2020 Honda City: First Drive Review
A new Honda City always has us buzzing with excitement and expectations. Does the fifth generation bring with it a refreshing premium change?
Honda’s City is a special sedan for us. Through its four generations and 20 years, it’s delivered on several counts. From being a driver-focused pocket rocket to the pick for the backseat buyer, it’s come full circle.
An all-new generation is finally here. Honda seems to have played it safe, not straying too far from what made the fourth generation a roaring success. Let’s dive deeper:
Even if we covered the badges on the car, you’d instantly recognise it. The design traits that made the fourth-generation distinct have been carried over. So, even though there’s practically nothing common between the two, it seems familiarly likeable.
Of course, the City has grown in size a fair bit. It’s gained 109mm in length and 53mm in width. At a glance, the added length is apparent and so is the fact that the nose is no longer low and sleek. It’s now upright and wide, making the City look a little more confident. A wider grille -- finished in chrome -- extends over the headlamps.
The headlamps are sure to be a talking point for their resemblance to the units on the Accord and Civic. Equipped with an array of bright white LEDs, daytime running lamps and LED turn indicators, the City makes a promising first impression. We, however, wish Honda had considered dynamic turn indicators, just to give it an added dose of bling because the rest of the car seems a bit sombre compared to the outgoing generation.
The creases on the side profile are a bit subdued and the 16-inch alloy wheel design continues to be a bit busy. Honda has stuck to weedy 185-section tyres in interest of fuel efficiency. We reckon a wider set of 195s would’ve given the City a better stance.
Viewed from the rear, you’d wonder where all of the chrome disappeared. Tail lamps now feature LED lighting elements that illuminate in a ‘Z’ pattern. Vertical reflector strips on the bumper help lend some visual contrast to an otherwise straightforward design. Exhaust tips continue to be tucked away from view, and there’s a classy shark-fin antenna too: just like the outgoing generation.
From a design standpoint, the City seems to have grown up. It will appeal more to the racer kid’s parents now. The dashboard design is now symmetrical and straightforward, even if visually a bit bland. Colours are a lot more inviting in beige-black and silver, instead of the black and dark-grey.
For that premium touch, Honda has added stitched leather surfaces on the crash pad, elbow rests and the centre console. There’s a wooden insert on the dash too, in a lovely dark glossy finish. We wish this extended on to the door pads too, to uplift the ambience of the cabin.
We’d expected a step up in interior quality too. The graining of the plastic on the dashboard and the door pads doesn’t belong in a car that costs as much. Hyundai’s Verna continues to be the benchmark here.
The large and wide-opening doors on the City mean getting in and out isn’t going to be an issue, even for the elderly. They’d also appreciate that you don’t ‘sink’ into the cabin all that much anymore. The seating position now feels a lot more neutral. With the lower set dashboard and a window line that’s at shoulder level the sense of space is amplified too.
With the wheelbase remaining unchanged, Honda has resorted to making the dashboard slimmer and used simple horizontal design elements to make more room. That’s evident by the 80mm increase in maximum kneeroom when you’re in the front seat.
With seat-height adjust for the driver’s seat and tilt-telescopic steering, finding a comfortable driving position is rather straightforward. However, if you’re above 6ft tall, you’d find yourself a bit too close to the roof even with the seat at its lowest setting. While the overall height has dropped by an insignificant 6mm on the outside, headroom is now down by up to 40mm. Also, the front armrest is non-adjustable and placed low. Practically, it’s only the co-driver that gets to use it.
Honda has also shaved off a cool 60mm from the width of the backrest, which might make it a bit uncomfortable for those generously proportioned. Honda claims this has been done to provide the rear occupant better forward visibility. That’s the reason why the height of the front headrest is now chopped by 15mm too. If you’ll be occupying the rear seat very often, you’d have quite a lot of room to spare. With the front seat set for a six-footer, there’s an extra 70mm of kneeroom here. Honda has scooped out the front seatbacks, compounding the amount of space available. Just like before, the floor is raised at an angle, acting as a natural footrest.
There’s no difference in headroom at the rear. It’s key to note that Honda has dropped adjustable rear headrests altogether, opting for large fixed headrests. Honda officials confirmed that these have a frame inside them and aren’t entirely made out of foam. Cabin width has taken a minor 35mm hit. That’s not to say you can’t sit three abreast here. It’s entirely possible.
We’d rather use the City as a four-seater, with the rear armrest down. All passengers will appreciate the denser cushioning (Honda claims it’s thrice as thick now), which won’t have you sink into the seats over a long journey.
There are some thoughtful utility spaces including the cupholders on the armrest and mobile phone pockets in the seatbacks. Front occupants have large door bins, a usable shelf on the centre console, and a few more cubbies around the handbrake.
The City’s boot space is now marginally lower at 506-litres compared to the earlier 510-litres. It still convincingly trumps what you’d get in a Rapid, Vento or Verna.
Technology and Features
Everything we’ve loved about the Honda City has been carried over. On the top-spec ZX model, there’s leatherette upholstery, an electric sunroof, automatic headlamps and cruise control too. You also get automatic climate control minus the unnecessarily fancy touch-based interface. The reassuring feedback from the rotary knob is satisfying and the colour changing background is a cool party trick.
Honda has also carried over the practical retractable sunblind for the rear windshield. Makes us wonder why the City doesn’t get blinds for the rear windows. Considering the rear-seat focus of the newer City, at least one USB charger at the rear would’ve been helpful instead of two 12V sockets.
In the front seat, you’re treated to a new 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system. It gets the usual connectivity options including Android Auto and Apple CarPlay and also relays feed from the parking camera. The screen itself looks, feels and responds like an aftermarket setup. We’d have loved to see cohesiveness in the fonts and graphics used here, and in the driver’s display. Viewing angles could’ve been better too. Also, we have to point out that the video quality is appalling.
The display also relays feed from the new LaneWatch camera placed under the left-wing mirror. Here too, the aspect ratio of the video is a bit off, making cars seem narrower and taller than they actually are. This feed could’ve (and should’ve) been sent to the screen in the instrument cluster since taking your eyes off the road and onto a screen located centrally is counter-intuitive. Kia’s Seltos has proven that this setup can work beautifully.
A new feature we absolutely love is the 7-inch driver’s display. It’s integrated seamlessly into the instrument cluster and is rich in terms of graphics and readability. Over and above the usuals including fuel, trip and door information, Honda has also cheekily thrown in a G-force meter. Another feature that seems interesting is the Amazon Alexa compatibility. Honda’s ‘Connect’ tech enables connected car tech that lets you track your car and remotely lock/unlock it. However, you can also ask Alexa to do all of it using voice commands. We’d love to test this when we get our hands on the car for a longer period.
Honda could’ve added in a whole lot more to set new benchmarks for the segment to follow. Powered driver’s seat, 360° camera, an air purifier, cooled glovebox and ventilated front seats would’ve all added to a richer, more premium experience.
While it doesn’t seem like it, there’s an updated petrol engine under the hood of the Honda City. It’s still a 1.5-litre unit, but it now produces an additional 2PS of power, at 121PS. Torque, however, remains identical at 145Nm, but is now delivered earlier. Has the drive experience changed at all?
Nope. The petrol engine remains familiar to drive. That’s to say it’s smooth, refined, and loves being taken to the redline. The feather-light clutch and slick gear throws will keep fatigue at bay. You can drive about in the city in second or third gear all through the day. Third gear, in particular, is quite versatile, letting you pick up from speeds lower than 30kmph, all the way past 100kmph. The engine feels composed tackling highway duties too, chugging along at 2500rpm at 100kmph. The introduction of the new 6-speed gearbox is to credit for this. You could also credit it for the boost in claimed efficiency, which now stands at 17.8kmpl, bettering the previous 17.4kmpl.
If you love free-revving non-turbo motors, the City delivers on the sense of drama too. The engine makes a sweet sporty sound as you rev it up. If your idea of clearing your head involves a spirited drive, the City will gladly be your companion.
We simply have to say this is the most refined CVT we’ve driven in this price range. It’s tuned brilliantly, and you might even think it’s a torque converter. Honda claims the gearbox behaviour is tailored to suit Indian tastes. Apart from an expected split-second lag between you pressing the accelerator and the car actually accelerating, there’s practically nothing to find fault with.
Power is delivered in an unhurried but smooth manner, letting you enjoy the drive. Even under hard acceleration, the gearbox doesn’t hold the revs at the redline like typical CVTs. It instead mimics a torque converter, letting you rev to the redline in each ‘gear’. You get paddle-shifters too, should you want to have complete control while driving hard and fast through the ghats. Even if you leave it to its own, it doesn’t feel confused in everyday driving scenarios.
The 100PS diesel motor feels no different under the bonnet of the new City. You still have a hint of turbo lag under 2000rpm. For city duties, you’d have to be careful about the gear you’re in -- even downshift to ensure the engine doesn’t knock in protest. Speed breakers will require you to be in second, pulling clean from low speeds in third isn’t all that easy. That said, you’d enjoy the smoother shifts from the gearbox -- it doesn’t feel notchy like before.
However, the engine really comes into its comfort zone out on the highways. It’s perfectly happy maintaining 100-120kmph all day long and is a great long-distance mile muncher. Claimed efficiency of 24.1kmpl is now lower than the earlier 25.6kmpl. But, it’s realistic to expect it to actually deliver similar numbers on highway runs.
Note: Noise, Vibration and Harshness (NVH)
Honda claims to have improved the NVH characteristics of the new City. This has been done by using rubber beading on both the door and body side, spray foam over welding joints, and even a thicker firewall.
For the diesel, the engine block and the chaincase were worked upon to reduce vibrations. All of these work well in conjunction to deliver a quieter drive experience though it retains its sharp clatter when pushed hard.
Ride and Handling
With the update, Honda has fixed the unnecessarily stiff ride quality that plagued the fourth-generation City. The suspension tune is unique for Indian roads, tailored to take on our potholes and bumps. We’re happy to report there’s a massive step up in the way the City deals with bad roads. Shock absorption has improved noticeably and the suspension is also quieter as it goes about tackling them. This softer suspension, thankfully, hasn’t resulted in a floaty feeling on the highway. It remains planted.
Sure, this has introduced a little bit of body roll. But that’s a trade-off you’d be more than happy to live with. With a precise steering, the City continues to be fun around corners. It’s the right weight for the city and highway too, no complaints.
Braking duties are handled by disc brakes up front and drum brakes at the rear. The brakes bite early and the pedal feel is confidence-inspiring too. The only limiting factor in the overall package for us are the skinny 185-section tyres.
The top-spec Honda City comes equipped with six airbags, ABS with EBD, and a host of tech including hill assist, vehicle stability control as well as tyre deflation warning. There’s an improvement in the rigidity of the City’s shell too, thanks to the use of high-tensile strength steel. The India-spec City hasn’t been crash-tested yet but Honda’s internal tests show it’s capable of scoring a full 5 stars in the ASEAN NCAP.
Honda’s fifth-generation City sticks to the tried-and-tested formula. We reckon Honda should’ve used this opportunity to set a new benchmark in this segment. Hard, scratchy plastics feel out of place. Better plastic quality or even soft-touch materials would’ve helped the City deliver on a richer cabin experience. It could also do with some more features to match Hyundai’s Verna too.
That said, it’s building upon the core strengths of the City. An improvement in rear seat space is a pleasant surprise. If you are looking for a car to be driven around in, the City makes for a solid choice. That’s also because the ride quality is now a whole lot better, filtering out road imperfections without making a racket. If you pick the petrol-CVT, the smooth automatic will keep you stress-free in traffic too.
We’re expecting prices to be more or less similar to the existing City with top-spec variants ranging between Rs 13.5 lakh and Rs 14.5 lakh. It’s already among the most expensive sedans you can buy in this segment. Even with the new generation, you’re paying for a balance of feel-good features and space.
“It feels just like a Honda City should,” that’s the predominant emotion among all of us here at CarDekho, but it definitely should've upped the game.