Yes, a new generation of the Honda City compact sedan is a big deal. After some delays, thanks to the Covid crisis, the car that created and defined the compact sedan segment in India for over 22 years, is back in a new generation. Honda has announced that the new City will drive in alongside the previous gen - which stays on in the market in its BS6 petrol avatar, as a lower-priced offering. The Honda City has sold over 800,000 units in India since 1998 - and has consistently been the segment benchmark. The City had debuted in South East Asia in its 7th generation, but here in India, they are calling it the 5th generation car - as it is the fifth iteration that we are getting. I count the City as one of the most significant launches of this year. So as we practice social distancing and sanitising - we still descended on to this drive like bees to honey. So my colleague Shams Raza Naqvi is also with me on this review. And that is not just because of how important this car is, but because we are testing all three drivetrain variants - the i-VTEC petrol & CVT, and the diesel manual.
One glance and you know this is the Honda City straight away Yet it looks larger than the previous gen. The very sharp curved single-edge of a Katana blade is what inspires the character line along its side. That is evolutionary from the last car too, just like the face. The very vertical, straight chrome slab that defines its front grille is now a characteristic Honda design cue. It's the LED Headlamp that's very different though. It's got a 9-array LED and that's only in the top end. It certainly stands out in the segment for sure, and gives the car a very modern look. So does the taillight that is also an LED affair. It comes up along the rear fender and ends in arrowhead shaped elements. The shape of the taillight itself, and the way the red element sticks out of the cluster – BMW much? Yes Honda has been known to be inspired by BMW many times in the past. It seems to be back at that place now!
This new Honda City is 53 mm wider and 109 mm longer than the previous one. The wheelbase inexplicably remains unchanged between the two. But Honda still says it makes it wider and longer than any car in the segment now. Strangely though, there are no new colours and that's a thorn in my side. 5 colours on the new City but they are all ones you've seen before. To me that is especially weird, since the old City remains in the market, in pretty much the same colours. A brighter, younger, or more sophisticated paint palette might have been more apt. And we have got nice sharp colours from most rivals in the segment too. A miss then by Honda. Today we have to make do with Golden Brown and Lunar Silver on our test cars. The 16" alloys compliment the design well and a special mention for the outside rear view mirrors that are now placed with a gap from the A-pillar to reduce blind spots. Overall the car looks elegant and yes, as said – it looks bigger for sure. However, the space in the boot has shrunk by 4 litres. The City's predecessor boasted of 510 litres of boot space, that has now been reduced to 506 litres.
The City has driven with a CVT gearbox for a long time. But has the introduction of a new engine made the drive better? And what about that infamous rubber band effect? Throttle response and acceleration are definitely improved over the previous car. The engine even sounds nicer now. It's got a nice little throaty, sort of rumble to it which is nice. But having said that, it is a lot quieter in the cabin. Yes! There's a lot of work that has been done on reducing the noise that permeates inside and that shows. The huge USP though is its ride quality. It's really fantastic! The engine performance is smooth too so the whole feel is very refined. It's almost closer to the Civic than the old City and that's great! Buyers are going to love that. It glides over speed bumps and potholes and offers a velvety-smooth ride on good surfaces.
The tried and tested 1498 cc petrol inline 4-cylinder engine makes 119 bhp and yes that is a very slight bump up in power. And while the CVT is once again the auto option, it also gets a new 6-Speed manual gearbox, which I will drive next. The mileage on the two cars is good but not quite best in class. The CVT will give you 18.4 kmpl, while the manual Honda City petrol offers 17.8 kmpl.
The City always took safety seriously so you've got 6 airbags at the top end, you've also got the tyre pressure air monitoring system and lane watch that's been carried forward from the Civic and the CR-V, which means put the left indicator on and you've got the blind spot in the rear-view on the main screen. That's a good thing, and you get used to it very quickly too. Now the car is a lot stronger in its build and the strength of its structure. In fact, 20.4 per cent more rigid than the last car, and despite being 4.3 kgs lighter.
The rigidity does help the handling, though it is not sporty due to that big car feel. The steering is weighted and does well, but again could have been a touch stiffer. The paddles are nice to have but on a CVT you have to ask why really? Also if you put the CVT in S or Sport – it does seem a tad quicker, but really it is just a lot of high revs more than anything else – just like all Honda City CVTs have done before! And yes that rubber effect is there but not to an extent that it bothers you. Honda says a "full-open acceleration step-up shift control" and "brake operation step downshift control" help here. Honestly it's not a big enough change to stand out. The CVT is great from a city driving perspective. In terrible traffic, nothing like CVT - It's going to be comfortable, easy, very smooth and will also give you good mileage. But If you want really spirited, fun driving then the CVT is not for you, You're probably better off looking at the manual which is what I am going to tell you about now.
It is an instantly different character on the manual Honda City IVTEC – an that's because it gives you so much more control over the car. On the manual, you do notice that the peak torque kicks in quite late in the rev cycle at over 3500 rpm which is a little annoying. As always in India performance is sacrificed at the altar of fuel efficiency. Oh well. But otherwise, the gearbox itself is good, the 6th Speed definitely helps, and thankfully the torque band does at least let you stay in a higher gear so there isn't frequent gear changing required.
Overall I do see Honda retaining its strength of reputation in the petrol arena with the super smooth IVTEC petrol engine. Though I will say this – the City RS in Thailand not only looks hot, but also sports the new 1.0 IVTEC Turbo engine – that should have been considered for India – and still should be in my opinion. Honda Car India has ruled it out though, which is a shame.
On now to the manual diesel. Honda believes there is no real need for an automatic diesel, despite having one on little sister Amaze. The manual is that new 6-Speed gearbox at least. A lot has changed in this engine despite the figures remaining the same. It's now BS6 compliant and Honda says lot of efforts have been made to achieve that because it wasn't easy to meet the emission norms. So you get about 100 bhp of maximum power and 200 Nm of peak torque. Acceleration is pretty quick and the gearshifts are also quite slick. You will enjoy being on the driver's seat of this City diesel. Don't forget this is a car that is 64 kgs heavier than the petrol manual, and yet feels as agile if not more. Fuel efficiency at 24 kmpl is welcome!
All diesel cars from Honda have got a lot of stick for being very noisy. Yes this 1.5 i-DTEC is a loud engine, and so what you want to know is how much of that gets into the cabin of the new Honda City? Well, as I told you that Honda has been working hard on the City's NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) levels. On the diesel, the engineers have worked harder still. And I am happy to say that the cabin is well insulated, and a lot more pleasant than on the last gen. You still hear the engine, but sound damping on the City is just so much better now. And so like petrol, the diesel too has a plush feel in this respect too. Could it be even more hushed? Yes, but on the whole way I cannot complain, and nor will you.
The car gets a G-metre that measures the amount of gravitational force you are creating by your driving style. And it's a feature developed just for the Malaysian and Indian City. Why? Beats me! So anyway, to keep things comfortable you can try and maintain an optimum G-force level by looking at the readout in the G-metre that's housed in the instrument cluster. It's like playing a game while driving the car, but thankfully it doesn't really distract you. Is it a gimmick? Yes! But I guess it is still kind of cool. The G-metre is a part of a new attractively designed instrument cluster – a 7-inch full colour TFT LCD panel that's a segment first. Almost everything is digital here apart from the speedo needle. This is no virtual cockpit but you can still choose from many display options that show up within the tachometer display. The instrument binnacle is also designed to sit a bit higher and the dash is a lot slimmer, allowing for a recess just below the steering mount. This will give you much better knee-room than most cars.
The car looks and feels plush, especially the soft touch leatherette inserts on the dash panel. The seats are also finished the same way, and there is some use of leather on the steering wheel as well. The steering wheel is both tilt and telescopically adjustable. The cabin scores on rear seat ergonomics too. Great legroom and headroom. Plenty of storage options too. So even though the wheelbase is same as before, the redesigned dash and front seats there's more space in the back; 15 mm more to be precise. The 8-inch touchscreen sits nicely between well-designed vertical AC vents. It's a bigger screen than before and is easy to use. You get Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and connectivity features you would expect.
The new Honda City also gets the Honda Connect app feature, using which you can connect to your car through an app on your mobile phone. It gives you telematics like geo-fencing, finding your car, and a lot more features. 32 of them in all but they have taken things to the next level for Honda. Most of the features can be controlled using a voice command, using Amazon's Alexa on your phone. Let me give an example - so you could ask Alexa to unlock your car, open the boot, check its status like remaining fuel levels, tyre pressure, etc. Alexa access can also be shared with friends and family members. This finally makes the City a connected car in the true sense – something sorely missing from Honda's portfolio all this whole. And yes it uses an embedded sim from AT&T that hooks on to service providers in the area you are driving in to give you the whole suite of features. For a better understanding of how it works, do watch Shams' demo on our City review video.
So a premium, well loaded, and well designed car – fitting of the City nameplate. There are bits we could have been happier with, but there's plenty here to excite the segment. And the die-hard Honda City fan. We expect the new City to come with fewer, mid and top end variants only. The entry/basic and lower priced model will be the previous gen City, which as I told you stays on in the market. So expect the new Honda City to be priced between ₹ 10-15 lakh ex-showroom.