The mid-size sedan has had five generations across a quarter century
Published On Oct 08, 2022 03:40:00 PM
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The Honda City has just completed 25 years in India, and for the majority of that time, has sat at the top of the midsize sedan heap. Though sometimes overtaken by rivals on sales, it would regularly hold the top spot. Monthly sales figures aren’t what they used to be in its heyday, but the City still holds its own among the many SUVs in the same price range, selling roughly 3,500 units per month.
In its quarter century in our market, it’s had five generations; a diesel powertrain was introduced in the fourth generation and a strong hybrid in the fifth, but at the core of every City has been a high-revving four-cylinder petrol engine.
At 25 years old, Honda City is the second-longest running nameplate of any car in India, just after the Mercedes-Benz E-class, launched in 1995. Here’s a look at the five generations and what they stood for.
The car that launched the brand and wowed Indian buyers with its mix of quality, reliability, practicality and performance from its 1.3 and 1.5 petrol engines. The original model set the ball rolling, but it was really the extensive facelift that turned things around – it looked so different, it was colloquially known as the Type 2. With it came our introduction to Honda’s free-revving VTEC technology in 2000 in a 106hp, top-rung performance model that achieved cult status and remains a favourite of tuners even today.
A huge departure from the first car, the Gen 2 threw out the sporty proportions, sharp handling and high-revving VTEC engine and went for an altogether more sensible approach. Its new engine was a 77hp 1.5 i-DSI petrol which lacked that famous performance, but what it brought instead was incredible fuel economy and India’s first CVT automatic. The Gen 2 had huge space and practicality thanks to its bulbous shape, but it was also the first show of Honda’s clever interior packaging skills. A 100hp VTEC option came back with the facelift, but really, this was not the most loved City.
Honda successfully combined the merits of the Gen 1 and Gen 2 City models for what many will argue is the best City of the lot. A new-gen i-VTEC petrol engine was standard with power now up to 118hp, delivering high-rev thrills and also incredible fuel economy. Thanks to clever design and again, packaging, it managed to be spacious while also having a sexy ‘Arrow Shot’ exterior. It also came with two airbags and ABS as standard, but while it was ahead of its time in many ways, this petrol-only sedan came at a time when diesel was gaining popularity.
The next City did get a diesel engine, along with a huge back seat, a softer ride and more tech in the cabin. All this was exactly what the market wanted and, unsurprisingly, this quickly became the bestselling City by far; in fact, it’s still on sale today, alongside its successor. While the 3 went back to a torque-converter auto, the 4 brought back the CVT for better fuel economy, but the diesel remained manual only. An unfortunate side effect of these changes is that it felt a bit homogenised, lacking that special Honda look and feel that gave its predecessors an edge over the competition.
The latest City didn’t reinvent the wheel but it sure put a modern spin with it. A more characterful design was back, led by a set of smart LED headlamps, space and comfort again were massive, and the inside felt modern and reeked of quality. Tech got a boost too, with things like a lane-watch camera. But the big news was the introduction of a clever strong-hybrid variant that, though expensive, delivers incredible fuel economy and brought the tech mainstream before Maruti and Toyota could.
Honda’s model range has been dwindling, with the axing of the Civic and CR-V in early 2021 and the impending discontinuation of the Jazz, WR-V and Gen 4 City by early 2023. That leaves just the two sedans – the Amaze and Gen 5 City, which, to be fair, have become the brand’s bestsellers by far.
Honda has never quite managed to crack the all-too-important SUV market in India, with products that were either too low-volume, or which never quite caught on. Which is why the sedans always ruled the line-up and why they’re Honda’s biggest strength. But things could change very soon because Honda is all set to bring a new SUV to the market next year, and this time, like the Gen 4 City, it’s going to be exactly what the market ordered.
In an SUV-centric market like ours, will this new model be the one to dethrone the beloved City as Honda’s poster child for India? Time will tell, but somehow, we don’t think so.
Which is your favourite version of the Honda City? Let us know down in the comments section.
2020 Honda City review, test drive
2022 Honda City Hybrid review, road test
Honda Drive to Discover 11: Sedan hopping from Bengaluru to Kochi
Discounts of up to Rs 39,300 on Honda City, Amaze, Jazz, WR-V in October
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S S Sreekanth - 242 days ago
Gen 2 was the best as it combined space, fuel efficiency, ease of driving and comfort with outstanding Honda quality. The later generations do not have the same quality of 1 and 2
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