Ever since Honda came to India, the City has been its most consistent performer. However, the petrol-price-bombs of 2011 shook up the City’s standing quite severely and newer competition pushed it up against the wall. However, Honda has come back all guns blazing with its all-new City. Can it sit on top of the growing mid-size heap once more?
Honda’s engineering brilliance has been embodied by its i-VTEC engines, but this time around, the company is counting on its diesel engine to script the next chapter of its success story in India. The diesel motor in question is the 1.5-litre i-DTEC that debuted in the Amaze, and the engine itself has been carried over unchanged to the City. The gearbox too is shared with the smaller saloon, and the first five gears are identical, but a new sixth gear has been added specifically for the Honda City. Even though the City is roughly 45kg lighter than the previous-generation car, it is still 90kg heavier than the Amaze, so a shorter ratio is used for the final drive to extract a bit more zing from the 20.4kgm of torque. Despite that, Honda claims that the new City i-DTEC will be the most fuel-efficient car in the country, with a claimed fuel efficiency of 26kpl! We can’t wait to put it through our test cycle in Mumbai to see it for ourselves.
The good news is that the 1.5-litre i-VTEC motor has been carried over virtually unchanged from the previous-generation car. So you have 116bhp of power and 14.8kgm of torque being developed in the same free-revving manner as before. However, light tweaks to the intake and i-VTEC system have improved performance at low speeds. The petrol motor proved to be quite flexible, ambling along happily at 20kph in fourth gear, never hesitating to step forward when prodded. As the revs climbed it proved to be as thrilling to drive as ever.
On our first drive in Jaipur, it was evident that like in the Amaze, there is hardly any turbo lag, and the flat torque curve is immediately apparent. This diesel engine’s responsiveness even under 2,000rpm was very handy in the cut and thrust of Jaipur’s traffic. Once past the 2,000rpm mark, the motor pulls cleanly to over 3,600rpm, making it hassle-free to drive in the city and outside it. Revving it to its 4,500rpm redline offered little advantage, although it did highlight this motor’s sore point, the engine noise. Since the abundance of engine noise had been highlighted in the Amaze, better sound insulation was almost taken for granted in the Honda City diesel. Sadly, the coarse engine rumble is quite audible in the cabin. Despite this foible, the diesel is sure to hog a big chunk of the sales. True Honda fans though will no doubt be keen to know more about the petrol.
Also on offer with the petrol motor is an automatic transmission. This time though it is a CVT which has been built in-house at Honda. This transmission had surprisingly strong responsiveness at low speeds which will make light work of regular city duty. The rubberband effect that made CVTs infamous has been kept well in check too, but during full-bore acceleration runs or urgent overtaking manoeuvres, the engine revs get ahead of the road speed in true CVT fashion. The engine is quite noisy too, which leads us to wonder if Honda has stinted on underbody insulation. But what strengthens the case for the CVT is that it is claimed to be even more fuel efficient than the manual!
Some of the gains in efficiency have to be attributed to the new chassis too. Even though the City is slightly longer, taller and much stiffer than the outgoing car, it is roughly 45kg lighter. The wheelbase has also been stretched by 50mm. Although the Honda City continues to use MacPherson struts at the front and a twist beam at the rear, these have been extensively redesigned for the new platform. At low speeds, on broken roads, the City felt stiff-kneed and jiggly. However, once you get past 40-50kph, the suspension takes on a whole different character and masks broken roads with aplomb.
The Honda City proved to be quite adept over twisty sections too. Body movement was controlled and predictable. The narrow 175/65 R15 low-rolling-resistance tyres clung onto the tarmac with more tenacity than was expected. Strong brakes and a well-weighted and accurate steering only tempt you to drive for longer.
Step into the rear and it feels like the Honda City has been stretched by 50cm not 50mm. Knee room is ample, the seat base is generous and there’s lots of under-thigh support too. Dedicated air-conditioning vents for the rear passengers and two rear power outlets round off a sumptuous backseat.
Detailed photo gallery
Meanwhile, Honda is trying to wow the people in the front seat too, which feels perfectly cushioned. Honda engineers have played around with the foam density to make long stints in the cabin fatigue free.
The company has been getting some flak for the interiors of its cars and things have changed significantly on the new City. The design looks richer with a silver ‘T’ running across the dash, and the glossy piano black trim adds to the appeal too.
There’s plenty of equipment on offer as well. The instruments for the driver are big and easy to read, rings around the dials glow blue or green (depending on your driving style), and the chunky steering wheel is a high point, with well damped switches for the music and telephony. After much criticism for its omission in the previous City, the music system brings back a CD player (along with DVD support) as well as the now mandatory Bluetooth and Aux-in. A five-inch screen is the interface for the music system, while the air-conditioning system is operated via a touch panel. And let’s not forget, the City also offers a sunroof.
But while the cabin is well equipped and well specced, it’s not a very cohesive design, and has lots of different elements. The LCD display for the music system looks lost in the vast piano black surface of the centre console. The touchscreen panel for the air-conditioning is fantastic to use and answers City critics who panned the clunky HVAC controls in the previous car. However, the touch-screen display looks a bit fogged up and richer plastics for the dash would have really hit the spot. But there’s no doubt that this cabin indulges its occupants much more than any City before it, and by a long shot.
Even from outside, this new Honda City is a good looker. Ignore the glaring band of chrome on the grille for a second and you will agree that the slim, almost delicate headlights look quite pleasing. The racy ‘arrowhead’ profile of the earlier City is also in use here. However, this City looks bigger and sits more confidently on the ground, the skinny tyres notwithstanding. The long slash down its flank makes it immediately distinctive too. The rear looks fantastic, with slim lamps spilling onto the boot. Since the car has grown longer by just 20mm and is no wider than the outgoing car, Honda has ensured the City remains apt for urban use.
So Honda’s fourth generation City is undoubtedly its most complete package yet. Its back seat will pamper passengers and the equipment list will rewrite expectations. However, it is the responsive and frugal motors that will form the bedrock for the City’s assault on the mid-size saloon category. The new Honda City has been priced competitively for its class, and quite aggressively against its main competitor, the segment-leading Hyundai Verna. The petrol range starts at an attractive Rs 7.42 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi) for the manual in E trim, going up to Rs 10.98 lakh for the top-end VX automatic. The diesel, meanwhile, starts at Rs 8.62 lakh for the E trim and goes up to Rs 11.10 lakh for the fully loaded VX trim. It's clear that Honda is no longer simply charging a premium for its badge, and has instead tailored its product (and its price) to the demands of its buyers.