Honda City e:HEV: First Drive Review
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I have been testing electric cars for the past couple of weeks and in that time, have made some new friends -- while waiting hours at charging stations. While electric cars are fun to drive, the availability of charging stations is still a problem. And while we hunt for a solution, Honda is offering an alternative: the City e:HEV strong hybrid. Simply put, this is, for the most part, an electric car that uses the petrol engine to charge its batteries and power the electric motor, hence giving it a claimed fuel efficiency of 26.5kmpl. Time to see how this tech translates to the real world.
The City e:HEV will only be available in the City’s top ZX variant and hence most details like space, practicality, and features will remain the same. We will, in this review, only focus on the differences. For more details on the Honda City, do watch our first drive and comparison reviews.
The City e:HEV looks just like the regular one, with a few minor changes. The front features a new honeycomb grille and more aggressive foglamp housing. The Honda logo has a blue surround signifying it as a hybrid. However, these changes are too minor for the untrained eye to catch them on the road.
The side profile remains identical, including the 16-inch dual-tone alloy wheels. We can’t help but expect different futuristic-looking alloy wheels for the e:HEV to help the variant stand further apart, especially given the identity the disc wheels gave the Honda Civic Hybrid back in 2008.
At the back, you get a boot lid spoiler and a faux carbon-fibre diffuser, the finish on which feels like a misfit on a rather executive-looking sedan. The changes to the e:HEV make it look a tad sportier but Honda should have done more to give it a separate identity. And that could have easily been done by offering different body shades, new alloy wheels, or at least by offering a different key.
The interiors too are a familiar place. The only change Honda has made here is to offer a lighter shade of leatherette upholstery. The build and material quality remains impressive. At the back, a vent near the backrest has been added to allow better ventilation for the battery back, which is behind the rear seats.
On the features front, it gets some exclusive tech. With the e:HEV, Honda is also offering a complete ADAS suite. It includes collision mitigation braking, adaptive cruise control, road departure mitigation, auto high beam assist, and lane-keep assist. The features work as intended and add an important safety layer to the daily drive. You can learn more about it in the video below. Apart from the ADAS, also new in the e:HEV is an electronic parking brake and brake hold. The connected car features can now be operated via a smartwatch as well.
The City e:HEV is available as a solo top variant based on the City’s ZX trim. This means all bells and whistles of the City are available here as well. The driver gets tilt and telescopic steering adjustment, 7-inch semi-digital instrument cluster display, Lane Watch camera, push-button start/stop. The other passengers get to enjoy the single-pane sunroof, ambient lighting, automatic climate control, 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system, and an 8-speaker sound system. Safety features include six airbags, ISOFIX child seat anchorages, and a tyre deflation warning system.
A big compromise has come in the form of reduced boot space for the e:HEV. Because the added battery back is placed behind the rear seats, it has eaten into the luggage space -- 200L worth. The figure has come down from 506L to 306L and the space is now only good for a couple of suitcases.
Engine And Performance
How City’s Hybrid Works.
Before we start talking about the drive experience, let's understand how this hybrid system works in the simplest way possible. The powertrain now comprises four key components. First is the 1.5-litre petrol engine which is slightly different from the City’s regular 1.5-litre engine as it works on the Atkinson cycle. Then comes a motor that works as a generator - driven by the engine to send current to the battery and the drive motor. Finally comes the drive motor which powers the wheels and a battery pack which powers the motor.
When you start the ignition and begin driving, the City e:HEV is like an electric car. The engine remains shut and the car gets propulsion purely on electricity. As the speeds increase and the current requirements go up, the engine starts and begins to power the generator to supply the additional current. The wheels are still being driven via the electric motor, and the engine just powers the generator to supply current. Any additional current produced is stored in the battery as a charge.
Out on the highway, when the engine reaches its peak efficiency rpm, the car then makes the switch from an electric motor to an IC engine. The engine now directly powers the wheels via a fixed gear (equivalent to 5th or 6th in a gearbox) while cruising or coasting. If you demand any high-speed overtakes, then the motor again comes to support the engine with a torque boost.
Start the ignition and it barely makes any noise. Just like an EV. Shift to Drive and the car starts to creep forward on pure electric juice. This EV-esque experience continues when you are just sitting in traffic or commuting at a low speed in bumper-to-bumper traffic. The acceleration remains smooth and precise.
As soon as you start gaining speed, the engine comes on. It won't disturb you or cause any hindrance in the drive, but you do notice it. It is not powering the generator to supply electricity to the motor and the battery. Because you still get the drive from the electric motor, the change in pace is impressive. The acceleration is quick and seamless and this helps you go for gaps and overtakes more effortlessly. There is a slightly new experience here as the engine revs and the acceleration might not rise and fall linearly, but it's easy to get used to.
It is only when you press the throttle hard that the addition in power, and especially torques comes into play. The City accelerates with a purpose and this time around, the engine revs do climb with the acceleration to meet the rising current demand of the motor. And then, you hear something unexpected - a gear change. Given that the City does not have a gearbox, it's strange, but a rather natural and familiar sensation. Honda engineers have artificially introduced these gear change sensations by tuning the engine to drop revs when you expect an automatic to shift. This helps eliminate the engine constantly revving at higher rpm, which can be a little irritating inside the cabin.
The claimed 0-100kmph acceleration is 10s flat. This is 0.4 and 2.5 seconds quicker than the City petrol and diesel manual transmission, respectively. And even in roll-ons, the e:HEV feels quicker. However, we will get you the final numbers once we get the car for a road test.
Out on the highways, while cruising from 80-120kmph, the engine is running at its most efficient rpm. And this is when the hybrid system engages the engine directly with the wheels, via fixed gear. This transition also happens seamlessly without you noticing. And in this case, you can cruise on the power coming from an IC engine. Here too, if you demand acceleration, the motor will come on to support the engine in the form of a torque boost.
Braking Without Brakes
The City e:HEV gets all-wheel disc brakes but doesn't need to use them often. The braking, for the most part, happens for regeneration. This uses kinetic energy to send the charge back to the battery. And when you press the brake pedal gently, the level of regen varies to mimic braking. It's only when you do emergency braking that the discs come into play.
You can use the paddle shifters to set a desired level of regen when coasting. This gets reset once you get back on the power. To lock the desired level of regen, you can shift from Drive to B (Regenerative Braking) mode on the gear selector.
The drive experience of the City e:HEV offers some new experiences, but is as smooth and seamless, if not more than regular IC engine cars. It's quicker with sharper throttle inputs and feels more effortless to drive in the city and the regular City.
Ride And Handling
With the new hybrid system, the weight has gone up by 120kg. But the retuned suspension does a good job of retaining the City’s comfort factor. The harshness of the surface is kept well in check and the City e:HEV keeps you comfortable on Indian roads. Moreover, the ground clearance is the same as the regular City so you won't have trouble in the city to get by.
As mentioned, the City e:HEV will be available in one top-of-the-line ZX variant and we expect it to be priced at Rs 20 lakh, ex-showroom. This would mean it will command a price premium of about Rs 5 lakh over the corresponding City Petrol-CVT.
This premium causes another financial dilemma. If we calculate the running cost based on the claimed efficiencies with 80km of daily usage the amount saved in a year in fuel cost will amount to Rs 51,000. Given the Rs 5 lakh premium, you will have to run the car for 9.8 years and for 2.8 lakh km to recover the purchase cost. Given its 1,60,000 km warranty, this doesn't look too bright.
Running Cost Calculation
City CVT 18.4kmpl
City e:HEV 26.5kmpl
Fuel Cost Delhi
Yearly savings with e:HEV
Difference in cost
Honda City P CVT: Rs 15.04 Lakh
Honda City e:HEV: Rs 20 Lakh (Expected)
Difference: Rs 5 Lakhs (Approx)
Time required to recover additional purchase cost
Vehicle driven in 9.8 years
However, what the City e:HEV does, or rather does not, is pollute as much as the regular city. Significantly reduced tailpipe emissions help keep the environment cleaner without compromising the quality of drive or the driving range.
After driving the City e:HEV for a day, it's easy to say that it is the best avatar of the City lineup. It marries the acceleration and performance of an electric car with the convenience of a conventional fuel vehicle. And while the tech is a little complicated, you don't have to bother about it because the car does a beautiful job keeping the drive seamless and smooth. Whatever happens, happens in the background. Plus, the added performance makes the daily drive more effortless and enjoyable.
If our expectations are correct, the City e:HEV could cost about Rs 22 lakh on-road. And at that price, it becomes really hard to justify the value in terms of the running cost. Not to mention, there is already a 6-month wait for the car. What is easy to justify, however, is the value of conservation. If you value the environment and are concerned about emissions but EVs aren't practical enough for you, then the City hybrid will keep your conscience and the environment cleaner.