Honda has deployed the familiar 100hp, 1.5-litre, i-DTEC diesel engine to power the City, but it now includes a NOx Storage Catalyst (NSC) and a diesel particulate filter (DPF) to meet BS6 emission norms. It is much quieter and more refined than the previous version. With modifications to the shapes of certain components, such as the chain case, combustion pump protection, bracket and oval catalytic converter, as well as the inclusion of additional ribs for the engine block and a cover-tightening floating structure, Honda has managed to significantly reduce the squeaking and rattling sound from the engine. Vibrations too are excellently controlled, thanks to additional insulation and sound-deadening materials.
What hasn’t changed is this engine’s zero-lag character and strong low-end responses. With a very tractable nature and linear power delivery, this is one of the most user-friendly diesels around. It feels at ease while chugging along in a higher gear at a low engine speed, and the moment you put your foot down, it builds speed in a very smooth manner.
The motor does step outside its comfort zone when spun beyond 3,500rpm, and for the last 700 revs or so, progress is slow as the engine runs out of steam. But keep it between 1,500-3,000rpm, and it rewards you with brisk performance. It does come as a bit of a surprise to see that the gear ratios (including the final drive) haven’t changed; and this fifth-gen is nearly 62kg heavier than the outgoing version too.
Still, performance has improved significantly. This version does the sprints to 60kph, 100kph and 140kph quicker than the fourth-gen City i-DTEC by a respective 0.79sec, 2.34sec and 6.93sec. Even the 20-80kph acceleration in third gear is dispatched 0.6sec quicker than before. However, the 40-100kph time in fourth gear remains unchanged.
A bigger talking point of the new City is its all-new petrol engine, which belongs to the ‘Earth Dreams’ family. This engine has a longer stroke (if only by 0.1mm) and displaces 1,498cc (as compared to the outgoing version’s 1,497cc). It employs DOHC or double overhead camshafts, for improved efficiency as well as performance. Some salient features of this new engine include a higher compression ratio of 10.6:1 (vs 10.3:1), increased use of aluminium in the block, a lighter crankshaft and several low-friction and weight-saving measures to improve performance. But do these changes take away from the enjoyable high-revving character of the older 1.5-litre petrol?
Absolutely not! This engine’s character remains identical to the outgoing unit’s. It is a responsive engine, has a flattish mid-range, and loves to be revved hard. Power does flow through in steps, with prominent spikes felt beyond 2,000rpm and 4,000rpm, but it is the last 2,500-3,000rpm in the rev range that feels the most enjoyable, not only in terms of performance, but also the aural experience. It does get quite vocal at higher revs, but it isn’t coarse or a strained sound.
Acceleration times are near identical to the fourth-gen City – and amongst the quickest in the segment, with a 0-100kph sprint being dispatched in just 10.2sec. In-gear acceleration times also remain identical to the outgoing car despite the higher kerb weight and lower final-drive ratio (more on that later).
The 6-speed manual gearbox is light, with well-defined gates and a very positive shift action. The reverse-gear slot is beside sixth gear, and is actually very easy to engage and get accustomed with. The clutch on both, the petrol and diesel units, is light and has a short travel, thus demanding very little effort. With great visibility, light controls and an easy-to-drive character, the Honda City is still a very user-friendly car.
For those seeking sheer convenience, the petrol-CVT is the one to go for. It is very smooth and offers a truly effortless drive experience. At city speeds, it does its job in a fuss-free, relaxed manner, and what’s nice is that even when you’re aggressive with the throttle, that typical ‘rubberband effect’ is negligible; or in simpler words, there isn’t a disconnected feel between the engine speed and the vehicle speed under hard acceleration.
The CVT offers paddleshifters too, mimicking seven preset gear ratios. These do offer a certain degree of manual control over the engine speed, and are particularly handy while driving downhill, when you need stronger engine braking. The petrol-CVT takes 1.6sec more than the petrol MT to sprint to 100kph, but due to the absence of gears to go through, it is much quicker in scenarios where you put your foot down to close a gap in traffic or to make a quick overtake.