Unlike other parts of the world, the brand Honda has been synonymous with the City in India. It is the product that helped establish the brand in 1998 and has ever been the most important in its line-up. It doesn’t matter how many they are selling, Honda has always religiously replaced the City every five years. Only the outgoing fourth gen City launched in 2013 had a longer life span of nearly seven years. What’s more, they aren’t killing it off right away because Honda has plans to sell it alongside the new fifth generation, to have a big portfolio of sedans namely Amaze, City, new 2020 City and the Civic. So what does the new 2020 Honda City have to make it stand out?
The new City has styling cues borrowed from the larger Civic and Accord. The front has the typical broad chrome grille that flanks the new LED headlamps. The three dimensional LED tail lamps have a striking resemblance to the one on the current BMW 3 series. The side profile has some resemblance to the earlier City but the extra length is quite evident. The new City is 109mm longer, 53mm wider and 6mm lower than the previous gen car. Apparently it has the same wheelbase and that’s what gives it ungainly front and rear overhangs. The shoulder line has been raised and that gives the impression of wheel arches and the 16 inch wheels inside them being too small too. The City measures 4.5 metres long making it the longest in its segment and even longer than the prev gen Civic.
The new City has been thoroughly revamped on the inside as well. The front seats are heavily bolstered and feel very comfortable. The rear has class leading legroom and width, but taller folks may find a small problem with the sloping roofline. The back rest is a very comfortable angle which together with the sloping floor gives a very relaxing posture. The dashboard is a better design with new wood and leather finishes and more soft touch materials on top. Gone are the touch based HVAC controls that were difficult to operate while driving and in their place are new tactile knobs with a knurled rim that operate with a satisfying click. The gauge cluster has a neatly integrated 7 inch screen which becomes a tachometer or a G meter or show trip related data depending on what you choose to see.
The 8 inch infotainment screen isn’t the sharpest or brightest around, but it has a whole host of connected tech added to it. You can connect your phone to use geofencing, vehicle tracking, service alerts, payment gateway, vehicle theft notification, remote immobilisation, emergency service etc. Also new in segment is the integration of Alexa into the unit which means you can now ask the Echo at home to start the car, set the AC temperature or check the service due, or how much fuel you have left etc. The infotainment screen also has Apple Car Play, Android Auto, Weblink connectivity etc. The City is loaded with features such as sunroof, six airbags, a tyre pressure monitoring system, a blind spot camera for the left hand side etc.
While the competition has embraced turbocharging and downsizing, Honda has stuck to their tried and 1.5 litre naturally aspirated engine. It has been given DOHC for the first time in India and this L15B engine doesn’t disappoint. It pulls cleanly from low revs and has excellent drivability which none of its turbo charged rivals can match. For example, you can go down to 18kmph in 3rd gear and such tractability makes for an easy car to drive in the city. It produces 120bhp and 145Nm which are similar figures to the old L15A engine. The car is 40 kilos heavier and the gearing is taller than before and that shows in the 0-100kmph acceleration of 10.3 seconds and in the in gear times. Still the 6 speed MT is a joy to use and although it gets a little loud after 3500rpm, you can get some driving pleasure from driving it fast. It just lacks the mid-range punch of modern turbo petrols but for sheer drivability, this one wins hands down. The City is also available in petrol CVT which Honda claims has reduced rubber band effect and gives better acceleration. There is also a 99bhp diesel 6 speed manual variant which supposedly has better NVH now, thanks to a 200 percent thicker firewall.
Honda has retuned the suspension components although the mounting points are the same. The City has a newfound maturity in its ride quality, being softer and more absorbent over broken roads. It rides well like a European car, but the front end isn’t as planted at high speeds on undulating roads as we would like. The front overhang needs to be accounted for while approaching slopes and also when taking tighter turns in a car park.
The steering is superbly weighted and precise. Even on these skinny 185/55R16 tyres, it seems to grip surprisingly well. That is mostly down to the ‘Agile Handling Assist’ which brakes an inside wheel to make the car tuck into a corner better – something that we have come to love in the Civic too. It doesn’t make its presence felt and most drivers won’t even notice it unless you are on a slippery surface, but makes the car feel more agile. Brakes are strong and pedal feels progressive despite having too much travel. There is a hint of body roll and the suspension does feel soft, but the mechanical and electronic systems working in unison feel great from a driver’s perspective. With the right set of rubber and slightly stiffer suspension, I am sure this chassis will set impressive lap times around a tight circuit.