Honda has always been at the top of the heap, whether you’re considering aspirational value, quality of sales and service, or simply sales numbers. It all started in India over a decade ago with the Honda City. In the last few years, though, City sales have slipped tremendously for a single reason: the lack of a diesel option. Not any more, however. The all-new Fourth Generation Honda City offers that, and some more besides.
The outgoing City offered a futuristic look and the new model offers more of the same. It starts with the nose, where a massive chrome strip makes up the grille, quite like the FCX Clarity. There are also double-barrel headlamps, now, that are reminiscent of the current European Civic. Move around to the side, and the first thing that jumps out at you is the new wheel design. It is something that we haven’t seen much of on stock cars in India and will certainly grab eyeballs. Also new on the side is the bodywork – the much larger 2014 model now has to make a real effort to hide its size, so Honda has given it a prominent crease along the doors that starts under the wing mirrors and ends with the tail lights, along with a crease that starts from the headlamps and ends where the second one starts, only much higher on the door.
There is also a lightcatcher at the bottom of the doors. This is an unprecedented number of cuts and creases for a Honda City, but it does help the car look smaller than it really is. At the back, the most prominent feature is the tail lamps. They are now a two-part design, with the inner half on the bootlid. The shape is quite similar to the BMW 3 Series, and as such gives it an extremely premium air at the rear. There is a chrome strip that runs from lamp to lamp to lend another premium touch to the City’s tail. There is a lot of height to the City’s tail, but it is well disguised thanks to the many horizontal elements on the tail.
The outgoing Honda City had come under fire from certain quarters when it launched in 2009 because of some of the cheap plastics used in the interior, most notably the AC controls. Honda has now ensured that they haven’t repeated that error – the City’s interiors have undergone an update and it is a very comprehensive one. As you get into the driver’s seat, you will notice the way the centre console is angled prominently towards the driver. This is a special feeling in this class of car. The steering wheel itself is new – it is larger and there are more buttons on it. Our top-spec VX variants had cruise control, so those buttons were placed on the right side of the wheel and the audio controls were on the left. Answering and ending calls are made by pull-type buttons, made popular by the likes of the Ford Figo and Renault Duster, but these are mounted on the steering wheel and not on the column like the latter cars.
The instrument cluster has a fresh look to it, with three circles – the left is the tachometer, the speedo dominates the centre and the right houses the rest of the information like the fuel gauge, instantaneous consumption and the trip computer information. An interesting feature is the two additional backlights on the speedo – if you drive efficiently, they turn from blue to green, which is a great one-glance indicator of how efficient your driving is. The automatic also has an ‘Eco’ button on the dashboard which tunes the car to maximum efficiency. In addition, there is keyless entry and go, just like the Sunny/Scala twins, meaning the key can remain in your pocket while you unlock the car, get in, start it and drive off.
The audio system is an integrated one but unlike the outgoing model, does not have either a touchscreen or navigation option. However, it ticks all the boxes in the features list: aux-in, USB and iPod connectivity, Bluetooth streaming with telephone capability, etc. It runs through four component speakers and is one of the better systems available from the factory in the market.
The climate control system has also been upgraded – there are two rear vents for the rear occupants, but they are true vents, unlike the recirculating fans in the Sunny/Scala twins. There is no separate blower speed control for them, though. The climate control is now operated via a capacitive touchscreen, which seems counterintuitive at first, but upon usage it feels natural immediately… at least to those who already spend time on their touchscreen smartphones. It has a few neat tricks up its sleeve: swipe the blower speed or temperature controls, and it will immediately go to the extreme speed, depending on which direction you have swiped it.
The rear seat of the City is the only place where the City lost out to some of the competition, but not anymore. Honda has increased the car’s wheelbase to 2,600mm, which now equals the Sunny’s. As a result, there is enough legroom to seat two six-footers in absolute comfort, with some left over. Rear headroom still remains a little less than the Sunny, but the rear seat is a really nice place to be, what with the two power sockets provided under the rear AC vents. Honda also claims class-leading shoulder room, which should go a long way in making this a true five-seater. These and the two seat-back pockets are what it offers over the Sunny/Scala, but legroom seems to be a little less at the front with the seat pushed all the way back. The front seats felt a little uncomfortable and they could use a little less lumbar support and a little more under-thigh support.
The petrol engine is as refined as always, contributing no noise to the cabin during regular operation, but the diesel engine is noticeably noisy. There also is a fair amount of tyre roar at highway speeds.
The boot has also increased in size to 510 litres that makes it the biggest boot in the class, as big as the Verito’s, and four more litres than the outgoing model.
Engine and Gearbox
The Honda City has the familiar 1.5-litre petrol engine, and the power figure has gone up by a single unit to 117bhp. Torque remains similar at 145Nm, but the peak has dropped by 200rpm to 4,600rpm. Most of the development work on the engine has gone into improving fuel efficiency through reduced internal friction and components that are lighter and work more effectively. The worked-upon i-VTEC has contributed noticeably better throttle response, and driving the petrol manual with its light but positive, short throw shift lever remains a fun exercise.
The petrol is offered with an automatic gearbox as well, but the current five-speed torque lock-up converter has been replaced with a CVT with seven ‘ratios’. It retains the paddle shifts, and Honda claims that the automatic is more fuel efficient than the five-speed manual (17.9kpl vs 17.8) through the ARAI testing cycle, but it remains to be seen whether it is as much fun to drive as the outgoing automatic, since we didn’t manage to get our hands on it during this drive.
On to the meat of the matter: the diesel engine. This is also a familiar engine; so familiar, in fact, that it has the same power rating as the Amaze, at 100bhp and 200Nm and the same torque curve. What is different is the gearbox: there is a six-speed manual fitted to the diesel City, and the electronic speed limiter that is present in the Amaze has been deleted. As a result, Honda says you can take the i-DTEC City all the way to 190kmph – but if you choose to drive sedately, you will get astonishing fuel efficiency, since the diesel City is the most efficient car on sale in the country today with an ARAI fuel efficiency rating of 26kpl. While that is certainly good news, both for the customer and the company, the diesel behaves the same way as it does in the Amaze – good throttle response, but nothing to be gained by revving to the redline. Make no mistake; this is one of the most refined diesels in the market, but the joy of putting a Honda pedal to the metal and watching the tacho needle zing to the redline is absent in the diesel. The 100kph can be maintained at a lazy 2,000rpm in top gear, which means great highway efficiency figures. In the city, the diesel is as flexible as ever, with negligible lag and good throttle response. The gearbox is light, positive, and you’ll find yourself rowing through the box with no other reason than for the heck of it.
Ride and Handling
Although the city has not grown in length, the wheelbase has increased and that has taken a bit out of the fun-to-drive quotient. Yes, the diesel engine doesn’t particularly urge you to up your pace, but the petrol is a willing engine that is forever tempting you to play. The good news is, the City has retained its handling capabilities despite the increased size.
Honda has increased the stiffness of the suspension to negate the complaints of users that the bottom had a tendency to touch speed breakers when the car was loaded, despite the ground clearance figure remaining identical to the outgoing model. With four people in the car on our drive and a fair amount of luggage in the boot, the City didn’t look or feel like its ride height was affected. It bobs a little too much at highway speeds on an undulating road, but the rest of the time its composure is admirable. The only letdown is the electrically assisted steering, which is just right for the commute to work, but doesn’t weigh up enough at highway speeds.
Hondas have always topped the sales charts in their respective segments, and the only reason the City had dropped from the top of its list has now been eliminated in the form of a diesel engine. Additionally, buyers will get an unprecedented amount of legroom and new toys to play with on the inside. Accounting for the premium that Honda usually charges for its vehicles, if Honda manages to price the City correctly – that is, ahead of its sedan competition but not squaring up to the compact SUV segment – then the City will be at the position it knows best. The top of the sales charts.
The City’s price will be announced in a month or so – stay tuned for updates.
First Drive Video Review
Check out our first drive video review of the new Honda City Diesel and Petrol