Honda dropping prices on it's bread and butter City is the clearest indication yet - as if any were needed - of the Japanese major feeling the heat in a segment they've called their own ever since they made their India foray over a decade ago. The C-segment was Honda's turf, the C-segment was defined by the City, and others were left to fight over scarps. Not any more.
Rising petrol prices have broken the resolutely petrol-only City's back and seriously good competition in the form of the Vento and Verna have given customers the choice they lacked in previous years. And now there's the Fiesta which can't help but dent the City's fenders primarily because it has both petrol and diesel powerplants. Whether it will set sales charts on fire is for you customers to decide, what we're interested in is finally, after many attempts, have Ford made a better car that the City?
They've made a striking looking car, that's for sure, and will find favor with the young crowd. But I fear they've probably overdone the sporty thing - for most buyers in this segment this will be way over the top. I don't believe I'm saying this but even I find the Fiesta overdone and prefer the City's edgy but properly grown up and sophisticated styling. The Honda also has far better proportions unlike the Ford's bulbous and poorly resolved rear quarters, a clear pointer to its hatchback origins. Styling though depends on individual taste and I leave you to make up your mind.
As you will on the Fiesta's interiors which again is extremely sporty accentuated by the centre console jutting out, the sporty steering wheel and the fabulously supportive front seats. Great for some spirited driving but ease off, look around and there are issues. The centre console, inspired by those old Motorola MotoRazr phones is too busy, the material quality isn't great, the grey plastics and generally sombre colors don't give a premium feel and, most glaringly, space at the back is rather tight. This is made even worse by the rising shoulder line that results in a shallow glass area thereby making the cabin feel claustrophobic. Even the rear doors don't open very wide and the door aperture is quite narrow making getting into the back not as easy as one would have grown accustomed to. This is going to be the Fiesta's biggest drawback and this is the City's biggest plus point.
Sure the City's cabin is no paragon of high quality materials, the clocks look very cheap and the silver finish centre console even cheaper, equipment levels are stingy (no CD player, no Bluetooth, no parking sensors) and the beige upholstery gets filthy very soon. Yet the cabin still manages to feel more premium and upmarket than the Fiesta. And there is far, far more space. The front seats are wider, there is more room for the driver to move around, the instrument console doesn't wrap around the driver making him feel cooped up and at the back there is significantly more room in every which direction. The quality feels better, ergonomics are better, comfort is much better and if you're going to be chauffer driven it simply has to be the City.
If you're driving yourself then the Fiesta makes a very strong case for itself with its brilliant dynamic ability. Ford were always masters of suspension tuning and they've done their reputation proud with the Fiesta. On our notoriously windy, bumpy and treacherous test route the Fiesta blew us away with its terrific handling, responsive chassis and communicative steering that egged us to driver harder and faster still. Most of all the damping control is perfect; it is firm enough to completely eliminate nose dive, pitch and wallow keeping the car admirably planted over crests and bumps but it is also has enough compliance to give the Fiesta the best ride quality in its class. Ride and handling were always one at the expense of the other; the Fiesta does both and does both extremely well.
Shame then that it is saddled with an engine that just can't stretch the limits of the chassis. Ford have ditched the old Fiesta's 1.6-litre engine for a new 1.5 Duratec petrol that uses variable valve timing to deliver a higher horsepower figure of 109PS (up by 8PS). Yet, and inexplicably, it is slower on the acceleration runs hitting 100kmph in 13.06seconds. It has a higher top speed of 193kmph which is 11kmph more than the City.
From the same displacement the City coaxes nine additional horses and consequently does the 0-100kmph sprint in 11.53seconds, one and a half seconds quicker than the Fiesta. What this does is highlight the excellence of the City's iVTEC motor that is still our benchmark as far as C-segment petrols go. It revs with an unmatched eagerness, its refinement is unparalleled, the gearbox is the slickest around, there is performance for the taking and none of it comes at the expense of fuel economy. The City has an overall mileage figure of 12.66kmpl which was our benchmark but now the Fiesta beats it with 13.25kmpl. The ARAI tested figures also have a 0.5kmpl difference in the Fiesta's favor.
Overall though it's a no-contest as far as the powertrain goes but that doesn't make the City the automatic driver's choice. Such is the excellence of the Fiesta's underpinnings that, despite being saddled with an engine that can't trouble its traction control (if anything needs traction control it is the City) it is still more fun to drive. Around the race track I'm sure it will even post a quicker lap time than the City and therein lies the Fiesta's appeal.
For everything else - space, back seat comfort, practicality, performance, even styling the Fiesta leaves the City untroubled. And then to ask for Rs 9.17 for the Titanium version (for Rs 9.42 lakh on Titanium + you also get parking sensors and cruise control) especially when Honda have dropped City prices to Rs 8.64 lakh is either being too optimistic or underestimating the strengths of the City. Which is still the best C-segment car in the country.