Fiat’s Linea has always been one of the best looking sedans around. Nice to drive, decently equipped and spacious, it was a car that had a lot going for it. What was missing was that little bit extra, which its competition, namely the Honda City, had plenty of. The cars you see here may resemble the previous Linea and City, but trust us, they’re very different. The City, though it may look like a mere facelift, is all-new. Honda has kept the look of the previous car for reasons of familiarity. And it has put some serious work into this car – it is, after all, the company’s golden child in India. The Linea, on the other hand, is a facelift, but a significant one – Fiat has done away with the old car’s simple lines and has gone for a more premium look, both inside and out. And as far as prices are concerned, they are quite similarly positioned. The City petrol starts from Rs 7.19 lakh and goes up to Rs 10.80 lakh for the top-spec Automatic variant, while the Linea starts from Rs 7.44 lakh for the base T-jet trim and goes up to Rs 9.01 lakh (there’s no automatic Linea). So, does the much-improved Linea stand a fighting chance against the City?
What are they like inside?
Step into the Linea and you’ll be impressed by its stylish Italian cabin. The Linea’s cabin is easily one of the most elegantly designed we’ve seen recently. The cream-coloured section on the dash is finished in soft-touch plastic, and the new two-tone theme and the updated controls on the new central column elevate the cabin to another level. The layout of the dash is much neater, there’s less clutter and the audio system and air-con vents are well integrated.
There are other delights as well. Fiat has used a warm ambient lighting theme that looks positively plush in the night. Fiat’s ‘My Car’ settings allow you to customise a few aspects of the car, like the intensity of the lighting. The Fiat’s seats are good too. The big leather seats are beautifully contoured and the perforated leather feels nice; there really is a real luxury air about the car. The seats, however, are not as comfortable, per se, as the Honda. Support for the back is not as good and there isn’t as much legroom in the rear either.
There are also still some gremlins – we would have liked a touchscreen system, some of the plastics do feel a bit hard-edged and headroom at the back is a bit tight. Fiat, however, has been generous with the amount of storage spaces – we particularly found the small bin at the top of the dash to store your toll tickets and odds and ends quite useful. The Linea also does feel a lot more solidly put-together than the City. You can expect to have fewer squeaks and rattles over the years and the more robust build also gives a greater sense of security.
Step into the City’s cabin and what you’ll immediately notice is how comfortable the seats are. The soft seatback of the driver’s seat holds you snugly in place, and Honda has used generous amounts of cushioning to make it feel almost sofa-like. The new T-shaped dashboard, with its piano-black theme, is quite appealing, and the feather-touch air-con controls function with a slickness that is simply delightful. The piano-black surface, however, is susceptible to scratches, and a reach-adjustable steering would have been ideal. The only part that looks out of place in the cabin is the gearlever, which though extremely easy to operate, looks very basic.
Honda has also made sure the rear seats are supremely comfortable and spacious. The Japanese company has made a name for itself as far space efficiency, or the best use of space, is concerned, and the City is no different. There’s more legroom here than on the old car, and since this car is wider than the car it replaces, three people can sit comfortably in the rear. The rear AC vents work well and there are three 12v power outlets, so your phone never has to run out of charge. Headroom, however, is slightly limited. Honda has also raised the rear parcel shelf, to help it align with the boot, and this hampers rear visibility.
In true Honda fashion, the cabin is littered with cubbyholes to store your various knick-knacks. Also, the City’s 510-litre boot is the largest in this segment, but here’s where you notice a bit of cost cutting, there is no cladding on the inside of the bootlid and Honda has left the metal and wiring exposed.
What are they like to drive?
Under the hood of the Linea sits one of the most fun-to-drive engines in this class. Fiat’s 112bhp 1.4-litre T-Jet petrol motor is an absolute ball. The punchy mid-range is something you’ll appreciate on a nice open stretch of road or even in gaps in traffic. Power comes in nice and strong after 2,000rpm and the enthusiasm and energy with which it catapults you forward is just special. Slingshot overtaking manoeuvres are plenty of fun to execute, and the light gearbox makes driving this car in an energetic manner a real breeze. What can get a bit irritating, however, is the fact that in traffic you have to sometimes wait for the power to build. Because this engine uses a turbo, there is a bit of delay in the power coming through below 2,000rpm, and in a city environment, it can be a bit irritating.
The steering however feels solid to hold and often a flick of the wrist is all you need to get the car going in one direction. The slightly raised ride height (190mm) also hasn’t affected the car’s dynamics; the Linea is lots of fun to throw into a corner, plus the grip you get from the 205/55 R16 tyres is good, further aiding confidence. The five-speed gearbox, though nice and mechanical to use, isn’t as slick as the City’s box. Another highlight of the Linea is the fantastic ride. It does a brilliant job of soaking up the biggest of potholes, and the ride remains consistent at any speed. In fact, the Linea’s ride and handling combination is better than the City’s.
The Honda City’s 1.5-litre i-VTEC engine is pretty brilliant too. Like the previous car, it feels free of resistance when you accelerate and Honda’s engineers have worked their magic to make it even more flexible to drive than before. Power comes in immediately at any engine speed. This gives you a feeling of having plenty of power at any given time. Like most Honda engines, this one loves to spin really fast too. And that’s when performance is at its strongest. In fact, the City takes a quick 10.13 seconds to get to 100kph – that’s almost a second quicker than the Linea. This is despite the power output being similar to the previous Honda City.
The City’s engine is quiet and feels more refined than the Linea’s motor as well. Honda has also incorporated a real-time fuel efficiency meter into the dials that tells you just how efficiently you’re driving. The dials glow green when you drive efficiently – a neat way of getting you to drive in a more efficient manner. Plus, the City comes with the option of a CVT automatic, whereas the Linea only has a manual on offer. Sure, at Rs 10.80 lakh, the automatic variant is expensive, but Honda claims an overall efficiency figure of 17.9kpl, which is 0.1kpl more than the manual!
Buying & owning
The City is available in five variants – E, S, SV, V and VX – with prices starting from Rs 7.25 lakh for the E and going up to Rs 10.86 lakh for the VX automatic. A point worth mentioning is that the automatic is only available on the SV and VX variants. The City comes with a 2 years/ 40,000km warranty.
The Linea T-Jet is available in three variants – Active, Dynamic and Emotion – with prices starting at Rs 7.44 lakh and going up to Rs 9.01 lakh for the top Emotion trim. The Linea is available with two petrol options and one diesel, while the City is available with one petrol and one diesel. Fiat is offering a 3 years/1,00,000km warranty on this sedan.
Equipment & safety
The Honda City is the better equipped car of the two. There’s a 5-inch screen with a reverse camera with a top-down view, a wide angle view and a normal view. There’s the touchscreen climate control, USB and Bluetooth connectivity and the CD player that makes a comeback on the City (finally). It also has premium features like a sunroof, keyless entry and go, cruise control, electric folding mirrors, three charging points, and dual rear air-con vents. Phew! The Linea is well equipped, but not as well as the City. The Linea doesn’t come with the option of a sunroof, touchscreen audio system, reversing camera and push button start. But, it comes with an audio player with Bluetooth, aux and USB connectivity, rain sensing wipers, auto on-off headlamps, rear parking sensors cruise control, climate control and a collapsible rear curtain. As far as safety is concerned, both cars come with ABS and airbags, both cars come with dual front airbags.
The new Fiat Linea is a huge step up from the earlier model. Now thoroughly refreshed, both on the inside and out, this new model is more luxurious and grown up. The new dash looks, feels and functions really well, the leather seats are of a high quality and there’s little doubt this is a really pleasant driving environment. The Linea also drives superbly; ride and handling is fantastic and performance from the turbocharged motor is strong too.
The new City may not be as much of a step up from the car it replaces, but it manages to stay ahead of the Fiat. Yes, the new design looks similar to the outgoing car, the interiors don’t seem to display the same level of maturity and cohesiveness as the Fiat and the ride isn’t as good. But look at performance, space, comfort and features and the Honda surges ahead. It is more efficient, should be more reliable and will hold on to its price better. The Honda City still rules, yes, but the Linea is now pretty high up there too.