Honda's new edition

WHILE THE Honda City bristled with technology especially in the power department, there was a general feeling that the other aggregates of the car left something to be desired, especially in the appearance and internal appointments. Later came the Mitsubishi Lancer with handsome styling and reasonably good performance and the Honda struggled to keep up, in spite of a superior engine. Honda realised that customers in this segment want style to go with power and merely being fast was not enough.

Meanwhile, some people complained that the rear end of the car did not feel solid and was rather bouncy. Honda being a progressive company, did not want such small problems to mar its image and hence changes were carried out. In the interim, it was also decided to give a fresh new look to the Honda City which would enable it to resemble its bigger brother, the Accord.

A great number of changes have taken place. The front bonnet has been given a lower swooping line and the design of the front headlights has been changed to give the car a stooped, purposeful look. The headlights now have multi-reflector lenses like other new generation cars, which claim to disburse up to 30 per cent more light. The bumper has been slightly redesigned with two small nacelles on either side to fit foglamps, which are on the options list. The front grille has been slightly changed in shape and made bigger with a slightly larger `H' of insignia on it. The bumpers retain their three-piece design to enable easy repair.

The rear boot lid has also undergone some changes and now has an integrated rear spoiler in the boot lid. The earlier rear chrome licence plate garnish in the City 1.5 has been done away with and all models now have a body-coloured rear licence plate garnish. New rear cluster lights, again with multi-reflector lenses, replace the existing ones and the rear bumper has also been slightly redesigned to make it wider and thus enhance the sporty stance of the car, making it look wider.

The entire length has been increased by 45 mm, to make the new City 4,270 mm in length, up from the earlier 4,225 mm. However, this length increase is in the front and rear overhangs and not in the wheelbase; consequently interior space does not increase appreciably. There is a 2" space in front of the engine before the radiator now. Two new colours, 'Heather Mist Metallic' (Metallic Golden) and 'Sapphire Silver Metallic' (Bluish Silver) are now available while the earlier 'Maharaja Gold' is now available only on the 1.3 litre models. The City 1.5 Exi-S has been dropped from the line-up and Honda says that enough options exist in terms of rear spoilers, alloys and other aspects to enable just about anybody to make their City as personal as they want.

The interiors of the City have also been improved considerably. Earlier, the interiors were pedestrian in appointments and somehow did not find appeal with people forking upwards of Rs. 7 lakhs for a car. The upholstery also did not suit the taste of buyers who perceived it as distinctly downmarket. The stereo system in the older City was a joke, according to some people, and not befitting such an expensive (for India) car. The City 1.3 had already gained a tachometer sometime back, so the instrument panel was given a blue background which makes for beautiful illumination at night. The blue dials remind one of the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo series but overall, the effect is quite pleasing - if only a dimmer switch on the instrument panel could have been provided!

The other significant change, and we mean significant, is that those horrible 1980 Toyota Corolla switches of the HVAC system have now been replaced with proper rotary switches, which enable precise control of air. The air-conditioning switch now moves to the top - being placed on one side of the centre console with the hazard switch on the other side. In the 1.5 litre model, there is a digital clock in the centre, which is optional on the 1.3 litre. Honda claims to have improved the air-conditioning further, which is good news because the City already had effective air-conditioning and the driven lot of back-seaters will get even better cooling.

This is especially important given the fact that many cars in this segment are bought by those who are driven by chauffeurs and need to keep their cool during hot summer months. The wooden treatment of the 1.5 City is now carried over to the side air vents and the side console for the electric window and lock switches. The 1.3 does not have wood, but you can order a `woody' feeling to go with your `heady' feeling if you drive a 1.3 City.

A major area of change is in the sound system. The 1.3 litre City now gets the unit of the earlier 1.5 City with a 15 watt x 4 output and the 1.5 litre existing City gets a new state-of-the- art logic controlled cassette-receiver which Honda hopes will make considerably more noise with its 20 watts x 4 output. A 12- disc CD-changer is on the options lists of both cars. The music systems are manufactured by Clarion in Japan, though special editions of Hondas do come with Alpine sound systems, at times. Alas, no power antenna; there is a manual radio antenna tucked into the A-pillar as before. A bright red third stop-light is also standard on the 1.5 City.

Even the most ardent critic of the Honda had to admit that the car was powerful and moved like a Great Dane with its tail on fire. At the same time, the car is extremely fuel efficient and both the 1.3 and the 1.5 City return two digit fuel efficiency figures within the city. You could have your cake and eat it too. Add to this low maintenance costs and it was like a dream car. However, all was not too well and the rear suspension made people at times feel as if they were riding on a bucking bronco, every time they went over a bump. Honda took this seriously and redesigned the rear suspension somewhat with different spring and damper settings to make it more compliant and give a better ride. One must admit they have done a pretty decent job and the bucking bronco has now become a more civilised horse.

Although one cannot expect ride levels of the Astra in the back seat, the new City rides much better than its predecessor. Other changes include a new plastic battery holder which makes sure the battery does not get short-circuited or in case any corrosive acid leaks, it does not harm the electrical system in any way.

There is also a new stay-rod designed to hold the bonnet. The rest of the mechanicals, that is, the engine, transmission and drive-line as mentioned earlier are flawless and did not need working upon.

Tutu Dhawan

(The author can be contacted at: anything@tutudhawan.com)