The Honda City gets a diesel engine – FINALLY. So, can it recapture itS bestseller tag?
Back in 2003, I bought a Honda City. It was the one that introduced India to the concept of ‘cab-forward’ design. It looked like a tadpole – the design bias was on the front, and the rear appeared to be more of an afterthought or a stick-on job for the time. Of course, we know that it wasn’t – and Maruti actually does a much better job of spoiling a perfectly good design by sticking a boot to it. The Honda City wasn’t anywhere near being the most exciting car on the market, but, a decade later, it sure seems like the most logical and sane thing that I did back then.
Ten years have passed, and I still have the Honda City – running as a daily driver, no less – and the damn thing still does 16 to a litre! My other car, a Skoda Laura 1.8 TSI, may be the result of a heart-over-head decision, but it’s becoming painful now. The running costs are huge (gives me 7km/l), and the after-sales makes sure that I recalibrate my brain for massive expenses each time it goes to the workshop.
The second generation (for India) Honda City wasn’t a particularly exciting car to drive – surely not as good as the model that preceded it, and not the one that succeeded it, but it sold like Pamela Anderson posters. That was the impact of Honda’s brand image in India – it was the default choice in the premium mid-sized segment.
Everything was going really well for the brand until our government started acting funny by hiking the price of fuel. That’s when the diesel culture caught on, and things changed for every manufacturers’ product planning department. Mostly every manufacturer adapted to the shift toward diesel, but Honda kept ignoring it – till such time that it almost seemed suicidal. A diesel was needed, and it was needed urgently. And now we all know what resulted – the Amaze was the first diesel offering in India by Honda, and went head-on against the bestseller, the Dzire. And I must say they’ve done rather well. But that’s a segment below – even in the upper C segment, the Verna has been the runaway success, and Honda desperately needed to give the Honda City a diesel engine if it were to stay in contention.
So this is what we have now – the all-new Honda City. Based on the new Jazz platform, the Honda City comes with the same 1.5 litre i-DTEC diesel engine that you find under the hood of the Amaze – only in a revised state of tune and a 6-speed manual gearbox, as compared against the 5-speed that does duty in the Amaze.
One look at the new Honda City, and you begin to question its ‘all-new’ tag. It looks quite similar in design to the outgoing model, and looks to be more of an evolution rather than a revolution (which the previous generations have been against their respective preceding models). Forgive me for saying that it may even look like a facelift to some! The front end is largely the same as the last-gen model, save for the ostentatious chromed front grille and larger headlamps. It looks like Honda has been secretly working with BMW for its design evolutions – especially the rear panels. The last-gen City had its back-side inspired from the last-gen BMW 3 Series, and guess what, this new one pays homage to the latest 3 Series. There’s definitely something going on here that the trade pundits don’t know!
It’s on the inside that the game changes completely. The new Honda City is as long as the outgoing model (4.4 meters), but the wheelbase has been increased by 50mm to 2.6 meters and that makes a huge difference. Even the shoulder space has gone up by 40mm, despite the width of the car remaining the same. As a result, the space inside is – and there’s no other adjective for it – immense. Kapil and I are both 6-feet tall, and even with the drivers seat set to my driving position, Kapil had enough space to grow another pair of legs and still be comfy.
Hyundai has mastered the art of doing incredible value-for-money cars. The Verna comes with an equipment list that will humiliate even some D segment cars. So, Honda needed to play the game right, and they appear to have done just that this time around. The Honda City now comes with more bells and whistles than ever. The interior has been given a complete do-over, and now it features things like push-button start, climate control with a touch sensitive panel, a parking camera (which is a bit specious in its function), steering mounted controls, options to play all formats of music, rear aircon vents, and my favourite – 4 charging points. Practical and useful, that’s what the interior is, but there are places where you sense that the quality has been somewhat compromised. Now, I could forgive the Amaze for slightly inferior cabin quality, but the City has an aspirational brand value attached, so you expect everything to be prim-and-proper – as a result, these small issues do stand out. Or perhaps I suffer from OCD.
On the performance front, the brilliant i-VTEC engine remains but expect the diesel to make the most noise – metaphorically and literally. The 1.5 litre i-DTEC engine that does duty in the Amaze finds a home in the City too. Mated to a slick 6-speed manual gearbox, it generates 99bhp, which peaks out at 3,600rpm and 200Nm comes into play at 1,750 revs. It’s a noisy motor – there are no two ways about it. Sure, Honda has invested heavily in containing the NVH levels, but it feels like the City needs a much larger effort to dampen the noise. Again, you could forgive the noise levels in the Amaze, but because the Honda City is that much more premium, you expect it to be much smoother and more refined.
As for performance – it’s modest, at best. But then the diesel wasn’t ever meant for driving fun, it’s aimed at delivering huge mileage numbers – which it does. The claimed figure for the diesel is 26km/l, and although I can’t put down a test mileage figure yet, I do believe that it’ll be massively fuel efficient. On our drive, the needle barely dipped.
The petrol, naturally, is more fun and involving. The CVT works well, though you can hear some of that gearbox whine if you go burying the pedal all the time. The paddles are a very cool add-on, and they actually shift surprisingly well – so much so that you’d be forgiven for thinking that this is one of those advanced dual-clutch systems. For the proper nutcase though, it’s the petrol-manual combo that’ll work best. The engine sounds glorious, and working the gear lever through every ratio is a delight. The engine itself is quite flexible and pulls very strongly in the mid range – so, whether it’s on congested city roads or the long and empty Yamuna Expressway, it shouldn’t be a bother at all for this one.
The steering kills the joy somewhat though, I must confess – it feels jaded, wooden and artificial. Sure, it’s quite direct and the car changes direction beautifully well, but the connection – the feel – is just not there. The ride is soft and plaint, and though we couldn’t throw the car around bends or corners, it felt pretty confident doing high triple-digit speeds – so stability isn’t an issue either. How well will it go around corners? That’s a question that even I want the answer to, so I’m going to request Honda to send a car over for an exhaustive road test.
The City, in its latest avatar, ticks all the right boxes. The equipment levels are good, it rides well over bumps and has a very comfortable cabin. It even manages to look like the FCX Clarity from the front and the 3 Series from the rear. Plus, there’s all that space inside – and that’s a massive deal-maker. Honda has been working overtime in ensuring that it hits back with a bang, and they seem to have managed just that with this new Honda City.
- Honda City (P)
- Honda City (D)
Transmission: 5-Speed Manual / CVT with Paddle Shift , Front Wheel Drive
Power: 117bhp @ 6,600rpm
Torque: 145Nm @ 4,600rpm
Transmission: 6-Speed Manual, Front Wheel Drive
Power: 99bhp @ 3,600rpm
Torque: 200Nm @ 1,750rpm