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Living With Honda City Hybrid eHEV

We are in a state of transition. From the noise-making, vibration-inducing, internal-combustion engine-powered cars, we are moving towards zero-emission (from the tail-pipe, at least), instant torque-supplying battery electric vehicles. But this leap is a momentous one. The BEV era needs charging infrastructure, and battery development with more energy density in a compact package. Most of all, it needs a change in perspective in the minds of the end-users – us. So, is there a ‘transitional’ stage?

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There is one and it has been around much longer – it’s the hybrid tech. Honda introduced one many years ago with the Civic Hybrid, but it had low sales figures to show for its advanced powertrain. However, times have changed now, and today hybrids are our transition before we go full electric. We sampled the new Honda City eHEV extensively, and here we will tell you how it is to live with.

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The City eHEV is no different than the standard fifth-gen City. The only tradeoff is the boot space – which is short of 200litres, as it is 310litres as opposed to 506litres in the standard City.

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And apart from a little air vent on the right C-pillar, adjacent to the seats for battery ventilation, there are no changes inside the cabin. The smoothly integrated vent is not uncomfortable by any means and is barely noticeable even if you rub your shoulder/arms over it.

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Then, there are two cupholders for both rows, large enough door pads with one-litre bottle holders on all four corners, and smartly sectioned back seat pockets. These seat pockets have a slot to keep two phones separately, so you don’t have to fish them out from the inside of the pouch.

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With an electronic handbrake, the centre console feels uncluttered and there’s also a slot to keep your phone. Moreover, the driving position of the City is spot on. It’s not only ergonomic, but you also get good visibility all around and the seats are quite comfortable to spend long hours. Although the leatherette upholstery feels nice and premium, it is surely prone to get soiled soon.

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Weirdly enough, the back seat doesn’t get an adjustable headrest. But you sit so snugly into the seat’s contour that you never even notice the lack of adjustment. If you are looking to be chauffeured around, the back seat is best suited for two for better comfort. It is so because the middle seat is narrow and uses a relatively hardened cushioning and has a protruding backrest. Additionally, there’s a manually-operated sunshade on the rear windscreen.

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Now, this City Hybrid is only available in one fully decked-up variant. Added to the mix are some new driver-assist hardware, like lane assist and front collision warning, apart from adaptive cruise control as part of Honda Sensing. While driving the City around town, the collision mitigation warning did pop up and brakes were able to dampen the speed when the distance between the car ahead was too close for comfort. But this is an intelligent system and didn’t pester much in bumper-to-bumper traffic.

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Meanwhile, the lane assist feature that activated beyond 60-70kmph was more of a gentle nudge on the steering as opposed to the arm wrestling some steering wheels put up. Lastly, the adaptive cruise control managed to recognise everything on the road, that is, wherever we were bold enough to test it out. And it also manages the speed accordingly as you unnervingly fiddle with your idle feet.

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Inside, you get an eight-inch touchscreen which can do with some improvement. Although the touch response and feel on it has seen a leap from the previous iteration of the City, cars in many segments below are offering better systems and controls in their touchscreens. Thankfully, you do get the latest-generation smart connectivity.

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For its cost, the City Hybrid doesn’t offer some of the features that are expected at this price point. Case in point, there’s no wireless phone charger, no ventilated seats, and no 360-degree camera either. Some tech-savvy buyers would also want a better infotainment screen, wireless smartphone integration, drive modes, and an all-digital driver’s display.

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We put the City Hybrid’s 1.5-litre petrol engine paired with an electric motor through our rigorous CarWale fuel efficiency test. In the city run, the fuel efficiency was 22kmpl. Meanwhile, out on the highway, the City Hybrid managed 24.69kmpl. With a combined real-world tested mileage of around 22kmpl (ARAI tested figures are 26.6kmpl) and a tank capacity of 40 litres, we can expect a realistic range of around 900km on a tankful.

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The City Hybrid retains its persona as a comfortable car to live with. Unlike an EV, you never have to worry about charging and range. First, with motors taking up responsibilities more often, fuel efficiency would be the last thing on your mind. Second, the switch between the electric motor and the four-cylinder i-VTEC and the hybrid mode is smooth – not even a slight jerk or kick-in vibration. However, some noises and vibrations can be felt when the engine drive is running, mostly because of the CVT gearbox.

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Then, there’s a B mode on the gear lever, beyond D, which focuses on keeping the entire system dependent on batteries as much as it can. So, this increases the brake regen slightly more than normal and switches to EV mode at every single opportunity it can grab. Further, the City Hybrid gets paddle shifters too. But unlike conventional ones, these aren’t for gearshifts, instead, they are for increasing/decreasing brake recuperation levels.

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Despite the added weight owing to the hybrid hardware, the City tips the scale at 1,280kg. In fact, it rides just as supple as the standard City and absorbs road imperfections and irregularities without sending much inside the cabin. We like how the steering has good heft even at slow speeds. Thus, the City Hybrid continues to be a good companion, be it intercity mundane commutes or cross-country expeditions.

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As mentioned earlier, the second-row middle seat won’t be most comfortable for longer journeys. And although sitting five isn’t farfetched, it’s best used as a four-seater. Moreover, the smaller boot will only be happy to carry weekend luggage of four or you’d have to ask your gang to pack lighter. Otherwise, the comfort level inside the cabin is great and spending longer hours here shouldn’t be an issue. It is further helped by large windows, light-coloured upholstery, and comfortable seats.

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We like how at highway speeds, the City Hybrid is capable of holding stable speeds and can even switch to EV mode under steady cruise at around 80-90kmph. Then, if there’s a need for overtakes, it won’t make you wait much longer. The brake regen comes into play too, but silently, without announcing that it is going about its work. Be it driving down to the nearest beach resort for a short getaway, or navigating half the country from one metropolitan to another, the City Hybrid won’t be a bad choice.

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Honda is offering a three-year/unlimited kilometres warranty with the City Hybrid. Furthermore, the standard warranty on the lithium-ion battery is eight-year/1,60,000kilometres (whichever is earlier). Although there’s an extended warranty option at dealer levels, it is stated that the lithium-ion battery is not covered under the extended warranty.

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Before we go full electric, the Honda City Hybrid teaches us how to change over slowly from an ICE to an EV. It teaches us how to rely on electric motors powered by batteries. The City Hybrid might be expensive, and it’s a sedan so it might not find as many takers amongst SUV buyers – but it won’t be as much of a letdown as the Civic Hybrid was because times indeed are changing in its favour.

Pictures by Kaustubh Gandhi

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