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Smooth operator

Honda’s new Amaze makes its case with hassle-free driving, roominess and frugal engines

Had it not been for Chikkaballapura, it’s unlikely that we’d have had a chance to really check the mettle of the new Honda Amaze CVT (continuously variable transmission) automatic with the petrol engine. This town about 35km from Bangalore airport is also the headquarters of the district of the same name. At a random point on its crowded streets, the female voice that had been directing us to “cheek-a-ballet-poorer” on Google Maps announced: “You have arrived at your destination”. We certainly hadn’t. There was a mistake somewhere.

On that pleasant April day, Honda Cars India had laid out four variants of its latest Amaze entry-level sedan (it was officially launched on May 16), for us to get a taste of. The route was from Bangalore to a place in, you guessed it, Chikkaballapura district, where we were to switch cars with other media persons. And it was 10km past the town up the highway.

Thanks to some messed-up inputs, however, Google Maps had taken us to the town instead. Worse, it was hellbent on giving us the full Monty of the place and took us through a few lanes where we were afraid we might scrape the fenders.

Room enough for tall people

THE PETROLS

On the bright side, we were getting a taste of the Amaze petrol CVT in everyday conditions rather than the highway, which is what the bulk of the designated route consisted of.

Now, as automatics go, in theory, a CVT should give a super smooth experience bereft of any jerks whatsoever from the transmission since there are no discrete steps in the gearing to shift between. The one in the new Honda Amaze is the best CVT that I’ve driven so far. It has none of the so-called ‘rubber band effect’ of a CVT, where a car typically responds to throttle inputs with a lag, making them disconcerting to drive sometimes. The car responds to accelerator pressure in a very linear way, and is thus very predictable and driving in slow city traffic a breeze.

This car, however, isn’t for thrill-seekers, and, to be honest, the paddle shifters that this model comes with won’t liven things up a great deal. Still, it’s good for times when you need to downshift to squeeze some juice out of the 1.2-litre, 90ps engine. This one is essentially designed to make city driving stress-free — it does that very well — and also for relaxed cruises on highways. What’s notable is that with the CVT gearbox, this car is smoother than those with automatics or automated manual transmissions (AMT) that are available in this slice of the market.

If it’s driving fun one is looking for, it’s better to look at the manual gearshift version. The engine, which is common to both, revs happily, though a bit noisily closer to the rev limit of 6,000rpm, but the gearbox is, as is expected of Honda, light, precise and a joy to play around with. This version, more than any other, embodies what one expects of a Honda — it’s quiet (I didn’t even realise that the engine was running in the parked car till I looked at the tacho), smooth, and is very linear and predictable in both power delivery and stopping response. And typically it leaves you with the feeling that the chassis could have handled a bigger, more powerful engine.
 

The boot is commodious

THE DIESELS

Fitting that bill is the 1.5-litre diesel that’s the other engine on offer in this model. Like the petrol, this one also comes mated with either a manual gearbox or a CVT automatic, the latter a first in India. Unlike the petrol, the states of tune (power and torque output) are different for the manual and the CVT, being lower for the latter.

Like the petrol, the diesel CVT is also silky and, in fact, with the higher torque output of the diesel engine, seems even more effortless than the petrol with enough pulling power available at any speed that one could be driving it at. It’s got the legs for the highway and some mild slow-speed offroading as well. Now the earlier Amaze diesel had always been wanting in the refinement department. This one is a substantial improvement on that car. However, it still works best at sub-2,500rpm levels and engine noise tends to seep into the cabin as the revs climb.

What was a bit surprising was that Honda is using the Earth Dreams engine in an 80ps, 170Nm state of peak tune with the CVT rather than the 100ps, 200Nm configuration that goes with the manual gearbox. Honda says this is to improve drivability and fuel efficiency. Whatever the reason, it did not feel underpowered on the road and even overtaking wasn’t difficult with enough power flowing out if one floored the pedal.

In terms of behaviour, the diesel manual isn’t hugely different from the older car and the speed is still limited to 140kmph. But, in terms of noise in the cabin, it’s a pretty big improvement on the earlier car and more or less in line with what one expects in this segment. Which makes it a pretty good option to look at if one is in the market for a diesel.    

The 1.2 petrol engine

LOOK AND FEEL

The new Amaze had been shown a couple of months ago at Auto Expo 2018. So one sort of knew what to expect. It certainly looks ‘squarer’, than both its predecessor as well as other cars in the segment, like the Maruti Suzuki Dzire and the Hyundai Xcent, with a flattish bonnet and thick chromed horizontal garnish of the front grille. The lines are clean and even the higher models are low on blingy bits. This car is a little wider, higher and longer than the old Amaze and has a longer wheelbase too. The creases on the flanks catch the light well and add to the horizonal emphasis.

The longer wheelbase translates into a lot of space in the passenger compartment. The brown and beige colour scheme is nice and some highlights in a polished woody finish make it look more premium. Leg room and head room are generous for a car this size. The touch points — steering wheel, gearshift knob, instrument stalks, switches and controllers — have a quality feel. But we would have liked slightly firmer cushioning in the seats to make them more comfortable on long runs. There are USB and 12V points both front and back and the climate control works well. The 420-litre boot has few intrusions. So it will be able to take a fair bit of luggage.

The Earth Dreams diesel

RIDE AND HANDLING

Like its predecessor, this Amaze, too, rides well and handles bumps and potholes efficiently. The steering, too, has enough feel to connect the driver to the road and not make him feel like he isn’t entirely sure what the car is doing. It’s stable when the speeds are climbing up and, more importantly, under braking. Coupled with the space in the cabin, this part of the package works well.

BUYING CALL

The Honda Amaze will be fighting for wallet share with established cars like the Dzire and Xcent. And it has brought a gun to the gunfight. The two CVTs in particular are very strong contenders if smooth, low-stress driving is what one’s looking at. The manuals, too, are frugal. Throw in the best-in-class three-year, unlimited kilometres warranty, and this is certainly not a car one can pass over — not easily at any rate.

Text and pictures: Abhijit Mitra

Opinion

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