Successive generations of the Honda City have managed to capture the minds of buyers in India despite intense competition from other brands. And, despite the fact that Honda never had a diesel engine in any of its cars, including the City.

The City’s promises to its buyer, which it has held on to for the last 15 years, are reliability, longevity and efficiency. The City has also always been the aspirational compact (C-segment) sedan in the market. But the lack of a diesel engine option has weighed heavily on its prospects in the market during the last five years. As the demand for diesel cars picked up the City held its ground for a while, but later receded from its leadership position.

The current generation of the Honda City – the third – has found it a particularly tough task to woo buyers, who, despite its obvious charm, because competing sedans had a diesel option. Honda brought in its first diesel engine in the Amaze and it was only a matter of time before the mill also found its way into the bonnet of the City.

Instead of just shoe-horning the engine into the current-gen City, Honda has chosen to completely revamp the model and make it a generation change. The City has been through a generation change once every five years since its first introduction. The new fourth-gen model will also attempt to plug the one hate point – the lack of in-cabin gadgetry – often cited by younger buyers who might have otherwise chosen the current City.

For the fourth Generation City, the company is said to have done extensive customer surveys to try and gauge the changes in their needs and preferences.

Design

The new 2014 Honda City continues to be a C-segment sedan, in that its overall length and width remains the same as the outgoing model. But there are other changes that manage to liberate a lot of space inside the car. But, first a bit about the design of the new model.

The previous gen City was supposedly losing out to competition because younger buyers were drifting away from its less aggressive styling and relatively lower features in-cabin. So, Honda designers sculpted stronger front looks with a thinck new bonnet grille and larger, dual-projector headlamps. The bulbous front fender houses a double layered airdam with a design line that curves up on either side making it look like a wry smile.

The bonnet itself seems to be very similar in dimensions and design to the outgoing model. But the A-pillar rises up sharply and the windscreen seems more steeply raked to create a more arched roofline. The new fourth-gen City is taller overall by about 10mm and apparently all of that gain is translated into increased headroom for passengers.

Honda officials say that the new-gen City’s design is meant to emulate the lines of a coupé. The windows profile, the grab handles and the new model itself is very familiar from both the front and the side. The only differentiators at the side are the turn indicators in the door mirrors and the deeper, sculpted waistline and body side lines.

But, the rear of the new 2014 City sees big changes compared to the outgoing model. Much of that attempt at giving it a coupé-like design (Honda calls it the H-design concept) shows up at the stubby rear. The two-part tail-lamps are of a whole new construction, wraparound with sharper edges and are connected by a new chrome licence garnish. New reflectors for the tail-lamps give it a LED effect without the use of any LEDs. Don’t know why Honda couldn’t have used the real thing though.

The rear glass looks just a bit smaller, there is the addition of the shark-fin antenna and the boot lid has an integrated spoiler edge. Access to the larger 510-litre trunk has also apparently been increased with a wider opening lid. My test drive model came with 175/ 65 R15 tyres shod on 15-inch alloys.

Interior

Honda has wisely chosen to retain the overall footprint of the fourth-generation City at the same level as the outgoing model. Going by the crowding on the roads, that would be appreciated, but we can always make do with some more space inside the car. Honda engineers have achieved that by increasing the wheelbase of the new City by 50mm to 2,600mm, even as the overall length continues to be 4,440mm.

Similarly, while the overall width of the car remains the same 1,695mm, Honda engineers have managed to free up an additional 40mm of shoulder space. Some of that could have come from the new unit-construction door panels. Front head clearance is up 10mm, knee room is said to be up 70mm and the rear legroom is also said to be about 60mm more than the outgoing model.

Some of the space, especially legroom in the new City has also been liberated in the front by the use of a column-mounted electric power steering. Honda engineers claim that the space in terms of legroom and width available in the new City is more than that offered by a few D-segment ‘mid-size’ sedans. I didn’t find it dramatically more than the previous-gen during the short stretch that I sat at the rear of the car. But, the City was never really cramped even earlier. The rear seat squabs are softer than the front two seats, though I don’t know how good that will be for long road trips.

Honda engineers have spent a lot of effort trying to spruce up the interior of the new City. With the objective of becoming more attractive for younger buyers, there is a lot more gadgetry. There is the touch-screen climate control, the push-button engine start, steering mounted controls, four charging points (2 in front and 2 at the rear), LED back-lit instrument cluster and most importantly CD/ radio music system with 8 speakers. Yes, the CD player is back after being absent in the previous-gen. While most of those features will be more appealing to younger buyers, there are the rear airconditioner vents, soft touch plastics, rear legroom, ample storage spaces and beige leatherette upholstery that should be more appealing to older buyers.

Honda says that the new City’s cabin was conceived on a new concept called ‘layered floating cockpit’. There are multiple coloured plastics in beige, black, grey and soft matt-silver, and there are multiple textures too. Honda designers have also created the premium T zone as part of the dashboard layout, making most of the controls and displays driver-oriented. The overall finish quality and material quality are really good, with the exception of the large swathe of glossy black plastic on the centre stack panel housing the music system, which, for me, seemed a bit tacky. Music system display also doubles up as a rear parking camera display.

Instruments are combination of digital and analog, with the circular LED backlighting adding an element of drama by changing colours and indicating how efficiently one is driving the car. Steering mounted controls are a welcome addition with the exception of cruise control, which I doubt will be used that much on Indian roads. Overall driver orientation is spot on and the high-mounted aircon vents will also help keep the entire car cool.

Performance

New most awaited aspect of the new City will of course be the new diesel engine. The fourth-gen City is being offered with the same 1.5-litre iDTEC diesel engine and in the same state of tune as in the Honda Amaze. So, the 1,498cc engine produces the same 100 PS of peak power at 3,600 rpm and the identical peak torque of 200 Nm which kicks in from 1,750 rpm, and should be good all the way to 4,000 rpm.

This unit is an already all-aluminium, light weight engine, which has been further refined to reduce friction levels. So, while the pistons get an increased surface rigidity, there is also a new anti-friction pattern. There is also the new, competitively priced, low viscosity engine oil that has been developed called Honda 3D Oil, which further improves efficiencies. The cooling system also gets a tweak to improve performance. The refined engine also already features a high swirl head port and low compression ratio. I have already had a taste of the engine in the Amaze and it doesn’t fail to impress me again in the City. There is a lot of low-end torque available. Tap on throttle to nudge the needle from an idling 800 rpm to about 1,000 rpm and the City diesel starts to pull clean thereafter. There is enough pulling power available for setting a quick pace, even though peak torque only kicks in by 1,750 rpm. There is almost no perceptible turbo-lag.

To boost the fuel efficiency of the new City iDTEC diesel to a chart-topping 26 kmpl (ARAI rated), Honda has also paired the mill with a six-speed manual transmission with optimised gear ratios. The NVH levels (noise, vibration & harshness) are also low in the City diesel. Insulators and 15 other sound damping measures have been adopted to keep the cabin quiet and it shows. Low rolling resistance tyres, low drag callipers and low friction bearings have also been used to reduce rolling resistance and improve efficiency.

The other engine that the new City is being offered with is the same 1.5-litre, i-VTEC petrol engine from the outgoing City, but with tweaks to improve performance and fuel efficiency. There is also the addition of the new CVT (automatic) transmission, which now delivers more mileage than the 5-speed manual transmission.

The 1,497cc petrol engine with Honda’s Lo-Hi VTEC technology has been slightly retuned to offer a peak power of 119 PS @ 6,600 rpm and a peak torque of 145 Nm @ 4,600 rpm. Better fuel economy is said to have been achieved by the addition of exhaust gas recirculation, optimising combustion valve timing and the use of a double needle plug. Honda engineers say that the new CVT (continuously variable transmission) betters conventional CVT performance with the use of a new CVT fluid, a high tension belt and a more efficient oil pump. The CVT is offered with steering mounted paddles to enable manual selection.

The petrol variant of the new 2014 City feels very much like the old going model in terms of sheer performance. The focus has been on improving fuel efficiency and rightfully so, given the current fuel prices and waning demand for petrol cars. The test mule I drove felt as refined as, but quieter than the previous-gen City.

Bottomline

The ride quality in the new City also feels very familiar, though I missed driving on really bad patches of road during my test drive in Jaipur. There is a likelihood of some improvement in the suspension set up and the more rigid chassis leading to an improvement in handling and ride over bad roads. But the one change I liked was the steering feel of the new column-mounted electric power steering. It is definitely more direct and precise.

Another pet peeve of current owners that has been addressed is the ground contact performance. Though the ground clearance remains the same 165 mm, the exhaust layout around the centre of the wheelbase has been raised to avoid scrapes over speed breakers.

The new City will be available in showrooms within the next few weeks. It represents a generation change from a very Honda perspective – in that it delivers better on all of its promises. Let’s hope that doesn’t translate into too much of a jump in prices also.

Prices for the 2014 Honda City could range between Rs 9 lakh to Rs 12 lakh.

muralidhar.s@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on December 16, 2013)
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