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Honda’s third-generation City finally finds the balance between creature comforts and driving instinct, writes Hormazd Sorabjee.

autos Updated: Oct 01, 2008 11:44 IST

The original Honda City captivated Indian car buyers with its blend of performance and sharp handling. In fact, the first City was so good to drive that owners fell completely in love with it and forgave its tacky interiors and low-rent bits and pieces.

Then in 2003, came the second-generation City, the car we know so well — diametrically opposite in nature and lacking the soul of the original car.

Now, in the City’s latest avatar, Honda has attempted to combine the best of both worlds. The all-new, third-generation City offers the practicality of the 2003 version and recaptures some of the driver-appeal of the original.

We had criticised the previous City’s quirky, disproportionate design, which clearly wasn’t to most people’s taste. That City was based on the same platform as the Jazz hatchback and that was the problem, because common parts between the two body styles compromised the saloon’s styling. Except for the platform and other bits you scarcely notice, there’s not a single body panel on this City that’s shared with the Jazz. In fact, the dimensions are a case of function following form.

The focus of the design is the terrific looking front end where the elongated headlamps converge into the sensational grille which protrudes aggressively in the centre. The grille’s V-shaped design bears a strong resemblance to an arrowhead, exactly what Honda was aiming for. The sharp edges and creases add plenty to the City’s character, which looks European from several angles. The rear too is quite distinctive, with strongly sculpted tail lights, a prominent boot spoiler and sharp edged bumper.

The ‘Arrowshot’ design is carried over inside, evident in how the dash swoops up in a V into the prominent brushed-silver finished central console that houses a highly-advanced sound system, which we’ll get to later. The Civic-like steering wheel, with paddle shifters tucked behind it looks great, but we aren’t as convinced about the instrument cluster.
There’s a lot more space in the new City than before, with deeper door pockets and more storage area. There’s only a single glove box now, the area for the second one taken up by the passenger airbag. All Citys will come with airbags and ABS as standard.

The front seats feel plusher and get a deeper cushion area, good for long stints behind the wheel. What about the all-important rear seat? The new City does a commendable job, but it’s not quite the same. Though it has the same low floor and centrally mounted fuel tank, which does wonders for legroom, the ‘H-point’ or hip point is slightly lower. This lower seating position doesn’t provide the same theatre-like effect of the previous City’s back bench, but rest assured, it’s still pretty comfy.

The talking point of the new City is its audio system, which reflects Honda’s intent to unequivocally embrace the digital age. The stereo controls use an interface much like an iPod’s, the rotary selector and four buttons letting you scroll through thousands of songs. Honda isn’t pulling any punches when it comes to sound quality either and has used a high-power amp and top-notch speakers.

The new City has the same 1,497 cc long-stroke block from the previous car but the big news is the switch from the twin-spark i-DSI engine to i-VTEC power. Output goes up to an impressive 116 bhp, which makes this the most powerful 1.5 litre motor in India.

As with all Hondas, both manual and auto options will be available from day one. Gone is the CVT, replaced by a five-speed auto with a torque converter, which locks up for better response and efficiency. Power delivery is very linear, which makes the new City really easy to drive. In full auto mode, the City is surprisingly sprightly too, responding smartly to a kick down with quick downshifts.

The big surprise is the handling, which is possibly the biggest improvement over the older car. Though it still rolls through corners, the lower stance and longer wheelbase give the new car a sense of stability its predecessor never had. The only grouse we have is with the skinny rubber —the 175-section tyres run out of grip quite easily.

It’s really hard to fault this City, which has addressed the flaws of the previous model and built on its strengths. All you need to do is get a fancy set of alloys — not standard here — and fatter rubber. That would push up the price, which is already on the high side and take it closer to Civic territory. But that’s another way to look at the Honda — not just as a grown up City but as a junior Civic. And this car is good enough to be just that.

First Published: Sep 30, 2008 21:06 IST