss out on cruise control, touchscreen infotainment system (which is replaced with a conventional 2-DIN two-line monochrome display unit) and a rearview camera.
Honda certainly has a winner on its hands, but it needs to be very aggressive with the pricing of the new Amaze if it wants to compete for the crown in the sub-4 metre compact sedan segment. It looks excitingly different, has a comfortable and feature-laden interior, and the potential to become the most appealing city-centric sedan in its class with its diesel-CVT variant. It also promises a premium ownership experience without the costs involved.
The 2018 Amaze feels like an all-rounder and, at least with its diesel MT/CVT variants, makes a good case for itself as one of the better offerings in the segment. While the exterior design may not appeal to everyone, the interior design, space and equipment on offer certainly will. Couple all this with one of the best ride-and-handling packages on any car in the sub-4 metre sedan segment, the Honda Amaze should feature on top of your list if you are looking to buy one in the near future.
If primarily driving/being driven in the city, the Amaze V Diesel CVT is the variant to go for. If your commute consists of a lot highway runs, go for the Amaze VX Diesel MT. Petrol variants are quieter while being feature-loaded and comfortable. However, they do not offer driving excitement or good fuel efficiency.