Thereís a new Honda in town and boy, have we Indians been waiting for it! The ZX (which Honda insists we call Zee-X) hasnít come a moment too soon. The old Honda City had captured both the hearts and minds of many car lovers, when it was launched with what was easily the smoothest and most well-balanced of engines ' seen in both the 1.3-litre and the 1.5-litre. Both were enthusiastsí cars and handled superbly with very positive steering feedback. Of course, the VTEC engine that came later was the cherry on top of the cake. So, when that first City was phased out, peopleís expectations were sky high.
As it turned out however, disappointment was writ all over the faces of Honda fans, when they got a preview of what was going to succeed the old City. It wasnít a car ' it was more a mixed breed mongrel, being part car and part MPV ' a complete turnoff! The sinking feeling only deepened when the specifications became clear: a new engine, which developed only 77bhp compared to the (somewhat) heady heights of 90bhp and 105bhp in the earlier 1.3-litre and 1.5-litre VTEC. Had Honda lost it'
The Japanese are a very canny lot and they realised that the majority of car owners in India were simply not petrol-heads. So they designed the new City to be more comfortable, more spacious with ample overhead room and an efficient air-conditioning system. It still took you from Point A to Point B, and brought Honda back into the reckoning in terms of sales ' so what more could one want' A VTEC engine please, piped up many drivers and the automotive press corp. Not a group, car manufacturers lay great store by but now, the Honda has got a new engine ' a VTEC.
But thatís not the only new thing about the latest City. It is longer at 4390mm and this has come about by extending the car lengthwise. Which is why the rear overhang is immediately noticeable. However, it also makes the ZX look more like a natural three-box rather than a hatch or mini-MPV with a boot added on.
The front end has also been extended but is not as remarkable as the rear, possibly because the bonnet height has been increased. Wheelbase staying constant means that the internal cabin space is the same as before ' however, you can lug more luggage around as the boot space has increased to 500litres now. Overall, safety during frontal collisions has been improved too, as now there is more crush space at the front.
There are other small external changes too: a chrome front grille, headlights with blue parking lights integrated, and tail-lights at the rear that lighten the overall feel of the boot in terms of the look. Whatís more, the VTEC gets 14-inch alloy wheels and fog lamps at front and rear.
The interiors of the City ZX have been freshened up with everything in dual-tone beige. What catches the eye however, is the smart-looking instrument cluster. Called Optitron, the gauges go from pitch-black to a brilliant yet soothing display as soon as the ignition is switched on, with variations for day and night driving. The steering is electrically assisted and also has a tilt feature.
Frills and fancies are all very welcome but by and large, the new City is actually about the engine ' the VTEC that breathes through 16 valves (4 per cylinder) as compared to the 8 valves (two per cylinder) of the I-DSI unit. Although the earlier (underpowered in the opinion of most people who have driven the car) I-DSI is still available with the same performance specifications ' 77bhp at 5000rpm and 12.8kg-m of torque at 2700rpm ' the VTEC is the car to opt for if you tend to revel in more spirited driving. Both power and torque are up in this one ' 100bhp at 5800rpm and 13.5kg-m at 4800rpm. Of course, the VTEC is all about the valvetrain technology, which allows the engine to have two characters ' highly fuel- efficient at low rpm and a wild beast when itís thrashed.
The City ZX rides on low-ish aspect ratio175-65 tubeless tyres and the total compliance of the system including the revised suspension is said to be very good. The proof of the pudding will, of course, be in the eating. The new suspension overcomes the shortcomings of the earlier City but unfortunately itís not possible for owners of older Citys to get their cars retrofitted. The design is different as is the location of the mounting points.
Donít ask me why but we Indians like silver-coloured cars. So, the City now comes in three sterling shades ' New Warm Silver, Alabaster Silver, and Bluish Silver (on the VTEC). The other shades include Royal Ruby Red, Galaxy Grey, Nighthawk Black and Tafeta White. The ex-showroom price of the new City is just under Rs 8 lakh, depending upon which part of India one resides in.
Even more than the potholes and the traffic snarls, what really gets my goat on Calcutta roads, is just how dirty they are. Starting from the stretch leading from the airport to all over the city, the amount of garbage and dirt — be it in the form of plastic or paper bags, rotten food or just dumped packets — that youíll find on the roads is nothing less than unbelievable.
Then of course, there is the fact that people here simply donít bother about the traffic rules. Drivers blow their horns without any reason, others are always trying to overtake other cars, often resulting in jams, with neither car being able to move. And yes, there are also the people who are forever trying to cross the streets with nary a thought for the traffic lights. Itís as if traffic rules and regulations didnít exist. If only the rules and the punishments were implemented properly, there wouldnít be such a sorry state of affairs on our Calcutta roads.