The first choice for those looking to upgrade from premium hatchbacks and entry sedans, the Honda City remains the most popular petrol mid-size sedan in the country. Currently in its third generation, the City was Honda’s first car brand for India and, till recently, was also its highest volume model till the Amaze took over earlier this year. However, the City still commands a high aspirational value among India’s burgeoning urban middle class, holding its fort for almost two decade despite intense competition.
So when the time came for the fourth-generation City to make its debut, could Honda offer an even better deal than it already is? The Japanese carmaker did a customer survey that said that buyers have very high expectations from Honda—the City should be stylish, spacious and performance-oriented, even while promising great fuel economy. That may seem a tall target, but Honda decided to give it all in the new City that will be launched next month.
We recently drove the new City, which will feature a diesel engine for the first time that promises the highest mileage among conventional petrol/diesel cars. On the outside, the new City largely sticks to the proportions of the outgoing model, but has gone a complete re-design to give it a more premium look than ever before. The City has definitely stepped a level up—while overall car length remains at 4,440 mm, interior space has increased because of a 50 mm increase in wheelbase (distance between front and rear axles) to 2,600 mm. Ground clearance has also gone up by 10 mm to address problems with the previous generation model which found its underbelly often scratched on bad road surfaces.
The diesel engine has been borrowed directly from the Amaze, Honda’s new ‘Earthdreams’ 1.5 litre i-DTEC power plant delivering 100PS (3,600rpm) of power and 200Nm (1,750 rpm) of torque. The only difference is that in the City it is mated to a 6-speed manual transmission, as compared to a 5-speed in the Amaze. The good part is that the diesel City is extremely fuel-efficient at 26 kmpl, and with maximum power coming in at such lower engine revs, the acceleration is a delight and the car is extremely easy to drive in traffic. The bad part, though, is that one feels a lack of power at higher speeds, which I feel is a compromise on performance—in comparison, the Hyundai Verna 1.6 litre diesel puts out 128 PS at 4,000 rpm.
The 1.5 litre i-VTEC petrol engine which puts out 119 PS (6,600 rpm) of power and 145 Nm (4,600 rpm) of torque continues to do duty in the new City, though this time the petrol variant offers an all-new CVT automatic option which, in my opinion, is the best drive of the lot. Do not get me wrong, Honda petrol engines have always been legendary, but somehow I did not enjoy the manual petrol (mated to a 5-speed CVT) as much as the CVT which just sounds angrier as it speeds up ever so smoothly; in fact, it also more fuel-efficient than the manual at 18 kmpl. Though the 1.5 litre petrol manual variant, which offers a 17.8 kmpl fuel economy, is improved from before, it could have done with a bit more energetic drive. Honestly, I preferred eagerness of the outgoing petrol City, which was a pleasure to drive.
The big difference in the new City is the design, both outside and inside. On the exterior, Honda follows its new ‘Exciting H Design’ human-centred concept. The new front grill features a wide one-piece chrome slat giving the car a wide look that continues till the headlights on both ends. The side profile, which features new shoulder lines, gives the car an appearance of speed and makes it look more sleek, even though the height has been raised by 10 mm. What you also notice is the shark-fin radio antenna giving the car a more premium feel, while the tail-lights feature a new design. The City also comes with low-rolling resistance tyres to push up mileage, while increased use of high-strength steel has increased body rigidity by 24% while keeping weight down.
The refreshed interior, which will also be seen in the upcoming new Jazz, is something that I feel is a generation ahead of the competition. Similar to the hi-tech design of the previous Civic, the City interiors follows a futuristic ‘layered floating cockpit’ concept with an instrument panel that changes colour based on driving style. Higher trim levels get touch-based auto air-conditioning controls, start/stop button, 5-inch colour display screen for the entertainment system and Bluetooth hands-free calling. Boot space is also top-in-class at 510 litres.
The diesel is finally here in the City, so is it the best buy out there? All in all, with increased space, more upmarket design and high quality interiors, the City is definitely a very strong contender. Why the City is the best pick and is likely to remain the favourite in the segment is its focus on being the most fuel-efficient in its class. But there are few buyers who want power as well, and the new City could find it tough to convince them. Will the strength of the Honda brand win over in such cases? Only time will tell.