Every generation of the Honda City has been a winner. One of the ingredients of its success has been, in no small measure, Honda’s out-of-the-box approach when conceiving this mid-size saloon. The pattern has been fairly predictable. Once every five or six years, Honda introduces a drastically new City that bears little or no resemblance to its predecessor, and it inevitably goes on to become the mid-sizer to beat. Hence, the new, fourth-generation City’s design, which is evolutionary rather than radical, is a bit disappointing, although the car is, in essence, completely new.
Honda has played it safe and probably didn’t want to take a risk with another extreme design in today’s tough market. It’s clear then that the company has focussed on pleasing the masses rather than sticking to the petrol-headedness that enthusiasts love it for. But it’s the common consumer – the type who wants to be pampered in every possible way – that will eventually let Honda meet the lofty sales targets it has set for the City.
As a result, sixteen years and three generations later, Honda has finally given in to the country’s demand for a diesel engine. It’s also packed this latest iteration with a tonne of features – something we Indians love. The diesel City may have missed the sweet spot when it comes to timing, but it definitely beats not turning up at all. So how good is the new ‘consumer-oriented’ City? We thoroughly tested both, the petrol and the diesel manuals, to see if it sets new benchmarks yet again.
After a decade and a half, the City finally gets an oil-burner under its hood and it’s the same 1.5-litre i-DTEC motor that’s found in the Amaze. Honda hasn’t opted for the VGT turbo that this engine comes with in Europe in a bid to cut costs, and the spec sheet carries over the identical figure of 98.6bhp from its smaller sibling. But, the added sixth cog and slightly shorter ratios compensate for the City’s extra weight over the Amaze. So, how well has this motor adapted?
Honda’s main goal with this engine was to offer the best possible driveability and fuel economy, and to this extent it’s done a fantastic job. Despite having to shoulder the added weight of 160kg, the engine feels extremely tractable and pulls cleanly from as low as 1800rpm all the way to its rather modest 4400rpm limit. At full tilt, it’ll breach 100kph in a modest 14.75 seconds. Doubtless, its higher-capacity competition, the Rapid, Vento and Verna, can post better figures, but when it comes to snappy low-end response – what you’ll need in the metros – the City is as good as it gets. Also, the diesel’s short-throw, six-speed manual ’box has a crisp mechanical feel, and the well-defined gate makes it easy to drive the gears home. Most importantly, the additional ratio is instrumental in keeping the engine ticking over at low revs while cruising at highway speeds. And it’s best to keep this engine at low revs because it’s pretty noisy when you rev it hard.
In a bid to make it quieter, Honda engineers claim to have added more noise insulation material, along with some tweaks to the engine. Sadly, they haven’t achieved the desired effect, and the all-aluminium motor remains intrusive, making it impossible to escape the fact that it feeds on diesel. Honda’s forte is the petrol engine and expectedly, there are no refinement issues here. Though it’s the same 1.5-litre i-VTEC motor from before, Honda has tweaked it substantially and it shows. The intake manifold has been redesigned and now the VTEC kicks in at lower revs, resulting in a much improved bottom end. The cooling system has been redesigned to warm up the engine faster, and double-needle spark plugs have improved the combustion process.
It’s remarkable how these tweaks have added incredible flexibility to this engine. Keen drivers will love how the tacho needle sweeps cleanly from as low as 1,700rpm to all the way past 7,000rpm. Come 4,600rpm and the clever valve timing gives you that classic VTEC ‘step up’, leaving only the limiter to keep the revs in check. Flat out, 100kph is dispatched in just 10.13sec – a class benchmark.
The fun-factor is amplified by an encouraging exhaust note, and with a hint of induction noise thrown into the mix, the high-revving engine eggs you to slam the next cog home and repeat the mad dash to the rev limiter. Yes, it does sound frantic when worked, but never unpleasant.
Honda claims the diesel City is the most efficient car in the country. Highway and city figures of 19.5kpl and 14.2kpl make the diesel City one of the most economical cars we’ve ever tested. The petrol’s an easy sipper too. We saw figures of 11kpl and 17kpl, city and highway – way ahead of its rivals. The only hitch is the small 40-litre tank which slightly limits its range between tank-ups.
The five-inch screen you see here is found on the top V and VX trims. Honda has reinstated the
CD player and there’s Aux, USB and Bluetooth telephony too. The unit powers eight speakers (four mid-range drivers and four tweeters) and sounds decent for an OEM setup. However, the front speakers easily overpower the rear ones, leading to the rear passengers wanting to turn the volume up a bit. This interface also doubles as the screen for the reversing camera.