Few cars in recent times have made Indian consumers wait as much as the diesel version of Honda’s best-selling sedan, the City, which was the company’s gateway into India, and had an unchallenged run in the mid-size sedan category till a few years ago. Increasing appetite for diesel’s silly economics and Honda’s weakness in that aspect, however, left the City vulnerable --- and the Hyundai Verna cashed in.
City diesel is coming next month, better late than never. Let’s look at what it brings.
The diesel version coincides with a full model change, so we will get the fourth generation City in the first week of January. Going by track record, expectations have been high. And as is so often the case, the new design is something of a letdown. Precious little is different on the outside. Dimensions are constant, just the wheelbase is slightly longer. The low ground clearance, a problem with all Honda cars, has not been touched. The dual projector headlamps are wider and sharper, while the grille gets bolder chrome accents. The rear gets a new wraparound tail lamp cluster, and an integrated spoiler edge for the boot lid. LED tail lamps are missed. Honda seems to have played safe.
The Verna exposed Honda’s weaknesses inside the cabin. Honda has addressed that handsomely. The steering wheel is from the new CR-V, and the dashboard layout is new. And there is no lack of equipment: 5-inch LCD screen with embedded rear parking camera, rear air condition vents, 8-speaker music system, four power outlets for charging gadgets, push start and stop ignition … the list is long.
The new wheelbase gives rear seat space that Honda claims is comparable to cars that cost double.
RIDE AND HANDLING
The highlight of the car is clearly the 1.5-litre iDtec diesel engine that has made the Amaze a roaring success. But in the bigger car, it will not impress adrenaline junkies. Power and torque are identical to the Amaze at 100 PS and 200 NM; Verna’s two diesel engines and the Vento offer more grunt. What the City does give is a sorted drive, which the others don’t. A lot of work has been done to keep the motor quiet, and it has paid off. Suspension, too, has been tuned for precise handling, though this may make the ride choppy at the rear seat. For all the power it has, the Verna does not handle half as well. The 6-speed transmission is effective, and with no turbo lag, the car is fast into three-digit speeds. Only beyond 160 kph does it start to feel strained. The headline grabbing number is fuel economy: 26 kpl! In real road conditions this may fall, but the Amaze has proved that 20 kpl-plus is achievable. For a sedan, that is indeed a big deal.
It is clear that City takes forward the journey that the Amaze started. It was known that it would have the same engine, but one expected greater power and lower fuel economy. By doing the opposite, it has stumped the market. The fuel economy gives the City a huge advantage to cap the exciting cabin, the balanced ride and the peppy drive. For long, the City was the most expensive car in its class, but on January 7, we expect pricing to mirror competitors. If that happens, it is difficult to put this City down.