It’s no secret that in a price-conscious market like India, it’s no small feat to build up impeccable credentials. It takes a lot of effort to do that. As Honda Cars India (HCIL) commemorates Honda City’s silver anniversary in India, the occasion is more than just a testimony to the dream Honda’s enigmatic founder Soichiro Honda had in mind.
Every generation of the city since its founding in 1981 has a story to tell. 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 fit for this new era”, without compromising on its distinctive spaciousness. and usability. And that adage is evident in cars like the City, which started life as a Kei car in Japan, to a larger B+ segment model with a certain role and responsibilities.
The first Honda City model introduced in India in 1998 was a sedan. The current model is of the fifth generation, also as a sedan (seventh generation if previous body styles are taken into account – see box below).
Remarkably, it has stood the test of time and has remained the longest running regular model in Indian automotive history.
Over the years since its introduction, its image has also changed from a basic car to an ambitious model in a segment that few car manufacturers have had success with.
India happens to be the largest and most important market for the Honda City sedan, which currently accounts for more than 28 percent of Honda’s Asia-Oceania region (Jan-Aug 2022) car sales. In line with Honda’s global vision to achieve carbon neutrality and zero fatalities by 2050, HCIL launched the Honda City e:HEV in 2022, marking the start of Honda’s electrification journey in India. Takuya Tsumura, President & CEO, Honda Cars India, said, “This is a landmark year for the Honda brand in India. Our most successful model Honda City is one of the most loved car brands in India. As the model turns 25, we express our gratitude to all our customers and partners who have supported us over the years and invite everyone to join us on the journey ahead.”
Honda’s pan-Indian dealer network hosts commemorative celebrations for the Honda City.
Evolution is the key to the city’s success
From a three-door hatchback model in Japan to a sedan, van and even a sunroof in its career, including a few name changes, the city’s strong global presence has always been endowed with Honda’s core values. Chandan B Mallik follows the rise and rise of this model
The current City sold in India dates 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 convertible variants.
Although the design language was essentially based on the design of the “Tallboy” hatchback, four adults could fit comfortably in this Kei car. In Japan, the smallest category of light motor vehicles is called the Kei, which are less than 3.4 meters in length.
For some markets, such as Europe, the City model was sold as the Jazz (Opel had the City name 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 revamped in 1989 as the GA2 and production continued through 1994. For the first time, the Fit badge appeared as a version of the Gen II City. The styling was sharp and in profile it was lower and wider and design cues borrowed from models like the then Civic.
By the time the Gen III City was planned, market dynamics prompted Honda to design a subcompact four-door sedan that could fit comfortably under the popular Civic, especially for emerging markets in Asia. As a result, the new City became the first-generation sedan at market launch. This is the model that put the city on the map of India for Honda.
1st GENERATION: 1998 – 2003
The Honda City 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 time and came with Honda’s VTEC Hyper 16-valve engine that produced 106 horsepower. The 2001-2002 facelift model received redesigned taillights, one-piece bumpers and rear stabilizer for better handling.
The car was one of the fastest sedans of its time in the country and struck a chord with both the general consumer and the racing enthusiast.
2nd GENERATION: 2003 – 2008
This generation saw a radical change 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 unique in itself in that it had a fuel tank under the front seat and closer to the center of the car. Such a concept was known as ‘Centre tank layout’ and this aspect made the front cabin more spacious and comfortable. It also got a new Honda 1.5-litre i-DSI or “Intelligent Dual & Sequential Ignition” engine that offered smooth handling and good fuel economy when mated to the CVT transmission. In fact, this (CVT) was a first for any car in India. Other modcons included ABS – a rare feature at the time.
3rd GENERATION: 2008 – 2013
The third generation had a radically different 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 hood was an all-new 1.5-litre i-VTEC engine. The standard safety kit was top of the line with features such as Dual Front Airbags and ABS with EBD.
The facelifted models arrived in 2011 with a new grille design, new front and rear bumpers, new taillights, new alloy wheels and an eco driving indicator. Five variants were offered: Corporate, E, S, V and V (Sunroof. The ground clearance of the car was increased to 165 mm (+5 mm) and the 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 with the “Exciting H” design. Honda introduced the 1.5-litre i-DTEC diesel engine and 1.5-litre i-VTEC petrol engine variants.
One of the notable changes was the shifting of the fuel tank from the center of the car to the rear, which allowed for a lowering of the seating position. A new generation CVT was also introduced that offered lower fuel consumption than the manual.
The 2017 facelift saw visual and equipment updates such as LED headlights with DRLs and LED taillights. The chrome grille was redesigned to mimic that of its bigger brother, the Civic.
5th GENERATION: 2020 –
The Gen VII City (Gen V as sedan)]was unveiled in 2019 in Bangkok on a platform shared with the Gen IV Fit/Jazz. The car has grown in size and is actually slightly larger than the Gen IX Civic sedan (2011-2016). In some markets, however, the City is still positioned as a sub-compact or B-segment car.
The model made a huge leap forward in Connected Car Services as a standard offering and became India’s first Connected Car with Alexa Remote Capability. The latest edition from the ambitious brand in terms of technology is the City e:HEV, a strong Hybrid Electric model.