If the term ‘compact sedan’ makes you think low quality, mediocre performance and low value, then you are probably among the minority because Indian car buyers are flocking to compact sedans for their upscale looks, features and hatchback-like efficiency. To give you an idea, the current largest selling car in India isn’t any budget hatch but a premium compact sedan, specifically the Maruti Suzuki Dzire. It’s a trend that’s not only killing the traditional car market but also constraining some of the biggest names in the industry to come up with idiosyncratic models. Honda, for one, went back to the drawing board and completely redesigned its compact sedan. Enter the all-new Amaze which marks a big improvement over the old car right off the bat. However, is it as good as the Dzire, the undoubted segment leader? Place your bets.
But before you do that, let’s touch on the exterior design, specifically the new Amaze’s polarising looks. Both these compact sedans are stylised beyond mere city runabouts but it’s the Honda specifically that hangs its appeal so conspicuously as a ‘bold looking vehicle’. You will either like or loathe that slab-like profile of the front-end which includes an overly aggressive nose and a thick chrome bar. That said, it looks well balanced in profile and more like a proper three-box compared to the Dzire but if you are amenable to the front and side, you will find the rear-end design to be somewhat dull for an otherwise boldly styled vehicle.
The Dzire, meanwhile, also looks well balanced as a three-box sedan. It’s a big improvement over the old car which was oddly proportioned. Bits like the strong shoulder-line and the well-defined boot line help it look more convincing than some of its rivals. It’s a close match but round one goes to the Dzire for its big car-like looks and premium touches including the brilliant projector headlights and the upmarket alloys.
The Dzire has the edge when it comes to features and it also looks more impressive in here, on first impressions at least – bits like the flat-bottom steering wheel, sporty looking dials and good usage of faux wood and gloss black inserts help elevate the ambience. The plush cabin also gets a big touchscreen display and a cleanly designed centre console that we approve of.
The Amaze’s dash layout, on the other hand, is a little grim and subdued by comparison and there aren’t too many visual cues to tell you that you are in a premium compact sedan. Oddly enough, Honda won’t sell us the Amaze automatic in top-of-the-line VX trim. Instead you can have it in either S or V variant as tested here. As a result, it misses out on some niceties including a touchscreen infotainment system, voice command, rear parking camera, cruise control and one-touch driver side window up and down function. The Dzire ZXI+, meanwhile, gets most of the above except for paddle shifters that come in the Honda.
The Amaze AT might be down on features but there is no denying its excellent visibility and ergonomics once you are seated in. Like all Hondas, the glass area is enormous and the dashboard is set surprisingly low, too. What aids to the airy feeling is the low window line and the slim A and C pillars which also help in manoeuvring in traffic. By comparison, it takes more effort in the Dzire because of its comparatively high set dash and a smaller greenhouse. Quality wise, both offer solid build and long lasting plastics, however, there are ill-fitting pieces in both – the steering mounted buttons on the Amaze, for instance, are of poor quality while the door pads and the window switches on the Dzire simply feel low rate.
In terms of comfort and space, things are even upfront in terms of seat comfort. In the Amaze you sit higher, affording a better view all around. The seats themselves are comfortable and offer decent bolstering as well as under thigh support. There are, however, some differences in the volume – the Dzire is the widest car in its class and it feels so, especially at the back. It is wide enough to accommodate three occupants over short journeys and the bench itself is nicely contoured and offers good under thigh support, if not great. The narrower Amaze claws back some points with more headroom and better cushioning but when it comes to legroom, both are evenly matched. Interestingly, the Amaze has a longer wheelbase of the two despite the similarity in overall length.
First the numbers, the Dzire gets a 1197cc, four-cylinder petrol motor developing 82bhp/113Nm while the Amaze is powered by a 1199cc motor with as many cylinders and 89bhp/110Nm. The difference here though is with the drivetrain – the Amaze uses Honda’s tried-and-tested CVT gearbox with infinite ratios while the Maruti uses a much simpler automated manual transmission with 5 speeds.
Starting with the latter, its easy to underestimate the petrol-AMT combo on paper alone – it’s proven to be an effective powertrain in all our previous tests, with most of CarWale’s testers rating it to be the least jerky AMT-driven option out there. Coming back to the car, the Dzire petrol isn’t any more powerful compared to the old car but it is considerably lighter and that makes all the difference. Even a slight nudge to the throttle makes the Dzire leap forward with plenty of zest. The motor, in fact, is responsive and has a linear pull from low engine speeds, which makes it great for city driving. The 5-speed AMT in here does a good job of changing cogs in the city. It always upshifts in the meat of the torque band while downshifts are surprisingly smooth. It’s only during heavy acceleration that you will get that typical AMT pause in between gearshifts. This effect can be somewhat dampened in manual mode by lifting off the throttle while upshifting.
The 1.2-litre i-VTEC motor of the Amaze is more audible all the time although that’s down to the CVT working its way to propel the car forwards. Even so, the Amaze is not as refined as the Dzire despite Honda putting in some work on reducing the NVH – there’s more of engine and road noise filtering into the cabin as compared to the Maruti. In terms of performance, this engine too pulls in a linear fashion all the way to 6,600rpm redline although there is a mild surge at about 4,000rpm as the i-VTEC kicks in. The seven-step CVT offers what’s expected of it, delivering power seamlessly and as long as you don’t floor it, the Amaze picks up pace in a butter-smooth manner. That said, under heavy acceleration, the Amaze suffers heavily from the trademark rubber band effect wherein there is an instant rise in engine revs in proportion to the speed. Slot the lever into S and the revs climb up and stay close to the midrange where the meat of the power is, but doing so results in more engine noise. The best way to drive the Amaze CVT is by keeping the transmission in D and using part throttle to gain momentum.
Naturally, the Dzire marches ahead in acceleration. In everyday traffic conditions such as merging onto a main road or overtaking other cars, it’s more responsive and feels more immediate as long as you keep it in the power band. In our acceleration and in-gear tests, it clocked a respectable 12.86 seconds for the 0-100kmph run and took 8.28 seconds to hit 20-80kmph. The Amaze, on the other hand, was noticeably slower (0-100kmph in 15.07 seconds, 20-80kmph in 9.90 seconds).
Despite the longer wheelbase and wider track over the old car, the new Amaze CVT is around 20kgs lighter. What’s more, Honda has tweaked the suspension geometry for better ride quality and it shows. At low speeds its not as stiff as it used to be, absorbing bumps and imperfections with a soft edge. However, because its now running comparatively softer set up, the Amaze exhibits a lot of that unpleasant up and down motion at highway speeds. The new Dzire, meanwhile, is better suited at high speeds with the way it settles at the rear – it’s noticeably quieter and more planted. At low speeds, its fractionally firmer than the Honda, but when loaded it offers a near flawless ride. The Dzire also performed better under hard braking – in our 80kmph to zero brake test, the lighter Dzire pulled up nearly a metre short.