It is now widely acknowledged that the global and Indian automobile industries are rapidly moving toward a future that is eager to abandon traditional fossil fuel sources. However, it is also well understood that unconventional sources of energy for mobility will necessitate rapid and extensive infrastructure, as well as a total revamp of how we currently power our vehicles. It's all well and well to talk about electric mobility as a means of achieving zero emissions, but in the real world, there's a lot of waiting - both figuratively and literally.
It's either a wait for the perfect electric vehicle to meet your driving and mobility needs or a wait for a charge that could be a major disincentive on lengthy rides if you already possess one. Hybrids, on the other hand, offer to provide the link between clean(er) energy, improved performance, and unrestricted range. When it comes to hybrid powertrains, Honda touts its Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs) technology as the best in the world. It's only natural, then, that the company's flagship model in India, the Honda City, would be the first to be equipped with hybrid technology.
While Honda Cars India has been very restrained in recent years, the City is the unquestioned champion of a dwindling sector known as sedans. The fifth-generation City has been a power player in its own way, with sophisticated appearance, a big cabin, and a solid feature list. The Honda City eHEV, on the other hand, is about to join the market, a model that aims to carve out its own niche and establish a different identity from its petrol-only and diesel-only siblings. We recently dropped down in Bengaluru to test what the City Hybrid brings to the fore. And here's our first-drive review of the all-new Honda City Hybrid eHEV.
Honda City Hybrid eHEV drive credentials:
The Honda City Hybrid is powered by a 1.5-litre petrol engine, but its hybrid credentials are bolstered by two electric motors, one of which serves as a generator and the other as a propulsion motor. The combined power output is 124 horsepower, compared to 96 horsepower from the engine alone. This statistic is, of course, identical to that of the Honda City, which is only available in gasoline.
To simplify, the eHEV technology entails a number of sophisticated processes, including an on-board system that regulates the use of the engine and battery to push the front wheels while ensuring two crucial aspects: improved performance and fuel efficiency. So, is the City Hybrid emission-free? No, that would have been ideal. Is the technology, on the other hand, up to the task in terms of the two critical characteristics outlined earlier?
The City Hybrid's performance credentials have certainly improved significantly. It's sportier and more eager, but it's also deafeningly quiet, at least at first. This is due to the fact that the City eHEV starts on electric power exclusively and then switches to a hybrid model as the speed increases. While the sedan can cruise at low speeds on either electric or hybrid power alone, at roughly 80 kmph, the engine takes over completely. And it's at high speeds that the hybrid City resembles its gasoline-only counterpart. When the throttle is mashed, the engine groans loudly, despite the single gear ratio's best efforts to keep things peaceful. It produces fruit only when triple-digit speeds are approached, and a clean run is achieved.
Within city limits, the electric-only mode performs admirably in stop-and-go traffic, and the three levels of regenerative braking - easily accessed through paddle shifters behind the wheel - are perfectly adjusted without being invasive. In fact, while I weaved in and out of Bengaluru traffic, I usually kept the regen braking at one to avoid having to manually press the brake pedal. However, keep in mind that the lithium-ion battery pack inside is relatively modest - Honda won't reveal the exact dimensions - and that you won't be able to go electric-only for very long.
Nonetheless, our fully loaded City eHEV - four adults, a full boot, and the AC blasting - got around 22 kmpl, and I have no doubt that Honda's figure of 26.5 kmpl in perfect conditions is accurate. With current gasoline prices, the City Hybrid may be a significant winner only on that basis. But, while the Honda City Hybrid eHEV is undoubtedly enjoyable to drive, with the extra benefit of much improved fuel efficiency, what is it like on the inside, and does it stand out aesthetically from the outside?
Honda City Hybrid eHEV safety through SENSING:
Honda didn't just hand you a hybrid and expect you to enjoy the benefits of a more capable drive and greater gas mileage. One of the most notable features of the City Hybrid eHEV is that it is the first model in India to use Honda's much-lauded SENSING suite of safety-related technology. The SENSING technology, which is essentially an ADAS (Advanced Driver-Assistance System), is based on a wide-view camera installed on the windshield and facing the road ahead.
Under supervision, I tested its major highlights like Lane Keep Assist, Forward Collision Warning, Road Departure Mitigation, Adaptive Cruise Control and Collision Mitigation Braking, and on each of these counts, the City Hybrid passed with flying colours.
Each time I steered out of my lane, Lane keeping assistance (LKA) displayed a visual warning on the Thin Film Transistor (TFT) and sounded an audible alarm. When the camera detected a potential risk due to the speed of my car and an object ahead, the FCW activated and sent a visual and audible warning. If a car, truck, two-wheeler, or even a pedestrian gets too close, the City's brakes are automatically deployed to slow it down to 30 km/h. While the FCW was too dangerous to test on public roads, I appreciated how the Adaptive Cruise Control and Road Departure Mitigation technologies worked together to provide a quieter, safer ride. Although it is theoretically conceivable to let the two systems function together in the city on open roads, Honda and I both recommend that you steer with your hands and pay attention to your surroundings at all times. It is remarkable that the Honda Sensing is entirely dependent on one solitary cam and road data stored on cloud to assist drivers. No radar, no sensors.
Honda City Hybrid eHEV exterior and cabin highlights:
Despite the City Hybrid's impressive technology, the eHEV doesn't distinguish out much from its petrol-only counterpart. Even if it isn't immediately apparent, it is obviously - and slightly - sportier on the outside. The Solid Wing face has been somewhat modified, and the claw-style garnish for the fog lamps is eye-catching, as are the black diamond-cut alloys. A trunk lip spoiler and rear bumper diffuser add a noticeable sporty touch without going overboard at the back. Closer inspection reveals a blue 'H' emblem at the front and rear, as well as 'eHEV' inscription on the trunk lid, confirming that this is a hybrid.
When you walk in, you'll see a new two-tone ivory and black interior color scheme. The premium leather upholstery is excellent, and the seven-inch Hexadecimal dump (HD) TFT screen displays all driving-related data. Although I had hoped it wouldn't, the eight-inch main display has been kept. It not only appears to be several years old, but it also has a lot of glare when exposed to sunlight. Apart from that, features like a one-touch sunroof, ambient lighting, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity, and charging stations are also included.
The fact that the boot space has shrunk by roughly 200 liters to just over 300 liters is a major disappointment for me, even though it could not be avoided. The hybrid setup takes up space that would otherwise be reserved for huge bags. At the moment, and at best, the area will accommodate one large suitcase and two carry-on bags. The India model has a spare wheel (global variants have puncture-repair kits) and some useful storage space next to it, but the cargo area suffers as a result.
The Honda City Hybrid eHEV makes a lot of sense right now, when gas prices are at all-time highs and the electric mobility area is still in its infancy. The City is a confident sedan, so incorporating technology into this model is a no-brainer. Add in the fact that the City eHEV is only available in the top-of-the-line ZX trim, and you've got yourself a well-knit vehicle.
However, the official pricing is unknown at the time of writing this article. And that, maybe, is the City Hybrid's greatest strength or greatest folly. This particular model has the ability to take the fight right up to the door of the newer Slavia Time Slot Interchange (TSI) and Virtus GT Line if priced around 18 lakh, also because it is locally built. However, if the Honda City Hybrid is priced at or above 20 lakh, its practicality - as measured by fuel efficiency - may be questioned. It is now up to Honda Cars India to determine if it wants to compete with smart power or hope to remain at the top of the mid-size sedan segment.
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