Country’s favorite mid-sized sedan celebrated its 20th anniversary in India last year. Launched in 1998, City has been the best seller for Honda in its line up, and it was also the first product which marked the entry of the Japanese company in the Indian automobile scene. Honda has offered four generations of the City in India, refreshing the product cycle every five years and a face-lift(minor model change) every two and a half years. 2014 saw the launch of the all new 4th Gen Honda City which came with a diesel engine, something which was lacking in previous Hondas. And with 2017 came a facelift with some new features, followed by a 20th Anniversary edition. The 4th Gen had an all new look, fresh interiors, better ground clearance and best in class comfort and space, a perfect heir to the previous Gen. And since Honda is perceived as a premium brand in India and with the Civic being discontinued, at least the top version City was expected to fill in the gap between the 3rd Gen City and the Civic.
Design & Interiors(8/10):
The 2017 facelift came with a ton of improvements and additions from the model that was launched in 2014. The top spec ZX trim has LED headlights, fog lamps and tail lights, with the cabin lights being LED as well. It now gets 16” Diamond cut alloy wheels with 185 section tires for better grip. (Fun fact- This is the first time Honda has used wider tires for the City, the first one that came out in 1998 also had 175 section tires and so did the 4th Gen 2014 one) The bold chrome grill has been replaced with a sleeker looking one and the front look is heavily inspired from the international model Civic.
The older model had only one microphone for calls, that was near the front cabin lights, but now the ZX variant gets one at the rear as well. A welcome addition for chauffer driven people. The dashboard also has faux leather inserts for a premium appeal.
Hondas’ Man Maximum Machine Minimum philosophy is clearly seen in the cabin of the new Honda City; with acres of space, it is capable of beating some cars from higher segments too. That doesn’t mean it loses out on practicality though, there are 1 Liter bottle holders in all four doors, a decently sized glove box, sufficient storage spaces and plenty of cubby holes to keep all your nick nacks. It also gets convenience features like push start/stop, keyless entry, auto folding ORVMs and auto dimming IRVM.
The rear seat is soft and has a good recline angle, that’ll keep rear passengers extremely satisfied. It also gets a rear armrest with 2 cup holders; although multimedia controls would have been a welcome addition. The front seats too offer good amount of lumbar support, under thigh support and cushioning. The bucket seats offer amazing shoulder support and bolstering; holding you in place even under hard cornering.
The steering is a delight to hold with a very sporty appeal and also hosts controls for the 8 speaker superb sounding audio system, and cruise control. The MID shows you an array of information too, like distance to empty, real time fuel economy, average fuel economy, outside temperature and two trip meters.
The 7’’ Digipad touch screen however is a little finicky and most of the features that Honda claims it has, are not really usable and can be called gimmicks at best. The UI is extremely slow to respond, with song changes having a 2 second lag, and sometimes the unit restarting on its own. The screen is bright enough and the touch quality is pretty okay, but Honda, a company which swears by reliability and quality; such an unreliable system in a car that costs upwards of 15L(for ZX) has to be frowned upon. However, the sound quality is so good that these things can be dismissed as just trade offs.
The automatic climate control system is a touch panel, sacking buttons all together, when the car is turned off it just looks like a screen. The inputs are accepted with a beep and it works flawlessly. Only gripe being you have to take your eyes off the road to operate it.
Overall, the cabin quality, fit & finish is good, although it cannot match the Koreans or Germans, it gets the job done fairly well.
Engine & Transmission(9.5/10): Petrol MT
Honda has a mastery when it comes to petrol engines and the City’s 1.5L naturally aspirated i-Vtec engine producing 118ps power and 140Nm of torque, is nothing but a gem. The flat torque makes it extremely tractable to drive in city conditions and the screaming top-end makes overtaking on highways a breeze. The performance by this motor is unmatched and the refinement levels are stunning. At idle you just cannot hear the engine, and at time I have cranked the engine again just to realize that the engine is still on. At city speeds the engine is barely audible, push it a little hard and it does get vocal, but the sound is so good you’d never complain.
It is mated to a slick shifting 5 speed manual gearbox which by no means has Hyundai levels of smoothness, but has a very mechanical feel to it. The golf ball inspired gear knob only adds to the sportiness. Most of the bumps and speed breakers can be crossed in the second gear itself, passing the speed breaker test with flying colors. In fact, the torque is so good that you can pull the car at 20kmph even in the 4th gear without lugging the engine.
The gear ratios are well spaced but is mostly suited to city driving, with 100km/hr at 5th gear coming at around 3250rpm, the engine isn’t very relaxed; a 6th gear would’ve been great. Overtakes are swift and it can leave some bigger cars behind if you work the gears properly and stay in the right rev band.
Fuel economy is consistent too with 12-12.5kmpl with AC on and mixed driving in city conditions. The story is a little different on highways though, if you drive with a heavy foot then you can get as little as 13kmpl. But, if you are a relaxed driver then you can average around 18-20kmpl. I personally have achieved that figure on a 140km round trip, by using cruise control and not going above 80km/hr. Now the ARAI certified mileage is 17.5kmpl, and that figure is not really difficult to achieve especially on highways.
Engine & Transmission(9/10): Petrol CVT
With all the good bits from the petrol engine and the added convenience of a CVT makes this a perfect buy for cities with stop & go traffic, as it takes away all the stress from your left foot. No working the clutch and no working the gearbox. The beauty of CVT is that there are no jerks or head knocks like traditional AT’s; the shifts are absolutely seamless. Honda has given this CVT gearbox 7 ratios and also paddle shifters behind the steering wheel for taking manual control. The rubber band effect that is inherent to CVT’s has been very well contained here and the Sports mode and paddle shifters help it mask even more.
The benefit of the tall 7th ratio can be seen on highways when the engine is extremely relaxed even at speeds above 100km/hr. That is the reason why the CVT version has a 18kmpl ARAI certification, higher than the manual. There is also an ECON mode which dulls down the performance of the engine and the AC a bit to aid in even more FE. Attaching some images of customers who have achieved exceptional FE with the CVT.
Engine & Transmission(8/10): Diesel MT
The 1.5L Earth Dreams i-Dtec diesel engine producing 100Ps power and 200Nm of torque was first seen in the Amaze, and it has made its way to almost all Honda cars. The engine was not well received at first and was also called a Honda tractor because of the sheer amount of noise it made. But it also had to do with the fact that because Honda was selling only petrol cars all these years, people were used to the silence in the cabin; but when a diesel engine was used, nobody could accept that kind of NVH from a Honda.
The company has really worked hard on customer inputs and criticism, the engine is much more refined now. Not just the roof lining and the engine cover, but even the front windshield is sound absorbing. Still, the cabin isn’t as silent as some of its competitors; some of them doing a much better job.
This engine is mated to a 6 speed manual transmission and the 6th gear really helps in highway cruising. With peak torque coming well below 2000 rpm, turbo lag is almost non-existent and you can leave it in 2nd or 3rd gear all day in city conditions. The shifts are slick and the light clutch makes it easy to drive around in city traffic.
It has great fuel economy too, with an ARAI certified 26kmpl. In city conditions you can expect anywhere between 16-20kmpl and on highways you can get close to the claimed figure very easily.
Ride and Handling(7/10)
Here is where the City loses some points as the suspension setup is on the stiffer side which isn’t good for Indian roads. The rear passengers get tossed around and there is a lot of vertical movement. However, this is only when you encounter really sharp bumps or potholes. The stiff suspension really aids in high speed stability and the ride is very flat on highways as you pick up pace.
The steering feel and feedback is the best in class and it weighs up very well when you’re on the highway and sufficiently light at city speeds. It has a direct, sharp steering and does not feel numb or have a dead centre like Hyundai cars. The City handles corners or quick maneuvers like a charm and inspires a lot of confidence around twisty roads.
Dual airbags, ABS, EBD, ISOFIX child mounts, ACE body structure are standard across the range. With the ZX variant having 6 airbags, City scores high points when it comes to safety.
Should you buy one?
Being the oldest and the highest selling mid-sized sedan, many manufacturers have tried to dethrone the City; some have failed miserably and some have given it a tough competition, but City still remains the undefeated champ of this segment.
The core values of Honda as a brand with their durability, quality and reliability, makes the City a complete value for money proposition. Low maintenance, well spread service network and the premium finesse that this car offers is what made it a best seller for Honda and a favorite among Indians. These glorious 20 years has made City a brand, with some people referring to it as City Honda and not Honda City.
Things to love:
- Extremely refined and punchy petrol engine which screams all the way up to 7200 rpm.
- Easy to maneuver in city conditions.
- Good all round visibility with bright and airy cabin.
- Light clutch and a slick shifting gearbox don’t tire you out.
- Decent fuel economy for the kind of power it offers.
- Good low end performance in both petrol and diesel.
- Rear seat space and comfort is unmatched, beating some cars from one segment above.
- Very supportive bucket seats offer good lumbar support and side bolstering hold you in place.
- Excellent handling even on twisty roads.
- 16’’ diamond cut alloy wheels on the VX and ZX trim look appealing with a full sized spare wheel.
- Honda service network and reliability.
Things to hate:
- Skinny 175 section tires on the lower variants(S,SV and V) don’t do justice to the kind of performance the car offers.
- Stiff suspension setup can make you uncomfortable at times on sharper bumps and potholes.
- Most expensive in its class demanding a whopping 3 Lakhs premium over the Maruti Ciaz.
- Noisy diesel engine still needs more refinement and better NVH levels.