I think the new City looks terrific. The styling is contemporary, with a flair that is appealing—and young. The car’s face looks a lot like Honda’s fuel cell FCX Clarity. The rear seems BMW-inspired, but Honda designers have looked to Bavaria before, so I’m not too surprised by that. The car looks grown-up, sophisticated, and yet has a sporty, ready-for-action aggression—which is a remarkable coup for Honda design. The car is 5mm wider and longer now, while the wheelbase is 100mm longer, which gives you greater cabin space.
The interiors are rather flamboyant, with the dash swooping in to the central console, which houses the music system. The colours are pleasant, and while there’s no leather upholstery, the beige fabric works. The base version has grey trim.
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The car’s instrument cluster is smart, though the orange display could have been a bit more sophisticated and subtle. The instruments do include a screen that gives you instant running mileage, average trip mileage, distance-to-empty, besides odo and trip meters.
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Honda wanted the new car to be sporty and yet frugal—since that is a big requirement for the segment’s buyers. This car has an iVTEC engine across variants from the word go. They’ve taken the old 1.5 litre engine block, but instead of the previous iDSI system, it has been infused with the more powerful iVTEC.
The new engine has been designed to offer more efficiency, and that is the reason, in fact, why the Indian car’s engine is tuned down. The Thai model offers 118bhp, while here it’s 116bhp. The old CVT option is gone, instead you get a 5-speed automatic gearbox, with paddle shift—much like the Civic’s. This gearbox is definitely fun and a pleasure to drive. It also lets you switch from manual to auto mode at the flick of a paddle. The sport mode offers higher revs, and a more performance-oriented response.
I found that the new engine—while peppy and responsive—lacks just that little extra spice when you want raw power. But for everyday use, and even highway driving, it is satisfying and has enough go. The engine and transmission are very smooth, and the refinement is obvious when you compare it to cars such as the Maruti SX4 or Hyundai Verna petrol. At high speeds, I found the car’s handling to be much improved—and this is also helped by the fact that it now has a wider track and, more importantly, a longer wheelbase. This gives it a more sure-footed feel over the previous model. I do feel that the steering should have a bit more feedback, even though I found the car has better road manners and is more responsive overall.
High-speed cornering is a tad disappointing and this is probably because Honda has opted for skinny tyres. I’d have preferred fatter rubber, and in fact alloy wheels, too—which are only optional.
|City variant||Prices (ex-Delhi)|
|1.5 E MT||Rs7.7 lakh|
|1.5 S MT||Rs8.2 lakh|
|1.5 S AT||Rs8.9 lakh|
I’ve got to say, the music system is very cool! A first from any car maker, and even from Honda. In India, the system does away with antiquated cassettes and hey, even CDs are now passé. It only runs stored media, courtesy either your stick drive, MP3 player, or your iPod. And what’s great, it comes with the USB interface cable, so once you’re connected, you can access your device through the car’s music system controls. But strangely, older iPods don’t work—the screen actually reads “old version”! This, I think, is a downer for people who have their favourite music stored in early iPod models. There are steering mounted music system controls—which even the Civic and Accord don’t have! The base “E” variant has no music system or steering-mounted controls.
All variants have anti-lock braking or ABS, and dual front airbags as standard. Honda’s G-CON impact-absorbing body shell is also standard.
No variant has fog lights, and the front bumper seems to have no provision for a dealer-level fitment. I find it a bit odd. As I said, alloy wheels are also only optional, while even Maruti’s SX4, Ford’s Fiesta and the Hyundai Verna have them as standard on the top-end. The City’s got central locking but it does not auto-lock when you start driving.
This car was expected only at the end of the year, but Honda expedited the launch, to catch the festive season buying rush. But while bookings are now open, deliveries will, in fact, begin only in November. The new City was expected to be expensive, so Honda’s pricing has surprised. It’s been done by increasing local content, which includes body panels and even the engine. Prices start at Rs7.70 lakh for the base “E” manual variant, Rs8.20 lakh for the top-end manual “S”, and the top-end automatic “S” is at Rs8.90 lakh. All prices are ex-showroom Delhi.
The City once again sets a new segment benchmark. It combines great styling with performance and efficiency. Sure, it’s not a steal, but there’s plenty here to send rivals back to the drawing board, that too in a hurry. I suspect this car will also give big sister Civic a run for its money.
Siddharth Vinayak Patankar is editor, auto, NDTV. He writes a monthly column, Road Runner, for Business of Life
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©2008/The New York Times
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