The equipment list, seating comfort, responsive motors and well-designed interior and exterior make the fourth generation Honda City a complete package, writes Hormazd Sorabjee

The City has been one of Honda’s most consistent performers in India. While it has been a popular seller, with the rise in petrol prices and the lack of a diesel motor in the line-up, it lost some ground to rivals. But now, with the all-new City, Honda looks to take the fight back.

The good news is that the 1.5-litre i-VTEC motor has been carried over virtually unchanged from the previous-generation car. So you have 116bhp of power and 14.8kgm of torque being developed in the same free-revving manner as before. However, light tweaks to the intake and i-VTEC system have improved performance at low speeds. The petrol motor proved to be quite flexible, ambling along happily at 20kph in fourth gear, never hesitating to step forward when prodded. As the revs climbed it proved to be as thrilling to drive as ever.

On our first drive, it was evident that like in the Amaze, there is hardly any turbo lag, and the flat torque curve is immediately apparent. This diesel engine’s responsiveness even under 2,000rpm was very handy in the cut and thrust of city traffic. Once past the 2,000rpm mark, the motor pulls cleanly to over 3,600rpm, making it hassle-free to drive in the city and outside it. Revving it to its 4,500rpm redline offered little advantage, although it did highlight this motor’s sore point, the engine noise. Since the abundance of engine noise had been highlighted in the Amaze, better sound insulation was almost taken for granted in the Honda City diesel. Sadly, the coarse engine rumble is quite audible in the cabin. Despite this foible, the diesel is sure to hog a big chunk of the sales.

Also on offer with the petrol motor is an automatic transmission. This time though it is a CVT which has been built in-house at Honda. This transmission had surprisingly strong responsiveness at low speeds which will make light work of regular city duty. The rubberband effect that made CVTs infamous has been kept well in check too, but during full-bore acceleration runs or urgent overtaking manoeuvres, the engine revs get ahead of the road speed in true CVT fashion. The engine is quite noisy too, which leads us to wonder if Honda has stinted on underbody insulation. But what strengthens the case for the CVT is that it is claimed to be even more fuel efficient than the manual!

New chassis

Some of the gains in efficiency have to be attributed to the new chassis too. Even though the City is slightly longer, taller and much stiffer than the outgoing car, it is roughly 45kg lighter. The wheelbase has also been stretched by 50mm. Although the Honda City continues to use MacPherson struts at the front and a twist beam at the rear, these have been extensively redesigned for the new platform. At low speeds, on broken roads, the City felt stiff-kneed and jiggly. However, once you get past 40-50kph, the suspension takes on a whole different character and masks broken roads with aplomb.

The Honda City proved to be quite adept over twisty sections too. Body movement was controlled and predictable. The narrow 175/65 R15 low-rolling-resistance tyres clung onto the tarmac with more tenacity than was expected. Strong brakes and a well-weighted and accurate steering only tempt you to drive for longer.

Knee room is ample in the rear. The seat base is generous and there’s lots of under-thigh support too. Dedicated air-conditioning vents for the rear passengers and two rear power outlets round off a sumptuous backseat.

The front seat feels perfectly cushioned. Honda engineers have played around with the foam density to make long stints in the cabin fatigue-free.

Impressive equipment list

There’s plenty of equipment on offer as well. The instruments for the driver are big and easy to read, rings around the dials glow blue or green (depending on your driving style), and the chunky steering wheel is a high point, with well-damped switches for the music and telephony. After much criticism for its omission in the previous City, the music system brings back a CD player (along with DVD support) as well as the now mandatory Bluetooth and Aux-in. A five-inch screen is the interface for the music system, while the air-conditioning system is operated via a touch panel. And let’s not forget, the City also offers a sunroof. But while the cabin is well equipped and well specced, it’s not a very cohesive design

Even from outside, it is a good looker. This City looks bigger and sits more confidently on the ground. The long slash down its flank makes it immediately distinctive too. The rear looks fantastic, with slim lamps spilling onto the boot. Since the car has grown longer by just 20mm and is no wider than the outgoing car, Honda has ensured the City remains apt for urban use.

Honda’s fourth-generation City is undoubtedly its most complete package yet. Its back seat will pamper passengers and the equipment list will rewrite expectations. However, it is the responsive and frugal motors that will form the bedrock for the City’s assault on the mid-size saloon category. All that remains to be seen is whether Honda will price the City more aggressively than before (an estimated price range of Rs. 8.2 lakh to Rs. 11.5 lakh). The new Honda City goes on sale in January 2014.