The third generation Honda City combines the best of its predecessors. It’s a car where you get what you see, says SHAPUR KOTWAL

Honda’s fortunes in India rest on its popular City saloon, which, in the span of 10 years, has seen three full model changes. This frenetic pace of development is an indication of how important this car is for the Japanese manufacturer. This time around with the third generation City, Honda has once again outdone itself to manufacture a car that combines the best of its predecessors while leaving out their weaknesses.

Honda has admitted that getting the looks of the new City right was priority number one, especially after the oddball proportions of the previous City which took some getting used to. The new City is based on the Jazz platform but not one body panel is shared with its hatchback cousin and this has given designers the much-needed freedom. To get the proportions right, Honda has increased the wheelbase to 2550mm, a massive 100mm increase over the earlier car. The other benefit is increased passenger space.

The styling of the new City is absolutely stunning and the latest Honda has got more attention and appreciative glances than any other car in recent memory. The nose is the focal point of the design in which the slatted grille with its warped effect, straddled by tapering headlamps, forms an arrowhead of sorts. Honda has likened the design to the tautness of an archer’s bow and dubbed it ‘arrowshot’ design, referring to the manner in which the pillars, beltline and arrowhead nose represent a drawn bow and arrow, and the tail-lights the feathered rear of the arrow.

The new chassis is much more rigid and the suspension towers have been beefed up too. Drum brakes at the rear may raise eyebrows given the power of the car but Honda has enlarged the drum size and has moved to a larger 14-inch disc in front as well. All new Citys have ABS as standard too, but strangely alloys are not available, even as an option.

The City’s shapely design is carried over to the interiors as well. The door pads are well-sculpted and so is the multi-layered dash, replete with ridges and curves which flows into the centre console. The steering wheel, which is similar to the Civic’s, looks and feels great while the instrumentation seems overly lit. A serious letdown, however, is the quality of plastics and fabrics that feel a peg down from the previous City. For practicality, there’s lots of storage space with generous door pockets, cubbyholes and cupholders.

Equipment levels are a mixed bag. The star piece of kit is the audio system which Honda claims is the most advanced in this class. It runs off a memory stick or an iPod with MP3 and the easy-to-use controls let you scroll through your entire music collection. The sound quality too is fantastic thanks to a good amplifier and effective speakers. However, there is no CD player, which we feel is a huge omission, given that most owners are not likely to be download-savvy. A CD player is available as an option but you have to shell out Rs 10,000 for it. The real-time fuel consumption display and the audio controls on the steering wheel are nice touches while twin airbags offered as standard equipment across the range is commendable. But then Honda has been stingy in other areas. There are no leather seats, no adjustable lumbar support and no climate control that is now standard fare for a car in this price bracket.

Space-wise

The sense of space you get in the new City is terrific. The windscreen feels like it’s a mile away and the front seats are quite generous with cushions slightly softer than the old car. Forward visibility is much better than before but the sloping parcel shelf impedes rear vision a bit. Move to the rear and the feeling of space continues. Width and legroom are better than before but you sit a touch lower now. Still, the new model is better than its rivals for comfort and at the rear it still has the natural footrest, created by the upward slope under the front seat to accommodate the fuel tank.

In line with the car’s more aggressive stance and character is the uprated 116bhp 1.5-litre i-VTEC engine. With a better power-to-weight ratio, the new City was expected to be quicker than the previous VTEC but the widely-spaced ratios, selected in the interests of fuel economy have blunted performance a bit. Still, the new car sprints to 100kph in a rapid 10.2 seconds, around half-a-second faster than the previous car.

In-gear acceleration is pretty good but the tall third gear doesn’t make it significantly quicker than before. In the real world, the new City is responsive and scoots away with a mere touch of the throttle, and this makes it a great car for tackling traffic. The mid-range, however, feels flat which calls for extra gearshifts when overtaking slow-moving traffic. For most of its rev range, the i-VTEC feels similar to the previous City’s motor and it’s only once you pass 4000 rpm that you can feel the extra horses distinctly kick in to take you briskly to the 7000 rpm redline. The gearbox is terrific with a light and snappy throw, and the wide gearing takes advantage of the flexible nature of the engine.

There is a suppleness in the suspension that was never present in the earlier car and this makes riding over rough patches and really bad roads much easier now. Also much improved is the handling and specifically the steering feel. The City’s steering still feels a bit inert and is nowhere near as communicative as the Fiesta’s helm, which is the class best. There is a new-found responsiveness and accuracy that the previous model’s Playstation-like steering never had.

The City feels very stable at high speeds, and is eager to dart into corners as well. While the car does roll as you corner it harder and harder, this is a car with which you can enjoy driving. The skinny 175/65 R15 tyres are insufficient for the pace of this car and it’s easy to break traction, the front wheels scrabbling for grip when you pile on the power.

With our test drive confined to Jaipur, we couldn’t conduct a fuel efficiency test to our standards. However, a quick back-to-back check with a standard City revealed that the new model is equally efficient, even marginally better. This is a phenomenal achievement from a car that is heavier and more powerful than the previous City and a tribute to Honda’s engineering wizardry. We expect the City to give 10-11 kpl in our gruelling city cycle and 16-17 kpl on the highway.

Superb comfort and space, impressive fuel economy and a huge boot make the new City every bit as practical as the previous model. And now it’s much more desirable too. The design looks pretty stunning, it steers and rides better than ever and with 116 bhp from a refined engine, it’s unlikely you will be short of power. Okay, the interiors should have been better made and Honda has stinted on some essential features and options. However, what you can’t take away from Honda’s new saloon is how well it meets practicality to driving pleasure. Though it’s more expensive than the previous car, the overall package is so captivating that it’s likely to sweep customers off their feet.

* * *

Technical data

ENGINE

Fuel Petrol

Installation Front, transverse

Type4 cyls in-line, 1497cc,

Multi-point fuel injection

Bore/stroke 73/89.4mm

Compression ratio 10.4:1

Valve gear SOHC, 4 valves per cyl

POWER

116 bhp at 6600rpm

Torque14.9kgm at 4600rpm

Power to weight 105.45bhp per tonne

Torque to weight 13.54kgm per tonne

Specific output 77.48bhp per litre

Transmission Type Front-wheel drive

GEARBOX

5-speed manual

Ratios/kph per 1000 rpm

1st 3.461/7.53 2nd 1.869/13.95 3rd 1.303/20.02

4th 1.054/24.75 5th 0.853/30.58

Final drive ratio 4.294:1

Chassis & Body: Construction Monocoque, four-door saloon

Weight 1100kg

Suspension Front Independent, MacPherson strut, stabiliser bar

Rear Non-independent, torsion beam, stabiliser bar

Steering Type

Power-assisted rack and pinion

Type of power assist Electric

Turning circle10.6m

BRAKES

Front Ventilated discs

Rear Drums

Anti-lock Yes

WHAT IT COSTS

On-road (Mumbai)

Rs 9.66 lakh (est)

Warranty 24 months/40,000km

More In: METRO PLUS | FEATURES