Published On: Sat, Feb 1st, 2014

The City on Wheel

Honda-CityWhy fix something that isn’t broken is the first thing that comes to mind when one drives every new generation of the Honda City. While the current model is still competitive, Honda has gone lengths to make the car better and importantly, this new fourth generation model has something that has been missing for the last fifteen years- a diesel engine.

No car defines the Indian midsize segment like the Honda City. Ever since the first generation came along in 1998, Honda has had a successful run selling close to 4.3 lakh cars with the last third generation model alone accounting to nearly 1,90,000 units. Each of the models had a life span of five years between them and now we have the fourth generation model. The styling, for starters, is rather evolutionary especially at the front. The large chrome grille and the elongated headlamps give it a familiar City face but the front end now seems wider and has better road presence. The sides have a distinct character line and elongated silhouette that accentuates the 50mm longer wheelbase of the new car. The rear had a higher boot lid and longer tail lamps that lend it a slightly BMW-ish look. The City is now 45kg lighter and 10mm taller than the outgoing model with the length and width unchanged.

The interiors have been improved with better space utilization. Two six footers can now sit behind each other comfortably. The front seats are wide with good side support although seat base is now thinner than before. The dashboard gets a total revamp along the lines of the new Jazz (also coming to India). The top of the line model gets a myriad of new equipments like keyless entry, button start for the engine, sunroof, cruise control, touch controls for the AC, reverse camera, rear AC vents etc to name a few. In the new age of big phones and inadequate battery life, Honda has thoughtfully provided four charging points for all your mobile devices. The rear seat is very comfortable with good posture and a sloping floor, although head room has been slightly compromised with the sloping roofline. Boot is the largest in its class with 510 litres.

The trump card of the new City will however be the introduction of the diesel engine alongside the highly proven 1.5 iVTEC in manual and auto variants. This is the same 1.5 litre engine that powers the diesel Amaze and has an identical 98.6bhp and 20.4 kg-m of torque. The gear ratios are identical to the Amaze too, but the City gets an additional sixth gear for added fuel efficiency. Drivability is excellent with turbo-lag almost non existent although some might miss the sudden punch at 2000rpm like in most diesels. Performance on the highway is good, although rivals like the Vento/Rapid and Verna are considerably faster. Another area where the City diesel lags behind is the noise and vibration in the cabin. Although Honda has gone lengths to add more sound insulation in the cabin than the Amaze, the diesel engine is still audible and the rather unrefined clatter of the aluminium block makes it even worse. Still, it is a very fuel efficient engine that will please most high milers.

Those looking for refinement would however love the petrol. It is the same 1.5 iVTEC from the older car with minor changes. Power now stands at 116bhp and torque is a healthy 14.7 kg-m. It is a smooth revvy unit that pastes a smile on every enthusiast’s face and can return good fuel efficiency when driven sedately. It comes in a five speed manual and a CVT automatic, with seven virtual ratios and a paddle shift to toggle between them. Although it sounds a bit noisy out on the open road, the efficient CVT makes great sense in today’s congested roads.

The last gen City rides and handles rather well for its segment and the new one is no different. The steering is quite accurate and body control is good for a spirited drive. The slow speed ride is a bit harsh, but it improves considerably with speed. The narrow 175/65 R15 tyres on cheap looking wheels don’t do much justice to the chassis’ capabilities and quite lack the grip when it comes to high speed braking.

While I got to drive the three variants of the City a month and a half prior to its launch in the first week of Jan 2014, the pricing is still unclear. The new City with its better interiors and equipments is not just a replacement for the outgoing model; it will also try and fill in the void left by the discontinued Civic. What is for sure is, Honda will continue to dominate the segment and have an even better success story to tell us at the end of the next five years.

Vivek Venugopal

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The City on Wheel