What is it?
This is the new Honda City for 2017. Before you wonder, it’s a significantly updated version of the existing car if not an all-new model. As part of the facelift, the City gets revised styling, a new top-of-the-line ZX variant, more equipment and tweaks to improve the NVH.
The most visible change to the car, of course, is to the front. The City now gets a bigger grille with a thick chrome strip running across it which is in line with the recently launched Accord hybrid. The bumper is more muscular and brand-new too, which help give the car a more fresh look. In the top ZX variant which we had on test, you get LED headlamps with daytime running strips - a premium feature which buyers will surely appreciate and like. As there are no sheet metal changes, the City looks exactly the same in profile albeit the larger 16 inch alloy wheels give the car a more dynamic stance. At the rear the biggest change is the bumper, which gets a faux grille that helps reduce some visual mass. Like the front, at the rear you get LED tail lamp units which look nice and the new boot-lip spoiler with integrated brake lamp accentuates the modern look.
How is it on the inside?
On the inside, there are hardly any changes and you get the same dashboard which has a funky design with a flurry of asymmetric cues. It is well thought-out too, with nice touches including multiple cubby-holes, numerous cup holders and the touch controls for the air-con is intuitive too. Quality has gone a step up as compared to the previous model thanks to Honda using leather on the panel above the glovebox and the LED front and rear interior lamps add to the premium feel. Also, overall plastic quality, though largely good, is still a notch or two down on the standards set by some of its competitors.
As before, the brilliance of the City lies in its comfortable cabin. Entry into the massive cabin is made easy by large doors which open wide. Outward visibility is good, thanks to the generous glass area, but thick A-pillars obstruct view. The front seats are set at a good height and are broad with generous bolstering, comfortable over long journeys. But it’s the rear seat which is the real highlight. There is abundance of knee room at the rear and the generous width and flat floor makes it a decent five-seater too. The backrest is set at a good angle and the generous squab provides loads of under thigh support. Unlike the old car the ZX variant now comes with adjustable headrests which is a great addition in terms of safety to avoid whiplash injuries. The only point where we can fault the back seat is in terms of headroom which is just about enough. Then there is the enormous boot which has a low loading lip and is very well shaped which just adds to its practicality quotient.
The top Honda ZX trim now comes equipped with a 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system, which has loads of features. It comes with satellite navigation, Voice recognition, Mirror-link which works like Android Auto, two USB ports, HDMI port, 1.5GB of internal memory, Bluetooth telephony with music streaming and much more. The touchscreen though could have been more responsive and less laggy. The facelift City also gets auto LED headlamps, auto wipers, 16inch alloy wheels and LED interior lighting. Like before you also get feather touch automatic climate control system, steering-mounted audio and Bluetooth controls, height adjustable driver’s seat, a rake and reach adjustable steering wheel, electric sunroof, leather wrapped steering and gear knob, and auto folding rear-view mirrors. On the safety front on the ZX variant you now get six airbags as compared to two on lower models but traction control and ESP is still not an option. As before, Honda has omitted rear parking sensors, instead you have to rely on the reversing camera.
How is it like to drive?
Engine and gearbox options remain the same as before, so you can choose between a 117bhp, 1.5-litre petrol engine with a five-speed manual or a CVT auto or the now familiar aluminium 98bhp 1.5-litre diesel with a six-speed manual gearbox. We chose to drive the diesel as Honda have claimed that they have improved the car’s NVH considerably.
As soon as you set off in the diesel, you’ll notice there’s precious little turbo lag and like before it produces power in a smooth, linear manner. There’s plenty of grunt from as low as 1,600rpm, and it pulls strongly to about 3,500rpm. The power then gradually tails off till it hits a very conservative 4,200rpm rev limit. Acceleration is quite strong, but because of the narrow powerband you have to constantly shift gears to make swift progress. What helps the City though is the gearbox. With six ratios to play with, the gearbox makes the most of the engine’s available power and you never feel the lack of it in any condition. Even though Honda has worked hard on the sound insulation of the updated City, it still can’t match rivals like the Hyundai Verna and the Maruti Ciaz. It does feel a lot better than before with idle having noticeably less clatter and there is less road noise too. But you still get the buzz as soon as you go past 2000rpm and it never really goes away. This apart, however, it is hard to fault this very capable motor.
The Suspension of the City is unchanged so it drives similarly too. Thanks to the stiff springs, the City shows good composure at high speeds and even when suddenly met by a rough patch this Honda remains unfazed. But on the flip-side, at low speeds, the ride isn’t exactly plush and sharper edges thump into the cabin quite easily. It doesn’t take too well to rippled road surfaces too as you get quite a bit of vertical movements especially at the rear. Yet overall the City feels at par with the competition which also have their weaknesses. Still, it never feels uncomfortable and we feel that Honda has managed a good compromise between high and low-speed ride.
The City is a family oriented car and is not designed to thrill you around corners, but it does hold its own in terms of the way it drives. Pushing it hard into bends results in the tyres fighting for grip and despite it running larger 16inch rims and wider 185mm rubber grip levels are quite similar if not noticeably better than the old car. Even the electric power steering feels quite accurate and retains its natural feel in the way it weights up. The brakes impress too and pedal travel is linear and there is loads of bite too.
Should I buy one?
The Honda City was coming under a lot of pressure from the Maruti Ciaz, which has managed to outsell it for quite a while now. So with the facelift instead of making the City more affordable, Honda have gone even more premium and have added lots of features especially in the top ZX variant. Prices for the updated City start at Rs 8.50lakh and go all the way up to Rs 13.57lakh for the top ZX diesel variant. This makes it way more expensive than the Ciaz. But as a product there is lot going for the City. The cabin is well thought out, and its combination of humongous space and well-designed seats make it one of the most comfortable sedans in the segment. Then there is the equipment list, which can rival cars from the segment above and the fact that you get more safety equipment than before, just adds to the package. Surely the updated Honda City won’t appeal as VFM proposition, but as a package it is still a car you can’t go wrong with.
Where does it fit in?
Although the main competitor of the City in terms of sales numbers is the Maruti Suzuki Ciaz, the latter retails at a much cheaper price tag. While the City starts at Rs 8.5 lakh (ex-showroom New Delhi), the Ciaz pricing begins at Rs 7.53 lakh. Other rivals like the Skoda Rapid and the Volkswagen Vento are priced at Rs 8.28 lakh and Rs 8.2 lakh respectively. So the City is more expensive than the competition, plus the addition of the ZX trim has made it even more dearer. However, it gets more features than its rivals.
Pictures by Kapil Angane