Living with the Honda City i-VTEC
With sedans making a comeback with the likes of the Skoda Slavia and VW Virtus, Honda has decided to breathe fresh life into the ever-popular City with the addition of a hybrid powertrain. We’re going to be driving the Honda City Hybrid e:HEV very soon but before we do, why don’t we take a look at what the current-gent Honda City i-VTEC is like to live with.
The Honda City is the quintessential sedan. The second longest-running nameplate in India after the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, the Honda City has been the benchmark against which all other cars have been rated — and that’s because for five generations over two decades this has been the best C-segment sedan you can buy. In today’s day and age, it might not be the fastest, or sharpest handling, or the best value for money but when all things are considered this is the best. Except, nobody seems to be buying sedans anymore. The segment has lost its sheen in the face of the SUV assault, the segment even losing relevance what with the City’s rivals dwindling in numbers. And that’s what we are here to find out. Is the sedan still relevant?
Our long-term test car is the petrol because, well, once a fan of VTEC always a fan of VTEC. The fact that Max Verstappen won the F1 World Championship with Honda power brings back memories of road tests in the 2000s that always had the phrase ‘Honda, maker of the best engines in the world’. There’s of course the question of whether naturally aspirated engines can still do the business against turbocharged motors, and on outright performance, the answer is no. When this generation was launched last year we did a drag race and the Volkswagen Vento pulled out a car length at the quartermile mark. But fact also is that the gap was a mere car length, and the i-VTEC sings like no turbo-petrol does.
The motor on the Honda City i-VTEC is a gem. It revs with such enthusiasm and eagerness it is like there is next to no inertia; like the internals are feather-light. And don’t mistake this engine for a carry over from the Gen 4 City — even though horsepower has gone up by a mere 1bhp this is massively improved, the upgrade to a DOHC head making it significantly more torquey. There’s no need to rev the nuts off the engine anymore — there is enough mid-range poke to potter along in a high gear — but boy-oh-boy do you enjoy revving the nuts off this engine. Pull it through the gears, to the 7000rpm red line, and this engine lights the enthusiast’s fires more intensely than any equivalent turbo-petrol. Heel-toe as you downshift, blip and rev-match, this engine eggs you on, puts an incredible smile on your face. I could go on and on about the engine, but I’ll stop and now draw your attention to the gearbox.
Yup, we asked for the CVT and that’s despite every word processor automatically suggesting ‘rubber band effect’ before you even finish typing CVT. Truth is it has been very long since we spent time with a Honda engine, even longer since we played with a CVT, so before EVs take over let’s remind ourselves why this combination works so well. Of course, there is a rubber-band effect but it is significantly toned down than in the past and you only really experience it when you go hunting for the 7000rpm redline. Take a step back and this engine-gearbox combination makes it The Easiest Car to drive, this side of an EV. I’m not kidding, the Honda City with the CVT is unbelievably easy to drive. There is the inalienable truth that NA engines are smoother and more refined than turbos, and then you factor in the fact that a CVT, any CVT, is inherently smoother than a torque converter (and much more so than any DCT). So there you have an unexpected delight with the City, it is the smoothest and easiest car to drive in our fleet!
So should you buy a car over an SUV? Well for starters if you’re concerned about fuel economy the City is incredibly efficient, I’ve been getting 15.5kmpl in the erm, city, and that’s with my press-on driving style. Hit the Eco button and my colleagues have got nearly 17kmpl. This has been used as support car for plenty of shoots but I don’t remember the last time I had to tank it up! No equivalent SUV will deliver that kind of efficiency, nor will it be so easy to drive.
What about dealing with bad roads, the reason why many buy SUVs? I can tell you the City has excellent ground clearance, almost on par with mid-size SUVs, and it doesn’t squat alarmingly on its rear suspension when properly loaded up either. Ingress / egress? Super-easy with the high-set seats and wide door apertures. Visibility? You sit high up (I’d prefer if the seat went a little lower) and have a great view out, plus there’s a nifty blind spot warning for the left side. Comfort? The seats are excellent and there’s plenty of space at the back. Ride? It has become better over the Gen 4 City and the suspension no longer crashes into potholes, but here’s where SUVs and even its rivals score. The City doesn’t iron out small undulations like we’ve now come to expect, feeling unnecessarily busy at low speeds, and that’s the only real bone to pick.
We’re all set to drive the new Honda City Hybrid e:HEV soon next week, stay tuned for our first-drive review and also how it compares with our long term test i-VTEC.