Lap time: 2 minutes 16.78 seconds
Power and weight: 96bhp and 200Nm, 1,191kg
Tyres: Front: Goodyear, front: 185/55 R16: rear: 185/55 R16
If you notice, in our lineup, we have one big powerful sedan, SUVs and then some hatchbacks. The City fills that gap for an ‘I want to race but not destroy my bank account’ traditionalist. This is also one who swears by things being done in a certain way and that certain way is that a sedan is the best hero to experience a track.
The weight is correctly distributed and it’s lower to the ground for better aerodynamics. The City has also been a familiar face in the Indian racing scene for years now and if nothing else should add credibility in the sedan’s favour. Lastly, why a diesel? Because we all like a challenge which is learning how to use the characteristics of a diesel engine to smash out respectable lap times on the track.
Race Track Introduction
The Madras Motor Race Track in Chennai is a great place to push the handling envelope of cars. It’s not a track that favours horsepower; instead, a car with great chassis balance is what really shines around this bumpy 3.7-kilometre flowing circuit. Speaking of which, right after the short start finish, straight is the fast and bumpy C1. One must then scrub off a lot of speed for the right-hander C2. The C7, as we found out, is the most difficult corner to master as it’s a long right-hander that is ever-tightening and has a double apex. Getting a great exit out of C7 is important because it leads onto the second of the two really quick sections of the MMRT.
|Lap Time||C5 Apex Speed||C7 Apex Speed||C10 Apex Speed||Top Speed|
As we said in the introductory section, the approach to taking a ‘basic in power’ diesel car around the track is to maximise torque utilisation to keep your car moving fast via momentum rather than outright grunt. The 1.5-litre unit has a noticeable kick at the 2000rpm mark after which it packs in the punches in terms of acceleration with a chunk of the grunt in the third and fourth gears.
However, it’s with an odd characteristic which is that the ECU cuts power if you redline for too long. This means you have to shift quickly to ensure that you don’t run out of steam when it matters the most like the blast from C3 to C4. In terms of pure sensation, the pull from the diesel engine provides more than enough drama when you mash the throttle hard.
This City that we have driven on the track ran OEM fitted Goodyear 185/55 R16 tyres and their performance was quite a surprise. Even with the safety net switched off (which is not 100 per cent) you can feel when the tyres are going to break traction and it’s easy for you to correct and get back on the racing line. With that being said, we would have liked fatter rubbers with probably a softer compound for extra grip on the tarmac.
The steering rack on this Honda City is not as fast and responsive as we would have liked as there’s not much feel especially in the dead ahead position. However, it is reasonably accurate and we found that the effective way to take advantage of it is to brake early and dial in how much steering you need to position yourself on the track before gassing it for a quick exit. It’s quite forgiving and gives you the room to make course corrections if the need arises. Having driven multiple generations of the Honda City itself, I can tell you that it’s a good thing that while Honda has shrunk the steering in size, it has made it chunkier allowing for better grip levels.
I don’t know if I could call it luck or just sheer coincidence that the tight and twisty nature of the track is suited to the way this engine ticks and was able to find momentum by braking early and entering the corners already hard on the gas. The entire complex from C5 to C8 can be done fully on the gas. In our leader board, the City has the second-highest top speed through C7 and is only superseded by the far more expensive and powerful BMW M340i. This figure is courtesy, the diesel engine’s ability to pull cleanly through in the third and fourth where the meat of the torque band exists. On the other hand, C10 is the tightest corner on the circuit and you have to stand hard on the brakes to scrub off speed before you can take it.
Despite the pronounced body roll and tendency of the car to dive hard under braking, you can carry decent speed through the corner. The progression in brakes is quite good and even with the stability programme switched off is very forgiving. For reference, braking early and lining yourself up on the exit of C4 will allow you to “thread the needle” from C5 to C8. Given the high-speed nature of C8, We would advise you to supplement your braking with some rev-matching for additional stopping power before going for C9.
You can even get the inner wheel to lift as you exit the corner, a feat that’s social media worthy if you have a photographer either at C4 or C5. Oddly enough, once you have got the momentum on the exit of C5 or C11, it’s not the cars tendency to roll that will affect you as much as the lack of holding ability of the stock seats (top-spec ZX diesel) to keep you in place as you change direction. The car displays its strongest performance in the complex of C5 to C8, a medium to a high-speed section that requires you to keep the momentum strong and accelerate hard, if you are going for competitive lap times, then this is where you should look to gain maximum advantage.
Would you want to take a Honda City diesel to the race track? Hell yes. Why? Well for that let’s look at what a track driving experience is all about? The sensations, mild G-forces, sweating through previous unknown pores as you learn the limits of adhesion, doing the choreography of gears and pedals and of course speed! All of which a daily hero like the City (in this diesel guise) provides in just the right doses for you to enjoy without overwhelming you or putting a major dent in your pocket. Now tie this into the fact that it’s a diesel with a different approach to performance and that in our books is as involved a driving experience as one could get from a daily driver! This Honda City that we have driven is a top-spec ZX diesel and is priced (at the time of writing this review) Rs 17.69 lakh (on-road Delhi).
Photography: Kapil Angane & Kaustubh Gandhi