Car Specification

07 January 2014

Review: New Honda City i-DTEC

It's like new wine in old bottle. It may look quite similar to the older model, but this fourth-gen City is all new underneath. Plus, it gets a diesel pot too...

Devesh Shobha
Car image

When the first generation Honda City broke cover in 1998, it came across as a breath of fresh air in a market that focused mainly on fuel efficiency and cheaper price tags. Surely the City was overpriced, but then, there is no denying to the fact that it had brought in a mini-revolution of sorts.

Indians were clearly in love with the Japanese sedan – new players came and went, but none could ruffle the Honda. For a very long time, it had a distant lead in the mid-size sedan segment until the Hyundai Verna arrived with its Fluidic design and an array of equipment that made the Honda look spartan. To add to Honda’s woes, spiraling fuel prices saw Indians develop a fetish for cars that ran on the cheaper diesel fuel.

All that could be a thing of the past now. The new City,  designed and developed in India, for India will soon go on sale, and that obviously will be in India first. Above all, it’s now available in diesel as well. More on that in a bit.

First, the styling. It builds on the design elements of the outgoing model. While the front retains the earlier model’s shape, it now gets a more prominent chromed grille, sharper looking bumper, new bonnet lines and headlamps. But in profile, you’ll likely mistake it for the older model. Its all too evolutionary. The front-end design.

The rear styling looks as if the designers penciled it off after a refreshing summer break. The new wider tail lights extending into the boot lid, and the reprofiled bumper give the City a slightly broader-looking rear end. If the exterior changes leave you cold, the interior will certainly not disappoint. This is an all-new cabin, with more upmarket feel and better use of materials. The newly designed dashboard, piano black finish around the music system, touch-screen air-con controls, all look refreshing.

Also impressive is the amount of space inside. Along with the all-new platform and extended wheelbase, smarter packaging has freed up more space for both, passengers and their luggage. The City now gets better leg-, knee- and shoulder room than before, the seats, as usual, are comfortable, and the rear passengers now get their own AC vents.

For the City, there's a new diesel motor - it’s the same 1.5-litre i-DTEC from the Amaze, with a similar power output of 98.6bhp and 200Nm of max torque. But don’t be disheartened – the City comes with a newly developed six-speed manual gearbox that promises better driveability in our conditions. The other engine is the one we know well, the 1.5-litre i-VTEC carried over from the earlier model in a similar state of tune, churning out 117bhp and 145Nm. It will have the option of a five-speed manual and a CVT gearbox.

Driving the top-end diesel variant after my initial apprehensions about teaming up a 99bhp motor with a full-fledged sedan, it turned out to be a decent outing. Power is available from 1,500rpm and even after the turbo comes to life, it’s delivered in a linear fashion. The new six-speed gearbox is Honda-smooth, the gears slotting in with precision. And in the interest of fuel economy, Honda has gone in for shorter gear ratios, so driving around town in third or fourth gear is quite manageable. It’s only on the highway that you feel the diesel motor lacks that extra punch.

You do have to work around the gearbox, and overtaking fast traffic on the highway isn’t the easiest thing to do. Although the City goes past the 140kph-mark, you do feel it’s running out of breath from there on. The motor pulls cleanly, if not rapidly, from 1,800rpm and goes to its redline of 4,000rpm, but then the engine gets louder and it doesn’t sound great inside the cabin. Honda has improved NVH levels on the City and it does a decent job of leaving the diesel clatter out of the cabin. But we wish Honda had done more to refine this diesel motor for the City.

With a new high-rigidity chassis system, the latest City takes care of most of the challenges thrown at it. Thanks to a softer setup, ride at city speeds is quite absorbent. A slightly longer wheelbase also adds to the overall straight-line stability at high speeds. Quick direction changes do result in some sideways movement, but the City does nicely around corners, without much drama. Plus, Honda’s light but responsive steering wheel makes ambling around town easy. However, out on the highway, you do wish it were a bit weighty for greater confidence at high speeds.

If at all the outgoing City lacked features, Honda has addressed that this time around. It gets 5-inch music system screen, touch-screen AC controls, cruise control, push button start/stop, sunroof, reverse camera, climate control, steering-mounted controls, eight speakers, four power outlets, rear AC vents, ABS, airbags and the list goes on.

With the new City, Honda has shifted focus more towards fuel efficiency than outright performance. And our first impressions of the diesel and CVT petrol cars show that. Honda is claiming a class-leading 26kpl for the diesel City, 18kpl for the petrol CVT, and 17.8kpl for the manual petrol variant. These are ARAI-tested figures.

From the outset, the Honda City has been one of the most loved petrol mid-size sedans in India. If it ever missed something, it was a diesel option in its line-up. But now, there’s the strong possibility that the spacious new Honda City, with a more upmarket interior, sound ride and handling, and finally a diesel motor under its hood, may just snatch the segment lead back from the Verna.

Honda's launched the new City at a starting price of Rs 9.04 lakh for the most basic diesel variant, going up to Rs 11.64 lakh for the range-topping VX diesel. It’s game on, Hyundai.

The numbers

4cyls, 1498cc turbo-diesel, 99bhp, 200Nm, 6M, 1,165kg, 175/65 R15, fuel tank: 40 litres, boot capacity: 510 litres, fuel efficiency: 26kpl (claimed), Diesel: Rs 9.04 - Rs 11.64 lakh (ex-showroom, Mumbai)

The verdict
India’s most loved petrol sedan now gets a diesel heart which makes it more appealing that before. There's added space, more features, an upmarket cabin and a comfortable ride, but all of this won't come cheap.

Tags: honda, city



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