Honda’s obsession with high-revving, race-worthy petrol motors is already the stuff of legends. Who knew that something as boring as economics could drive them to create a diesel gem!
In the world of comics and made-up action heroes, Spider-Man would rank quite high up. You know, that ordinary guy who was bitten by a spider and inherited their most useful qualities himself. His primary function was to swing from building-to-building at the pretext of protecting the city from anti-socials. He got himself a funky suit, and the spider bite didn’t just give him lots of power, but also some magical cobweb forming capability in his wrists – and he went about defeating numerous criminals around town. What a job.
I also want to talk about Hulk for a moment. You might recall him as the massive green monstrosity who looks remotely like a human. A very big, envious and angry human that is. This monstrous chap was an unassuming Dr. Bruce Banner before he got exposed to gamma radiation and transformed into a gigantic beast of a man. Then there’s Thor, the God from another world, and, my favourite of them all, Ironman. Tony Stark, this billionaire industrialist who’s mad about developing defence systems with the best of what the engineering world offers, likes to play the role of Ironman in his free time. There’s massive character that Ironman has, and his colourful personality and cynicism wins me over. I think he’s much like me – rather, I’m much like him. Without the defence systems and fancy suit of course.
But, you must be wondering why I’m giving you lessons in comic book characters? You know what’s common to all these superheroes? Ok, I’ll grant you a guess – it’s one person. Still nothing? It’s Stan Lee – the man who created all of these characters. I absolutely adore and admire the man. God sure must have been at his creative best when he allowed Lee to draw his first breath.
But this isn’t about his creative genius alone. You see, Stan Lee wasn’t a high-school kid when he dreamt of such outlandish characters – he was 43. Imagine that – today, at 43, you’d be more worried about your mid-life crisis and your kid’s education, and you’d be unlikely to be dreaming up comic-book characters while spending time on the pot. So, in Lee, we’ve got a man who was brilliant enough to shed the inhibitions of his age and created a legacy that kids – through the decades – have been completely in awe of. He gave children a purpose, a reason to think beyond the obvious. That’s what the money-minting marketing blokes call ‘thinking-out-of-the-box.’
Lee was doing moderately well for himself, but the real success only came to him quite late in life. It may sound odd that I’m using this analogy for Honda, but it’s been a similar case with the Japanese auto giant. Unlike Lee, Honda was always the talk of the town when it came to brand novelty, reliability, and also performance. It was the leader in almost every category it was present in. But then, gradually, the market began maturing and Honda’s leadership started getting threatened by rival brands. It lost the game completely in several segments – all but one, actually. The City was its only real fighter.
The problem? Honda didn’t see – or maybe chose to ignore – the paradigm shift that was taking place in the Indian marketplace towards diesel passenger vehicles. For Honda, this spelled impending doom. You see, globally, Honda never really got interested in the concept of diesel fuel – the N Series was all they ever produced that was powered by diesel. But times are changing, and it was imperative for the engineers at Honda to get busy. Forget the 2.2-litre i-CTDi that they once had – it was time for a much more serious effort.
The Honda Amaze is Honda’s first diesel product in the automotive space in India. The 1.5 litre diesel motor uses the same architecture as the 1.6 litre engine that powers the Civic in the international market. The main difference is that the Indian version features a smaller fixed geometry turbo (FGT) and the diesel particulate filter has been omitted from the requirement list. It’s an all-aluminium construction and Honda had to go in for liquid-filled engine mounts to keep the vibrations in check. The crankcase has been stiffened up, the pistons and connecting rods are smaller and lighter, reducing frictional resistance between components. Honda even went to the extent of using a specially-developed ultra low viscosity semi synthetic engine oil for the 1.5-litre diesel in the Amaze. All that sounds impressive indeed, but, frankly, the NVH (Noise Vibration Harshness) could yet be better.
The Honda Amaze is not just a Brio that grew itself over the years – it’s got an identity and character all its own. And, in keeping with the tradition of clichés – it’s mature and grown up. The Brio was a naughty child that always threw tantrums. It’s a cheerful car that makes you smile when playing along, but get it misbehaving and the suspension can really spring some nasty surprises on you. The Amaze, on the other hand, is not only more accommodating – it’s actually more enjoyable too. Honda has sorted out the bouncy ride of the Brio, and the Amaze rides very decently on almost all but completely annihilated surfaces. The faith I’ve had in Brio’s handling only strengthens with the Amaze. The steering is fairly direct, if lacking very slightly in feel at low speeds, and the chassis exhibits eagerness all the time. All this – the sorted suspension, direct steering, and a delightful chassis — makes for an able handling machine, and the Honda Amaze is actually quite good fun to push around corners. But the main talking point is the first diesel engine from Honda, as it’s hugely impressive.
There’s extremely little lag under 1,200rpm – if that qualifies for lag anyway. This is one of the most eager diesel engines I’ve ever driven. The motor redlines at 4,200rpm, but the way the components react to your throttle input is supernatural. The engine moves the bulk of over 1,000 kilograms with surprising rapidity, and it’s also extremely tractable. The mid-range is strong, and the engine doesn’t lose its mojo even at the angry end of the tach. The only bone to pick is in the NVH department. Honda says that the noise is at par with the competition, but somehow it filters down into the cabin more than I would have liked. And I would have also liked Bluetooth as a standard fitment. Apart from that, though, the interior comes with pretty much everything that a car in this segment typically boasts of – and the quality of materials is quite good too. It does look like the whole interior has been picked up from the Brio, and that’s primarily because it has. However, the space and comfort offered inside is almost beyond belief. Even with an equally tall chap sitting in front of me – and I’m over 6-feet tall – I had ample space at the rear, and could even stretch in comfort while the seats offered abundant support in all the right places.
About the 1.2-litre petrol engine – we already know it’s a gem of an engine. We’ve spent a long time driving the Brio that it powers, and even with the slight weight handicap in the Honda Amaze, the engine proved as zestful as ever. You’d like to rev the valves off it all the way to the redline before every gearshift. Let’s just say that it’s a very engaging motor.
It’s a very good deal, this. Honda’s first diesel product was highly anticipated to be a firecracker, and it is. I know I’ll sound really corny saying this, but the Honda Amaze does live up to its name. It truly does amaze – sorry for this pathetic use of clichéd motoring writing, but it’s true.