The Honda City has been an automotive staple of India’s sprawling urban landscape for over two decades. However, in recent years, its sheen appears to be wearing off, with a new species of car – the crossover SUV – threatening to usurp the City as the signifier of an expanding urban middle class’s first step towards affluence.
The City has never wavered from its core values of being desirable yet utterly dependable. It was repurposed to be a more economical offering after the first VTEC model was discontinued (in 2003), and ever since, the City has grown to be a technologically superior product with the arrival of each subsequent generation model. The latest model (fifth-generation), however, takes a significant leap in the tech department, giving the City the kind of edge it needs to take on its formidable competition. So what’s it all about?
Not a facelift
The new City may not be a significant visual departure from its predecessor’s design, but it’s got plenty of bits that qualify it as an all-new car. For starters, the bodywork is now lighter, more tensile and with greater torsional rigidity, and, while you’re not likely to go corner-carving in the City, this does add to the overall dynamism of the car. The new City feels more insulated, robust, and, dare I say, premium, in that respect. It’s still unmistakably a City in its appearance, but it does seem more closely related to the Honda Civic, than it did previously.
There’s a new 1.5-litre DOHC petrol engine, that comes with an optional and lamentable CVT gearbox. The engine, while not as punchy as a turbo-unit, is tractable enough. But it’s weighed down considerably by the CVT, which, while economical, goes a long way in diminishing the driveability of the City, while also testing the limits of the cabin’s sound insulating abilities. Keep a steady and light foot, and the CVT will do its best to keep up with the revs. Smash the throttle into the footwell and it struggles.
The suspension is truly optimally designed for Indian roads. After driving an array of stiff-legged sedans, with low-profile tyres, the City’s supple ride quality feels like a refreshing change on our cratered roads.
The main draw here isn't the looks or even the powertrain. It’s the host of features that the City now comes with. For the first time ever, the City comes with a “Honda Connect” app that allows you to remotely lock/unlock the car, including the boot. It also allows you to remotely turn on the air-conditioning (and the ignition), and set the temperature as per your preference, so you find a cool cabin awaiting you, after what are turning out to be mostly warm days. The car even helps you navigate your way to the parked location, using maps.
The ‘Connect’ app may seem gimmicky at first, but it’s ability to warn you of unauthorized entry, track a stolen vehicle, keep a log of your insurance validity and provide a host of other practical information, including speed limit violations, is a segment-first.
The new Honda City offers plenty of kit, for its top-end price tag of Rs 14.44 lakh (ex-showroom, Mumbai). A sunroof, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (accessible only via a USB cable) and a blind spot camera under the left wing mirror are just some of them. Some of the “Connect” app’s functions can also be carried out by Amazon’s Alexa, which has been built-into the car’s multimedia interface and can be operated via your phone. While one does miss features like wireless charging and Bluetooth-enabled phone connectivity, the City’s marginally wider and plusher cabin, does move it several notches above its predecessor.
Parth Charan is a Mumbai-based writer who’s written extensively on cars for over seven years.