For many, Honda is a name synonymous with quality and for most, it is in the vanguard of reliability and no-nonsense engineering. But to be on the cutting edge of technology hasn’t really been its prerogative in India. Not until now at least.
The City has been a mainstay of the Honda portfolio for almost two decades but it’s this fifth-generation car that aims to really amuse the technophiles. The exterior which is an all-new design starts dropping hints already with its LED headlight cluster and 3D-shaped tail lights that resemble a BMW 3 Series design. Overall, it’s a much sharper look than the outgoing model but we would’ve liked wheels that are a size or two bigger to go with the added muscle of the new design.
On the inside, things have been spruced up considerably with great quality plastics and lashings of leather around the cabin, including the door pads and seats. The all-digital 7in colour display in the instrument cluster with an analog needle is a nice touch and is rife with information and fun stuff like tire pressure monitoring and a G-force meter. Even though it has a humble 120bhp, 1.5L naturally-aspirated 4-cyl petrol engine, this CVT-equipped sedan can offer brisk acceleration for you to see some action on the G-force meter. The associated whine of the engine when you mash the throttle isn’t a pleasant sound though, especially as the CVT builds up revs quicker than it gathers momentum. Go easy on the motor and it does achieve triple-digit speeds without a fuss, even revving all the way to its redline, allowing you to use the paddle shifts for a bit more involvement. The digital tachometer can be supplemented with a host of information inside the dial and is easily controlled by a scroll wheel as part of the steering mounted controls. It’s a full-featured steering wheel with cruise control, telephony, voice assistant and of course, media controls. All of which is very ergonomic and the little dial to cycle through options is a nice touch as well.
Livin’ on the watch
Honda has gone for a unique strategy with the 5th-gen City and equipped it with the same infotainment system regardless of trim or variant. The 8in touchscreen is easy to use and comes with an optical bonding display coating that robs it of gloss somewhat but does cut down on reflections and some fingerprints too. Piped through 8 speakers (midrange+tweeter duo on each door), it sounds like you’d expect it to without any surprises, good or bad. There’s enough power to go loud and drown out conversation and the delivery is acceptable with a mature sound at low volume levels that is balanced but the moment you turn it up and start to party, the bass will show up inadequacies in low-end response and the highs tend to sound shrill as well. But, for everyday use and for almost everyone out there, it’s a sound that is par for the course. More importantly, though, it’s the connected features that the City really likes to brag about and I do have good news on that front.
The Honda Connect app that lives on your phone is one of the better designed connected car apps with a clear view of your car’s location along with a virtual dial display as the home screen. Authenticate with Face ID and it allows you to delve deeper into the myriad of functions like flash its headlights to locate the car in a parking lot, door lock/unlock, remote engine start and my personal favourite and probably the most useable one for our country….turning on the AC remotely. Pre-cooling the cabin is an absolute blessing on a hot and sultry day in Mumbai and the Honda City app takes all of 10 seconds to second commands OTA and turns the engine on and subsequently, the air-conditioning. The app even asks you what temperature is your preference and if you’d like to pre-cool immediately or at a prescribed time. It’s pretty neat, easy and best of all...it works! The fact that all the apps functions are relayed back to your smartwatch is either a matter of convenience or annoyance. I kept getting alerts on how I’m overspeeding even within the city, every time the car went over 30kph! That’s an overzealous warning and I’m not too sure of where it’s getting its in-city speed limit data from, but of course, you can switch off watch alerts if you don’t like being nannied all the time. If you do have a chauffeur or a young one behind the wheel, it’s always a great security measure to have though, so Honda has really worked out its connectivity with the City with the things that matter.
Sure, some might miss wireless charging but with its implementation of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto done well, most people will anyways be plugging in their phones via a cable. 2 USB slots in the front along with a 12V socket is what you get and is expected but on the rear, instead of USB ports, Honda gives you a pair of additional 12V sockets. That’s an unpopular choice considering you’ll have to buy or hopefully own USB-adapters to help the rear passengers out.
Alexa, start a revolution!
As the first car in India to have built-in Amazon Alexa, the Honda City also aces the ‘first-in-segment’ roll call. It’s pretty straightforward to use too. Just download the Honda skill on your Alexa app, link it to your Amazon account and try and memorise the commands that you might be using every day and off you go. It works like a charm with clear instructions that vocalise every prompt that you would otherwise see on the Honda Connect app very well. Essentially, you could casually ask Alexa to Open Honda or Ask Honda to turn on the car’s AC, while having lunch before leaving for a meeting. It really does add a layer of convenience over using the app on your phone. In terms of its range of skills, most of them are a replica of the Honda Connect app so things like boot opening, find my car, tire deflation alert, time fencing, fuel status and location are supported, besides start car and AC. You don’t even need to own an Alexa home device for this to work, simply install the Alexa app on your phone and it works in a similar fashion.
The equipment list goes on with a powered sunroof, rear parking sensors with a camera that offers multiple views and even a LaneWatch camera that alerts you of objects in the blind spot either while overtaking or opening the passenger door. In theory this works well but I kept wishing for better resolution, both on the side and rear parking cameras, especially on an ominous Mumbai evening lashed with rains. Honda hasn’t skimped on safety either with again a segment-first of six airbags, Agile Handling Assist, Hill Hold etc. Sitting inside the cabin, the evolution of the City can clearly be felt in its plush ride, great materials. reduced NVH levels and ease of drive that is appealing to first-time owners or City repeat customers. It may not scream big numbers but it is quietly the roomiest car in its category and feels like a comfortable mile muncher should. It will keep you entertained with tech that works but if it's driving thrills you’re looking for, the CVT shouldn’t be your first choice. It’s a transmission that puts convenience and smoothness above all else. And if you’re considering the City, that should be your first priority anyway! Honda has ensured that with a mix of large physical buttons and sizeable virtual ones, its infotainment system is easy to use, swift and least distracting of the current crop of cars. It’s a city staple that has just been given a gourmet touch.