The launch of the City in 1998 marked the official foray of Honda in India and the mid-size sedan quickly caught the fancies of India’s middle class who wanted a top brand that offered Japanese technology, reliability and a fun-to-drive nature that typically characterises Honda products.
In those days, buyers in look for a mid-size sedan had little to choose from with the available options being the Opel Astra, Ford Escort and the older Maruti Baleno. The low-slung sedan was a good-looking, spacious and wooed discerning customers with its plush cabin. These virtues made it quickly gain an aspirational status in the minds of the Indian customer and the first-generation City went on to sell more than 59,000 units over its five-year lifespan.
While the City it was launched with two petrol-only engine options - a 1.3-litre and 1.5-litre unit - the latter also with an automatic transmission, what made an indelible impression on buyers was the introduction of Honda’s cutting-edge VTEC or variable valve timing and lift electronic control technology in 2000. The City 1.5-litre VTEC resonated well with enthusiasts as it offered spirited performance while being light on the pocket. Honda offered unique styling elements like a double-barrel chrome exhaust tip, trunk-mounted spoiler and black interiors with brushed aluminum accents to visually differentiate this top-spec version from the rest of the range.
The Honda City transitioned to its second generation in 2003, with the third-generation model getting introduced in 2008. Honda Cars India has since followed a five-year model lifecycle strategy for its product line-up, and it was the fourth-generation car introduced in 2014, which saw Honda plonk a diesel engine into India’s best-selling midsize sedan. The price gap between the two traditional fuels had many buyers opting for diesel and to cater to the growing demand for the cheaper and more-efficient fuel, and Honda aimed to cater to that requirement.
By October 2017, the City had surpassed the cumulative sales milestone of 700,000 units, but this was also the start of tumultuous times for the carmaker in India as it hit quality issues in the want for better profits. Moreover, the lack of a compelling product portfolio meant Honda Cars India was in panic mode as it faced the double whammy of the pandemic.
As the fifth-generation City was launched in July 2020, the carmaker also decided to shutter its Greater Noida plant later that year in December, in order to optimise its Indian operations. Honda has since been manufacturing from its newer Tapukara plant in Rajasthan. Honda continues to struggle with depleting market share, which is increasingly being eaten up by the Korean duo of Hyundai and Kia with their enticing midsize SUVs, as well as the upcoming onslaught from Japanese partners Toyota and Suzuki which have launched badge-engineered cars that buyers are happy with.
In its attempt to remain relevant in the market, on May 4, 2022, Honda set a technology precedent and introduced the strong-hybrid version of the City alongside bringing in safety-enhancing ADAS features. While it comes priced exorbitantly due to the high taxes on hybrid vehicles in India, the truth is that right from its first generation, the City has stood the test of time and is hoping to keep the brand’s ethos alive until it comes out with its proposed SUV range by next year. The City has been a trusted soldier for Honda in India, doing its duty on the warfront, for which it warrants a second formidable offering that epitomises Honda values.