The Honda City has been around for over a quarter of a century now! That makes it one of the longest-running nameplates in the country – which is quite something, isn’t it? More importantly, even 26 years later, it is the undisputed king of the hill when it comes to the premium sedan segment. And for 2023, Honda has given the current generation City – the fifth generation version for the Indian market – a midlife update. In fact, this update comes early, considering the car was only launched in July 2020 as the launch was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But we are one of the first markets to get the facelifted version, and we’re certainly not complaining!
Cosmetic updates to the car, especially the exterior, are not extensive. More importantly, Honda has rejigged the line-up by adding more variants and also axed the diesel version. A few eyebrows are sure to go up due to the move, but then, the death knell for diesel-powered cars was sounded a while ago. So the City will now soldier on powered by the 1.5-litre i-VTEC engine and 1.5-litre Atkinson Cycle petrol engine (that powers the strong hybrid, dubbed the e:HEV) and both engines meet the RDE (Real Driving Emissions) norms and are E20 or 20 percent ethanol blend compliant as well. I spent half a day switching between the regular petrol and strong hybrid versions and the updates to the sedan are more extensive than what you might think at first glance!
If you look at the pre-facelift version, you’ll agree it leaned towards looking grander courtesy the extensive use of chrome, besides the larger dimensions. But with the facelift, there is a noticeable shift towards finishing surfaces in black and admittedly, the black finish on the new, honeycomb patterned grille, the blacked-out surrounds for the fog lamps and even the carbon fibre like finish at the bottom of the bumper look nicer and add a hint of sportiness. The bumper itself looks and feels sportier than the previous and I felt its design goes particularly well with the shade of blue you see here, which is a new addition. The headlamps remain unchanged and the top, ZX variant we drove, continues to be equipped with the same smart-looking LED headlamps as before.
The City’s sides remain unchanged, though the alloy wheels use a new design. The silhouette of the car looks as sporty as ever, though I’d really like to lower the car, add skirtings all around and make it look even cooler. It’s the rear end that looks the most appealing and sportier though, courtesy of the faux splitter, with a carbon fibre-like finish again, and the boot spoiler. Overall, the changes are subtle, but you really won’t have trouble distinguishing this one from the older version.
The interiors remain unchanged as well, but yes, there are a few additions and updates. The instrument cluster is the same and integrates a seven-inch display and analogue speedometer, like before. I like this arrangement for its retro cool factor, besides which it is very informative. There’s tonnes of information you get from the display and I dare say, this is one of the best integrations of an analogue speedometer and digital tachometer, at least in the mass market segments. You get everything from a G-meter to average speeds and the like or you could simply go old-school and have only the tachometer on display. The infotainment screen has not grown in size but boasts a sharper resolution and looks crisp with brighter colours now. The interface is slick and the system also supports wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto now.
The dashboard continues to use hard plastic, except for the central rib that has a leather finish, but quality of plastics and overall feel is top notch as always. Topping it all inside the cabin as always though is the car’s spaciousness, thanks to its dimensions and also Honda’s man maximum, machine minimum philosophy! A big addition as part of the update is the inclusion of Advanced Driver Assist Systems or ADAS to the regular petrol version too, which debuted on the strong hybrid last year. And that makes the City the first non-hybrid sedan in its segment to get the functionality. Besides making ADAS standard across the range, except on the base variant, Honda has also added a few more features inside.
These include wireless charging, on the hybrid and regular petrol version, though there is a difference. The strong hybrid uses an electronic parking brake which liberates space between the two front seats and this is where Honda has placed the wireless charging pad. The regular petrol City uses a manual parking brake though and hence gets a detachable wireless charging pad that sits over the cup holders. So when not using it, you can simply chuck the wireless charger into the glovebox to liberate more storage space. Higher variants also benefit from the addition of tyre pressure monitoring, rain-sensing wipers and ambient lighting, besides six airbags. Honda is also offering the e:HEV in a lower variant now, badged the V, in a bid to make the strong hybrid version more accessible, besides adding a base, SV variant to the regular petrol version.
There is absolutely no change on the powertrain front and the 1.5-litre, four cylinder, i-VTEC petrol engine and 1.5-litre, Atkinson cycle petrol engine in the strong hybrid are the same as before. Yes, the diesel is gone, but good news is that the strong hybrid version of the Honda City is the most fuel efficient petrol sedan in the country with a claimed figure of 27.13kmpl!
And with no change to the powertrains, both versions feel the same as before from behind the wheel. The e:HEV isn’t exactly a driver’s car, especially since it takes off in pure electric mode and the wheels are driven by the electric motor alone. But VTEC kicking in, in the petrol version, is quite a feeling and will have petrolheads break into a smile.
The petrol engine also feels very refined just like before and I even enjoyed giving the six-speed manual gearbox a thorough workout, as gear changes are slick and slot in precisely. Transmission options haven’t changed either which means that besides the six-speed manual you can have the regular petrol engine with a highly impressive CVT, while the strong hybrid can be had exclusively with the eCVT. This update is a bit of a disappointment for me on the powertrain front though. And that’s because Honda also sells the City with a 1.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine in other markets and now would have been a good time to bring it to India, since the Škoda Slavia, Volkswagen Virtus and new generation Hyundai Verna are all offered with turbocharged petrol engines too.
With no changes whatsoever to the mechanicals, the 2023 Honda City feels the same as before to drive. That’s not a bad thing at all though since we’ve always hailed the Honda City for its brilliant dynamics. It feels planted at speeds, goes around corners with gusto and feels confident at all times, thanks to its well-tuned suspension and responsive steering. The ride quality is as good as it gets too and in fact its plush ride is one reason why a lot of chauffeur driven executives prefer the City over other sedans. That said, its space, especially the legroom and kneeroom at the rear, the comfortable seats and great road manners are what help the Honda City tick a lot of boxes, for a lot of buyers.
Prices for this updated Honda City begin at ₹ 11.49 lakh ex-showroom and go up to a little over ₹ 20 lakh for the top trim of the strong hybrid. So pricing is in the same league as its rivals, but more importantly, Honda has upped the City’s premium quotient further and made it even more desirable now. The City has always enjoyed a loyal fanbase across generations and this facelift will help it continue the trend. That said, I also want Honda to now inject the sedan with a healthy dose of sportiness, because sedans are not just back in vogue, they’ve also gotten sportier now!