Honda City sedan celebrates 25 years in India

It is rare to find a car model that holds an esteemed place in the minds of consumers, especially one with bullet-proof engineering and reliability.  Autocar Pro News desk traces the meteoric rise of the marque.

By Chandan B Mallik calendar 25 Oct 2022 Views icon9652 Views Share - Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to LinkedIn Share to Whatsapp

It is no secret that in a price-conscious market like India, to establish impeccable credentials is no mean feat. It takes a lot of effort to do so. As Honda Cars India (HCIL) commemorates the silver jubilee of Honda City in India, the occasion is more than just a testimony to the dream that Honda’s enigmatic founder Soichiro Honda had in mind.

Each generation of the City since inception in 1981 has had a story to tell. Very much like its global sibling, the Jazz, the City was developed as a benchmark small car, “with the intention of becoming the globally accepted standard for compact cars suited to this new era,” without compromising its hallmark spaciousness and useability. And that adage is very visible in cars like the City which began life as a Kei car in Japan to a larger B+ segment model with curated role and responsibilities.

The first Honda City model introduced in India in 1998 was a sedan. The current model is in its fifth generation, also as a sedan (seventh generation if previous body styles are considered – see box below).

Remarkably, it has stood the test of time and has remained the longest running mainstream model in Indian automotive history.

Over the years since introduction, its image has also metamorphosed from a basic car to an aspirational model in a segment that few automakers have had success with. 

India happens to be the largest and most important market for Honda City sedan, currently accounting for over 28 percent of the car’s sales in Honda’s Asia Oceania region (Jan-Aug 2022). In line with Honda's global vision to realise carbon neutrality and zero collision fatalities by 2050, HCIL launched the Honda City e:HEV in 2022, which marked the beginning of Honda’s electrification journey in India.
Takuya Tsumura, President & CEO, Honda Cars India said, “This is a landmark year for Honda brand in India. Our most successful model Honda City is among the most loved car brands in India. As the model turns 25 years young, we express our gratitude to all our customers and partners who have supported us over the years and invite everyone to continue to be with us on the journey ahead.”

Commemorative celebrations are being organised across Honda’s pan-India dealer network for the Honda City.

Evolution is the key for the success of the City
From a three-door hatchback model in Japan to a sedan, van and even an open top in its career including a few name changes, the City’s strong global presence has always been endowed with the core values of Honda in it. 

The current City sold in India can trace its lineage way back to November 1981 when Honda introduced the City, a microcar model in Japan with internal code AA for sedans, VF for vans and FA for the wider Turbo II and cabriolets variants.

Although the design language was essentially based on "Tallboy" hatchback design, four adults could fit in comfortably in this Kei car. In Japan, the smallest light motor vehicle category is referred to as the Kei which are under 3.4 metres in length. 

For some markets like Europe, the City model was sold as the Jazz (Opel had the City name registered in their name at the time).

By November 1986, Honda had prepared the successor to the City series AA code named GA1. The model was refreshed in 1989 as the GA2 and production continued until 1994. For the first time, the Fit badge appeared as a trim variant of the Gen II City. Styling was sharp and in profile it was lower and wider and design elements were borrowed from models like the then Civic.

By the time the Gen III City was being planned, market dynamics prompted Honda to design a subcompact four-door sedan that could comfortably slot under the popular Civic, especially for developing markets in Asia. As a result, market introduction saw the new City as the first-generation sedan. This is the model that put the City on India’s map for Honda. 

1st GENERATION: 1998 - 2003
Honda City’s first-generation model was sold in India between 1998 and 2003 and was based on the sixth-generation Honda Civic EF platform. The model was quite advanced for its day and came with Honda’s VTEC Hyper 16-valve engine that produced 106hp of power. The facelift model in 2001-2002 received newly designed tail lights, single-piece bumpers and rear stabiliser for better handling.

The car was one of the fastest sedans of its time in the country and struck a right chord both among the general consumers and racing enthusiasts.

2nd GENERATION: 2003 – 2008

This generation saw a radical departure in design and architecture. The Gen II sedan made its world debut at the 2002 Bangkok International Motor Show. The development of the City was done by Honda Thailand and mechanically based on the Honda Jazz platform.

The Jazz platform was by itself unique as it had a fuel-tank under the front seat and closer to the centre of the car. Such a concept was known as 'Centre tank-layout' and due to this aspect, the cab forward car was more spacious and comfortable. It also got a new Honda’s 1.5-litre i-DSI or “Intelligent Dual & Sequential Ignition” engine that offered smooth driving and high fuel economy when mated to CVT transmission. In fact, this (CVT) was a first for any car in India. Other modcons included ABS — a rare feature in those days.

3rd GENERATION: 2008 - 2013

The third generation sported a radical departure in design and was unveiled in Bangkok in September 2008. From soft organic surface treatment, it went angular with what Honda calls Arrow-Shot styling. Under the sloping bonnet was an all-new 1.5-litre i-VTEC engine. Standard safety kit was top notch in its segment with features like Dual Front Airbags, and ABS with EBD.

The facelifted models arrived in 2011 with new front grille design, new front and rear bumpers, new taillamps, new alloy wheels and eco driving indicator. Five variants were offered – Corporate, E, S, V and V (Sunroof. The car’s ground clearance was raised to 165 mm (+5mm) and length increased by 20 mm.

4th GENERATION: 2014 - 2020
The sixth-generation City (Gen IV as a sedan) was also built on the Fit/Jazz platform and is Honda's second model to incorporate the "Exciting H" design. Honda introduced the 1.5-litre i-DTEC diesel engine and 1.5-litre i-VTEC petrol engine variants.

Among notable changes was the shifting of the fuel tank from the middle of the car to the rear that allowed the seating position to be lowered.  A new generation CVT was also introduced offering better fuel efficiency than the manual.

The 2017 facelift saw visual and equipment updates like LED headlamps with DRLs and LED taillights. The chrome bar grille was redesigned to mimic that of its bigger sibling, the Civic.

5th GENERATION: 2020 –
The Gen VII City (Gen V as a sedan)] was unveiled in Bangkok in 2019 on a platform shared with the Gen IV Fit/Jazz. In dimensions the car has grown and it is actually slightly larger than the Gen IX Civic sedan (2011–2016). However, the City continues to be positioned as a subcompact or B-segment car in some markets.

The model took a huge leap in Connected Car Services as standard offering and became India’s First Connected Car with Alexa Remote Capability. The newest edition to the aspirational brand in terms of technology is the City e:HEV, a strong Hybrid Electric model.

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