There are certain things that you do at certain times in certain places. A Lamborghini Gallardo Spider would be perfect on the Australian Great Ocean Road, an Ariel Atom on a race track and a Toyota Land Cruiser for the Rainforest Challenge.
For the time being, I am busy driving another automobile in the exact habitat it is meant to be driven in. Dodge a postal truck, tuck behind a BEST bus, almost brush a pedestrian with a rear view mirror... well, if that does not sound like Honda City CVT territory, nothing else will. Seriously, I am so much in love with the Honda City ZX GXi CVT that I am trying to convince Honda that there is a concept called very, very long term testing. Now, I have done almost everything you are supposed to do with a car in a bursting-at-the-seams city like Mumbai. And the CVT has not disappointed me in any one of these activities.
The day when everyone decides to drive. I am in a very happy mood. My left foot is earning complete rest as I navigate through vast suburbia and get onto the Eastern Express highway. The CVT accelerates briskly to my very own OCS (operative commuting speed) of 80 kph. Keeping the speed steady is no hassle either – with infinite gear ratios to choose from, it is the pressure applied to the throttle that needs to be constant. Colleague calls, ‘Can you pick me up?’ Of course, I don’t mind doing that. Psst... the free hand is good to make full use of mobile phone services, and no, I am not advocating that. Small detour, congested bylane, stop-go traffic on a flyover... later, friend is in the passenger seat and, as usual, fiddling with the music system. ‘Nice fuel station, let’s fill ‘er up.’ Barely twenty litres for a thousand bucks. ‘Perhaps Honda should invest in LPG-hybrids for developing nations’, is the thought process inside the car.
Bumper to bumper traffic is when you smile. Friend is still fiddling with the poor music system as I stay calm and relaxed. All you do is release the brake and pound on it again in a ‘Look ma, no throttle’ way. Awesome. Evening, I have another friend travelling with me, and let me tell you, no music system can match ‘in-car gossip’ at full volume. I am absorbed, not bothered about driving – this City communicates with your brain and then drives by itself. Really.
Almost a repeat of Monday, but there’s a late night drive to Mira Road which is on the other end of Mumbai island. Mission? Pick up our new domestic help who has reached a good friend’s house. I seem not to mind going for a 50 km run after a 35 km commute and a back-breaking day spent reading automotive publications from around the world. Someone has to do all this work, right? Getting a maid in Mumbai is not an easy task and my wife is grateful that I am ready to take the entire family and go. She does not really like automatics though – she loves the idea of gearshifts. Well, that means I am firmly in the driver’s seat. I do have a problem with the low-beam of the City headlamps. Maybe some fine-tuning of the headlamps is required. Wednesday trip
The weather is changing rapidly. The nip in the morning air vanishes with the rising sun. I am a bit used to the automatic climate control system of my Swift and I start wondering why Honda cannot provide a similar unit in this Rs 9 lakh automobile. There is no brake fade – but the fact that Honda has not given it ABS either weighs on my mind as I hit the Mumbai-Pune Expressway. Seamless power delivery takes time to get used to, but hey, we better get used to it since sooner or later most of us will be driving hybrid cars with electric motors and they feel exactly the same (I have driven and loathe them already). That way, the CVT is not dissimilar to the Reva electric car. As for the noise coming from under the bonnet – the CVT hum, let us call it – it makes me feel that I am inside a battery-operated toy. Time to slot the gear selector into ‘S’ mode, hoping that helps counter the ghat section of the Expressway. It does, but what I like more is the fact that both my hands are on the steering wheel all the time. Trust me, that improves the speed you carry into corners. The front suspension digs a tad too early for aggressive cornering, but there isn’t any body roll to upset what you learnt in physics class. Enjoyable in a rather under-powered go-kart kind of way. By the way, the CVT returned 9 kpl inside town but stretched that to 11 kpl on the highway. Good show indeed.
I am not very happy. A friendly chauffeur decided to find a parking lot for me outside my office. I was a bit hesitant and asked him whether he knew how to drive an automatic. ‘Yes sir, Gulf experience,’ he said and I was impressed. An hour later, I came back to retrieve my car and found fresh dent and scrape marks on the front bumper. And the obvious culprit blamed me. Very nice.
Time to get some numbers out of the car. We had tested the City CVT before, but it is always nice to go through another road test, right? Flooring the accelerator and dropping the brake lever is the way to get the best off a CVT box. For that matter, any autobox. My best run to 60 kph is 7 seconds and it takes almost 16 seconds to 100 kph. A full five seconds slower than the City VTEC to the 100 kph mark is not very acceptable, but then you can’t have the cake and thrust it on someone’s face too, right? While the manual car (not the VTEC) can still touch 175 kph, the CVT runs out of steam around the 163 kph mark. Good enough, I concluded, as I headed back home. Immediately, the CVT impressed with its ability to glide through extreme, horrible traffic as if to gently remind me that the USP of this car is a bit different.
We at BSM take Saturdays quite easy, thanks partly to the fact that Business Standard does not have a newspaper edition on Sunday. The CVT is looking good after a good wash and wipe and I am in my best casuals. At the office, the boys are hungry and we all head out. Six people can be a tight fit in the City, and for the first time, the CVT feels really underpowered. Even more so after a three-hour long meal. We feel suitably bonded alright.
I present the case to my wife. ‘A new three bedroom flat can wait, right? Can’t we buy a CVT so that I can enjoy my daily commute?’ She counters almost instantly, ‘And then what? Crib about not having enough power forever?’ The argument continues for a while over hot cups of tea. I realise with a tinge of sadness that the CVT is going back the next day. Here is a car that was not very fast or quick, not painted red or yellow, no leather upholstery to spoil you... and I was certain that I was going to miss it. So if you are still reading and if you live and commute daily in one of the Indian metros, here is my piece of advice – please convince your family and do yourself a favour. Buy the City CVT, it is really worth the additional money Honda is asking for.