When a carmaker enjoys leadership in the sedan model segment for years without much competition, a few things play out naturally.
Rivals start paying attention to see where they can make an entry to challenge an incumbent, and these looming clouds of disruption can spur innovation, which is good for the customer. Even as Volkswagen launched its Virtus and Skoda its Slavia –– both well-built and well-priced midsize sedans designed to take on the Honda City -- the Japanese giant has had a trick or two up its sleeve as well.
Its recent new launch, the Honda City e:HEV, which stands for hybrid electric vehicle, is an obvious statement on how it sees the much-talked about electric vehicle market evolving.
It uses non-plug-in battery tech that deploys regenerative braking to create energy that powers the driving system up to certain speeds after which the car relies on the traditional internal combustion engine (ICE)-engine power fuelled by gasoline.
Some hybrids like those made by other auto giants such as Toyota have been around for ages, but are also prohibitively expensive. The hybrid Honda City aims to change that while giving customers a fuel-efficient alternative to pure ICE-engine cars. So, how does it stack up?
On the surface, the car looks much like a regular Honda City, except that it comes with many more dashes of chrome on the door handles, bonnet-grills and so on. There are a few deft design tweaks as well, with the tail of the car raking aggressively and projecting a sportier profile than normal and the front of the bonnet receiving a more sculpted finish that may evoke memories of the Honda Civic. The rear bumper diffuser has an edgy carbon finish and the fog lights are embellished with a claw-design. Either way, this is a package that most will either love or hate.
Inside the new City, drivers will find a whole new centre console with compartments for doodads, a refreshing electric parking brake with automatic brake hold, plush leather seating and a sleek dashboard. The seats are more comfortable than older versions of the car. The automatic transmission has also been improved from earlier models, which felt a little plasticky.
Beyond the cosmetic changes, Honda has integrated the new hybrid City with lots of technology and features that include tyre pressure monitoring systems, an all-viewing rear camera system, and lane-watch cameras. The tech for ease of driving includes road departure avoidance systems, collision mitigation braking systems, and adaptive cruise control –– all of which are useful when going on long trips.
The City uses regenerative braking tech to create electric power for the car, which is driven by a two-motor electric-hybrid system.
Here’s how that works: The electric vehicle (EV) drive, which is optimum for casual driving, is powered by a lithium ion battery that gets recharged by the car when the petrol engine switches on and also serves as an electric generator.
At higher speeds, the car is powered by the petrol engine and thus keeps switching between EV motor drive to hybrid drive and engine drive, depending on speeds.
The driver will feel none of that when cruising on highways and in many ways, the City offers a super smooth experience, considering everything going on under the hood. What’s key is that Honda takes the sedan experience to the next level, and with the hybrid tech claims a fuel-efficiency that churns out some 26 km per litre, which is market-beating by any standard.
Will that be enough to lure buyers? Given that the City is priced at around Rs 20 lakh, it seems to be a decent value proposition, all considered.
And given that the market may take a few years to reach optimum levels of electric and alternative-fuelled cars, the e:HEV is a strategic rollout by Honda – one that might just reset the pace for a sedan segment that was in danger of stagnation.
Power: 72 (98) @ 5 600 - 6 400
Torque: 127 @ 4 500 - 5 000
Transmission: e-CVT (Electrically-coupled continuously variable transmission) with engine-linked clutch (wet-type multi-plate)
No of Cylinders: Water-Cooled Inline 4 Cylinder Atkinson cycle i-VTEC DOHC with VTC
Kerb weight: 1,280 kg
Price: Rs 1,949,900 (Ex showroom)