The roomy cabin, sizeable boot, good diesel engine and fuel economy establish the Honda Amaze’s product value, write Hormazd Sorabjee and Nikhil Bhatia

After years of resisting, Honda has finally come to terms with the shift towards diesel in the Indian market. The Japanese auto giant has developed the 1.5-litre i-DTEC diesel motor and plans to launch it here mid-2013 as the heart of the Amaze — its sub-four-metre saloon derivative of the Brio. We got our hands on the Amaze at the Honda-owned Twin Ring Motegi circuit in Japan.

The biggest difference between the Brio and Amaze lies at the rear. The Amaze has a defined boot section. That said the integration of the boot onto the hatchback body is fairly cohesive. Honda has tried to add some flair to the design with smart creases on the rear bumper and a rising belt line on the rear door. However, the upright boot lid still looks quite ordinary and it’s only the thick band of chrome above the number plate that gives the tail some flash.

The new rear doors are different from those on the Brio. That’s because the Amaze sits on a 60mm longer wheelbase than the Brio which, along with the flatter roof, dictates their larger size. Ahead of the B pillars, the Amaze is identical to the Brio and, in fact, viewed head-on, it’s only the restyled front bumper and additional horizontal chrome slat on the grille that differentiate the two. On the whole, the Amaze looks more grown up than the Brio, but we wish Honda had given the saloon bigger wheels and tyres for a more planted stance. The Amaze uses the same MRF 175/65 R14 rubber as the Brio, but the alloys are a bit wider.

Another thing going for the Amaze is its practicality. The boot lid opens to reveal a fairly spacious luggage bay (for a sub-four-metre saloon). But this doesn’t mean that cabin space has been compromised for the sake of storage.

The increase in wheelbase has resulted in a corresponding increase in rear legroom, vis-a-vis the Brio, and headroom sees an improvement too. The beige seats, door pads and roof lining and the large windows only further enhance the feeling of space in the back. Even the central tunnel is very low, though the cabin’s limited width makes sitting three-abreast in the back a squeeze. For its part, the rear seat is nicely padded and offers decent back and thigh support; it even comes with a smart centre armrest with two cup-holders. If anything, some may find the rear seat backrest a tad too reclined. The rear seats don’t fold forward because there’s a strong V-brace just behind them to improve torsional rigidity.

The dual-tone dashboard, with its offset centre console, is a straight lift from the Brio, as are the comfortable, single-piece front seats. Sadly, many of the Brio’s not-so-nice bits are carried over too. The cabin plastics, while well put together, don’t feel particularly rich. If there’s some consolation, it’s in the soft-touch steering, which looks quite upmarket, and the rear power window switches that are a big improvement.

As on the Brio, visibility is really good (if you are tall, as there is no seat-height adjustment) and the Amaze will come with a rear defogger — something missing on the hatchback. You can also expect fully loaded versions of the Amaze to come with steering-mounted controls and an audio player with USB connectivity, but no CD player. No complaints about storage for smaller items — you get a large glovebox, bottle-holders in all four doors and a total of four cup-holders.

The Amaze will be available with the same 88bhp, 1198cc 16-valve petrol unit that currently powers the Brio hatchback. With only a 30kg weight difference to the hatch, you can expect the peppy engine to deliver similar levels of performance and efficiency too. But the success of the Amaze truly hinges on how well Honda’s new diesel engine is suited to the job.

The 1.5 i-DTEC engine that debuts in the Amaze is essentially a scaled-down version of the just-launched 1.6-litre, 118bhp, common-rail motor that will power Hondas in Europe. No power and torque figures have been disclosed yet, but we expect this twin-cam, four-valve-per-head motor to produce close to 90bhp and around 21kgm of torque. The diesel Amaze also comes with an all-new five-speed manual gearbox, similar to the one in the 1.6, but with a completely different set of ratios to suit driveability requirements in India. The entire engine-gearbox package has been tuned for performance under 3000rpm, which is where the engine will reside in typical driving scenarios.

There’s evidence of this focus right from the moment we set off in the car. There’s terrific pulling power right from 1200rpm, followed by a gentle surge around the 1500rpm mark, which is when the turbo comes on song. Overall tractability is fantastic and there’s also a nice linearity in the power delivery. What also helps driveability is the relatively low gearing, which lets you pull in a higher gear than usual. This engine is also quite refined. Idle is vibration-free and fairly quiet and, even up to 3000rpm, this motor doesn’t get particularly noisy. The generous use of sound-insulation material in the engine bay and on the firewall play a vital part here. According to Honda engineers, the insulation package will be even better on the production cars.

It’s only when you rev the engine harder that it starts to sound thrashy, but given the characteristics of this motor, you’ll rarely find yourself holding gears longer than needed. If there’s a weakness, it’s that there is no top-end punch. The power drops off a cliff when you reach 3800rpm, and thereafter, it’s quite a wait for the 4500rpm rev limit. This engine simply isn’t very free-revving, which is quite unusual for a Honda.

Drive in an unhurried manner, though, and you will be rewarded with good responses to part-throttle inputs and, going by Honda’s claims, excellent fuel-efficiency too. Honda is claiming best-in-class fuel economy figures, so we expect an official ARAI-tested figure in the region of 25-26kpl! What will further endear the Amaze to its predominantly city-based clientele, is its smooth-shifting gearbox and light, easy-to-modulate clutch.

Honda, with the Amaze, is expected to make a huge impact on the Indian market.