Johannesburg - Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to test drive Honda’s new Amaze sedan, which replaces the Brio sedan in the Japanese manufacturer’s local line-up. Brio still exists as a hatch only, while Amaze will seek to carve a new niche, in a similar way that the Ballade did back in the 1980s.
The new Amaze is an ultra-compact attempt at offering the maximum amount of volume for passengers and luggage, which Honda has pulled off.
The drive does let it down, though.
Purposely-designed as a sedan from inception, the new Amaze is larger in every dimension, and features a slightly retro-inspired design that’s unmistakably Honda. In fact, it was pointed out to me that if the chrome brightwork around the test car was painted black, and if you squint at it a bit, it could look like the old Ballade from some angles.
Inside, well, you won’t lack for features and the cabin is smart and roomy.
According to Honda’s promotional content, the company’s renowned i-VTEC engine technology ‘ensures that the new Amaze also gets the go to match the show, while delivering exceptional fuel efficiency’. They are spot on about the economy, but it’s underpowered, especially when the car is laden with passengers and cargo. Perhaps at the coast, where with all it’s horses at play, the car would pull a little harder under acceleration.
Lack of grunt aside, an extended wheelbase and comfort-tuned suspension ensure predictable road manners and a refined ride for a short wheelbase vehicle.
The new Amaze is only 5mm longer and 15mm wider than its predecessor, but the wheelbase has grown by a substantial 65mm, bringing more interior space to the party.
Like most of the new Honda products coming to SA, the Amaze features a ‘solid wing’ appearance up front, which manifests itself in a broad chrome bar extending across the width of the contrasting black honeycomb grille. You get halogen headlights, same as before, which work well in clear conditions, but a set of LED headlamps (such as the ones Suzuki offers on the Ignis) would have been a nice touch, especially on the Comfort model we had on test.
Rounding off the front, a lower air intake is framed by recessed, black-framed fog lamps in the case of Comfort models too. Viewed from the side, the (small) alloy wheels - standard across the range - are a visual highlight, while also reducing unsprung mass. I’d go for larger wheels through an aftermarket channel though, perhaps 205/40/17 to fill the arches properly and give the car a cool complete look.
At the back, it’s a lot better than the old Brio Amaze sedan (which looked like its boot had been tacked on as an afterthought). The rear view is dominated by bold C-shaped taillight clusters, which frame a bootlid that opens wide and deep. An integrated spoiler on the bootlid’s leading edge adds a sporty touch, while the colour-coded, integrated bumper extends into a stylised rear ‘diffuser’. Snazzy.
Beige cloth upholstery is used as standard to trim the contoured, surprisingly supportive front seats and rear bench seat, however synthetic leather seat covers can be ordered as a no-cost option. I particularly liked the glossy piano black detailing on the dashboard, which adds a classy touch at this end of the market.
What was a little disappointing on the inside was a lack of touchscreen multimedia. You get a simple, single DIN radio, which does support Bluetooth and iPhones, but it’s just a bit dated really. USB and AUX inputs are available for charging devices or listening to music.
While scooting around in traffic, I enjoyed making use of the car’s multifunction steering wheel, which allowed for safe and convenient control of the audio system, as well as making Bluetooth-linked hands-free phone calls.
If you travel with kids, or babies, you’ll also appreciate the car’s generous cabin storage, which includes large pockets in all four doors and cupholders in the centre console, while a fold-down rear seat armrest also incorporates cup holders for rear occupants.
Even if you fit a baby seat in the back and you take the long road to the coast, the new Amaze’s 2470mm wheelbase ensures the interior is airy and spacious enough for a family, with ample leg and headroom both front and rear.
The boot swallows a handy 420 litres of goods; 20 litres more than the original Brio Amaze.
As I alluded to earlier, the drive of the Amaze let me down a bit, especially considering the fact that Honda is renowned for its sporty engineering of small cars. Powered by the company’s tried-and-tested 1.2-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, maximum power output is rated at 66kW, reached at 6000rpm combined with a torque peak of 110Nm at 4800rpm.
I had to rev the car out to make progress on the highways, especially if I wanted to keep pace with traffic in the fast lane. In the past, revving a Honda engine would be a pleasurable experience, but in the Amaze, it felt a bit grainy and hesitant to pull smoothly.
I reckon the altitude ‘sickness’ that plagues naturally aspirated engines up here in Johannesburg just proves too much for the Amaze’s capability. It’s not dissapointingly slow, or dangerous, but overtaking will require quite a build up of momentum and you must be prepared to fill up with fuel more regularly if you’re a generally sporty driver.
Transmission wise, in the baseline Amaze Trend model, a five-speed manual gearbox is standard, while buyers of the Comfort model can also opt for a new-generation Continously Variable Transmission (CVT). The five-speeder in our test car was a joy to use, with its short and direct throw, and lightness of operation.
With a kerb mass of around 900kg, Honda claims that the manual gearbox models will accelerate from 0-100 km/h in 12.3 seconds, while the CVT version requires 13.5 seconds. Top speed is electronically limited to 160km/h for all derivatives.
Also, in the manual versions, Honda claim a combined cycle fuel consumption figure of 5.6l/100km, which I came pretty close to after 1000km behind the wheel of the car over three weeks.
In terms of safety, all Honda Amaze models are fitted with dual front airbags, inertia reel seatbelts front and rear, and ISOFix child seat anchors. On the active safety front, ABS brakes with electronic brake force distribution are standard. No stability or traction control is available in the Amaze range.
Small car, competitive pricing, and all the features that you’ll need to be safe and comfy behind the steering wheel. It does require some getting used to, but the Honda Amaze is a good small car for new families or young execs that don’t want to over commit to financing a more expensive vehicle. Whether you’re transporting friends or family, though, the car does feel solid, and you will have peace of mind in know that there’s no complicated, high-tech engine under the hood. The Amaze strikes me as one of the cars that you can finance, pay for in full and keep for a few years if you don’t mind its gentle performance.