Home / Technology / Tech Reviews /  Honda City 2020 tech review: Alexa, please start my car

NEW DELHI: The Honda City is among the most popular sedans on Indian roads today, and fits the profile for tech in cars of its kind. In its fifth generation though, Honda is adding a first for connected cars in India. The new Honda City works alongside Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant, allowing the user to operate certain remote functions without ever touching the car, its key or even phone.

Basically, Honda has built a “skill" for the artificial intelligence (AI) system, which is what Amazon calls the app-like things used to connect various services to the AI. There are two parts to this — the first is Honda Connect, the company’s smartphone app for its car, which then connects to Alexa through Amazon’s app.

Once you do that, you can either open the Alexa app on your phone and give voice commands to your car remotely, or if you have an Echo speaker at home, you can just speak to it. So, you get to tell the car to turn on air conditioning before you leave for work, check how much fuel the car has, unlock the doors, and more. In all, there are ten such features.

Admittedly, it sounds like a party trick, and at times it really is. However, it can easily become something you can’t do without. A few days into driving this car, we found ourselves involuntarily telling Alexa to turn on the air conditioning whenever we were about to head out. Remotely turning on the AC is nothing new for cars, but being able to do it by voice commands brings a level of intuitiveness that’s just that much more useful.

Similarly, the feature can be really useful if you leave the keys in your car and the doors lock. Yup, that happened to us too. You can also tell the assistant to unlock the doors or open the boot remotely when you’re at home and need someone to get an item from the car. There are small, but useful use cases.

That said, the overall software interface of this still needs some work. Some of these are things Honda cold solve, but mostly, the company is barred by the limitations Amazon has for any such Alexa skill.

For instance, Alexa’s location alerts aren’t very accurate in India right now. So when you ask the assistant to locate your car, you’ll get a ballpark type of position at times. It’s enough to give you peace of mind that no one’s stealing your car, but a little more detail would help.

For instance, the Honda Connect app allows geofencing, which keeps the car within a preset GPS-based boundary. The company could use this to have the assistant set a home/work location for the user and Alexa could tell them the car’s home instead of it’s at XYZ road right now.

Further, Alexa skills are often slow and Honda couldn’t get around this issue, which makes giving voice commands from your phone annoying at times. This is especially irritating in cases where the car’s engine needs to be turned on, because it requires multiple steps. Also, it asks for an identification pin in such instances, which you have to speak out loud. There’s really no way around this at this point, and it’s an obvious security loophole for all such systems.

Other than Alexa integration, the other tech is pretty standard for cars in this range today. You can connect your phone to the car using Android Auto, Apple Carplay or regular Bluetooth. You’ll need to connect via USB cables in order to use Apple and Google’s automobile technologies.

The car also has a lanewatch camera for blindside turns, a really useful feature for any car. There’s hill-start assist, which helps when you’re starting off an incline, something many drivers will appreciate.

In sum, the 5th generation Honda City is a step forward for connected cars in India. You can’t remotely tell you car to drive over to you just yet, but this is how it begins.


Prasid Banerjee

An engineering dropout, Prasid Banerjee has reported on technology in India for various publications. He reports on technology through text and audio, focusing on its core aspects, like consumer impact, policy and the future.
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