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Honda finally unveils its ambitiously conceived diesel car mean for India. It's also a first for the Japanese auto major.
The last few years have been tough on Honda, the Japanese car major that enjoys a high brand equity in India. The company, that once dominated the sedan segments with cars like the City, Civic and Accord, has of late been facing tremendous pressure after the Indian market shifted gears and moved rapidly towards diesel, all due to the ever-increasing price gap between petrol and diesel fuels. Honda, despite having some of the finest products in its line-up, could not stand against the tide as the lack of a diesel option in its kitty has even the most ardent loyalists switching camps and deserting the company in one of its most trying periods.
Problems for Honda kept compounding as a diesel engine was found missing even from the mini car that the company launched last year. The Brio came with a 1200cc petrol engine that was earlier being strapped onto the Jazz hatchback, and lack of diesel options prevented the model from shaking up the market.
But, while its numbers were strained, Honda executives kept a brave face, insisting all the while that a diesel was on its way. Now, after many years of R&D, the company has finally unveiled its first diesel engine meant for India. Honda has chosen an all-new entry-level sedan, Amaze, developed on the Brio platform, for strapping on the 1, 500cc all-aluminum i-DTEC diesel engine.
A sub 4-metre sedan, this new Honda baby is surely going to prove a tough rival to the likes of Maruti Suzuki's Dzire, Tata's Indigo and Toyota's Etios, cars that will fall in the category it will operate in. The under 4-metre length also qualifies Amaze for lower excise duty - half that of a bigger car, which will, hopefully, help the company price the model rather competitively in the market.
Pricing is one area where Honda has disappointed many of its buyers in the past. For example, it brought in the Jazz hatchback for as much as Rs 7 lakh (ex-showroom ) in 2009 and found it had to beat a hasty retreat two years on, as it slashed Jazz's price by over Rs 1. 5 lakh, leaving the select few who had bought the car fuming. The tepid response to the Jazz and the market shifting decisively to diesel had also seen the company cut the price of its flagship City by Rs 66, 000 last year, which led many observers to wonder if the company's management had any real grasp of real-market conditions or not.
This time, though, company executives insist that the Amaze will be priced right "around the sweet spot" of the segment and in line with competitors. The diesel variant of the Maruti Dzire, the segment leader, starts with an exshowroom price of Rs 5. 99 lakh (Delhi) and TOI-Crest expects the entry-level Amaze diesel version to be priced between Rs 6. 5 lakh and Rs 7 lakh, while the petrol (with a 1, 200cc engine) variant's price would be significantly lower.
As to the matter of the car, the exterior of the Amaze is a real delight to behold, as nowhere does it carry the truncated boot look one experiences with the Dzire or the Tata Indigo CS. The Amaze has a near-complete look and nowhere gives an impression of a car that has been designed smaller from the boot on - for lower tax benefits.
The rear looks decent and the taillamps remind one of the Honda City. While Honda did not disclose the size of the boot, it did give an impression that it would offer enough space to match rivals.
Honda did not share pictures of the interiors (considering that the car TOICrest drove was a prototype, with the final design yet to be frozen), what we saw is what will most likely make its way to India. The Amaze is very similar to the Brio on the inside, and thankfully, the car which we drove had height adjustment on the driver's seat (unlike the Brio where many complain of a low seating for the driver).
But the best thing about the car is the cabin space it offers. Honda has certainly designed the car around its philosophy of 'man maximum, machine minimum', and leg space is impressive. Even with 6-feet in height on the driver's seat, the rear passenger will not feel uncomfortable. The floor is also nearly flat, which means there are no issues with foot room.
The plastic quality inside is decent, and not as tacky as the Toyota Etios, though it's far from being plush.
In terms of driving comfort, the diesel engine pulls easily from low rpm and does not show any turbo lag. However, it does get somewhat noisy as it picks up pace, though the final production model may address this issue. We could not get a good sense of the suspension of the car as we drove on a smooth, curvy test track.
Honda promises a "class leading" mileage on the diesel and while the figures are yet to be made public, it is expected to be just north of 23kmpl.
But we'll have to wait a bit to be Amazed. The car's India launch is pencilled in for May or June 2013, even as a petrol version has already hit the roads in Thailand.
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