We are bringing you yet another detailed car review and this time it is all about the Honda N-WGN Custom. Honda’s N series vehicles are part of its kei car range. Kei cars are 660cc small cars made to circumvent heavy road taxes in Japan. Japan introduced a certain car category with lower taxes as an incentive for people to buy and drive small cars to reduce the road rush in the city traffic. The Kei car segment is too lucrative for any Japanese automaker to ignore. The demand for these small cars is not only high in the home country but also is on the rise in the international markets. Pakistan is one of those countries who have been importing these small fuel-efficient cars in bulk.
And among those imports, Honda N cars are definitely noteworthy. Although cars like Suzuki Alto and Daihatsu Mira are arguably more popular, Honda N-One and N-WGN are making their place in Pakistani used car market rapidly. But among Honda models, N WGN is definitely more popular. Honda N Box is maybe the least popular.
Honda Japan launched N-One back in 2012 at the 2012 Tokyo Auto Show in order to renew its Kei city cars range. The N in the names of all these new Honda Kei cars is an homage to its N360 car on the late 60’s. The N itself in original N360 stood for ‘norimono’ which is a Japanese word for ‘vehicle’.
As with many other Kei cars, the N series vehicles are available in a variety of options. First, there are three body type
- Honda N-One
- Honda N-WGN
- Honda N-Box
Then there are two engine options, a turbo, and non-turbo. And then there is the platform. All three variants are available in both front wheel drive or all-wheel drive platforms. All three are available in various packages with all sorts of options and toys; from simple cosmetic upgrades to driving aids.
The car we had for the review this time was a naturally aspirated 2014 Honda N WGN Custom G Package in black with a two-tone interior (standard for Custom variant).
The first thing you will notice about the shape of the car is how boxy it looks. Like any other tall boy 660 CC Japanese car, it has a tall body design with small wheel base and little ground clearance but higher center of gravity due to that high roof. It is basically a micro wagon with that tall roof. The WGN is kind of a short form of the word ‘wagon’ here. As for the dimensions of N-WGN are concerned, it is 3395mm in length, 1475mm wide and is 1655mm tall. Also, you will notice how butch and muscular the car looks. Historically speaking, Honda has preferred to make sleek cars. But lately, with new Civic and Accord car, Honda has been shifting its vehicle design template to make more muscular cars with straight lines and cuts.
The N-WGN’s wheelbase is 2520mm and it weighs 840kg. The turbo version is 30kg heavier whereas the all-wheel drive version is 50kg heavier. And the all-wheel drive turbo N-WGN Custom is the heaviest, weighing at 920kg.
If we compare the dimensions of the N-WGN with its competitors, the Daihatsu Mira has a length and width but is shorter by 4.9inches in height. The new Japanese Suzuki Alto is even shorter (1500mm) in height. Being a Kei car, the length and width of all these 660cc cars are mostly the same. Honda N-WG clearly emerges as the winner in the hieght category. On the other hand, the N-WGN has the longest wheelbase (1655mm) compared to Alto’s 2460mm and Mira’s 2490mm.
The overall shape is quite boxy where the body lines are straight and edgy. “Proud Authentic Design” is what Honda is calling the N-WGN’s design philosophy. Talking about the front of the car, it is kind of stubby. But looking at the massive front grille, beautiful headlights that are flushed to the sides of the vehicle and are joined by a chrome piece at the bottom from the front, combined with the bulgy front bumper makes it look quite butch. The upper portion of the front end looks flushed whereas the bottom half has muscular curves and bulges. The front bumper is very tall but has almost zero depth. it felt quite flaky but considering it is of a good quality it won’t break that easily. At the bottom of the bumper, you get fog lamps as well.
Open the bonnet and you get your 660cc engine that has been packed quite tightly. And since the front end is stubby, they had to raise the profile of the front end to fit that engine it.
On the sides of the vehicle, you get almost straight side panels and door with just one cut that goes from the side of the headlights all the way to the car’s back passing through those chrome door hands. However, you get slightly flared fenders that give the car its distinctive muscular look. The doors open to almost 90 degrees giving you great access to get in or out.
The rear portion of the car is also quite straight and downright flat like the local Suzuki WagonR or even the imported one. The hatch is pretty much straight and vertical. You got a nice spoiler on top of the hatch and narrow clear brake lights on both sides. The top mounted brake light is embedded in the spoiler. The rear windscreen also comes with a wiper blade.
Different packages come with different interior colors and options. The N-WGN we were testing had a two-tone interior in black and purplish (burgundy) color plastic. The upper portion of the dashboard has black plastic while burgundy colored plastic is used in the bottom half. The N-WGN Custom’s multi-tone interior was named “Avant-garde Emotion” by Honda to bring out an interior that is unique in look and feel in comparison with other Kei cars.
Like the exterior of the car, the interior is also quite straightforward. It has straight lines and without any unnecessary curves like you find in other cars Japanese cars by Daihatsu and Toyota. There are no round features in Honda N WGN. The passenger side of the dashboard gets a rather large glove compartment and a straight open tray. In the middle, you have your climate control panel, the gear lever, and the navigation system which also works as the screen for the reversing cam.
On the driver’s side, there is a cluster that comes with an RPM meter (available only in Custom variant). In the middle, you have the speedometer with all the warning lights and gear indicators, and on the right of that you get multi-info display that shows things like temperature, fuel average, trip meter, and fuel level etc. Whereas on the extreme right of the dashboard, you have your ECON button, and under that, you get CTBA and traction control switches.
One thing that you will immediately notice about the interior of the car is the different types of textures and materials that are being used in different places of the interior. The dashboard itself has different color plastic at different places. You get the silver frame in the bottom center of the dashboard, and piano black frame around the LCD screen and the central A/C vents. Then there are carbon fiber textured accents all around the interior of the car. In the door panels, you have fabric as well as texted armrest areas. That carbon fiber textured accents are available in door trims as well. The N-WGN Custom comes with 4-speakers with (one with each door). The sound quality of the OEM sound system is very nice. It is far better than many other Japanese Kei cars in this category.
You get storage places, open and covered both, everywhere in the interior. Toyota usually takes the lead when it comes to giving storage places but this N-WGN is not far behind. You even get a storage tray under the rear seats. There is a massive space under the front seats as well to store things under there. As far as the quality of the interior is concerned, well it is far nicer than anything you can get in Pakistan in the same size category. One can argue that the dashboard plastic kind of feels cheap and scratchy but considering the target market of the vehicle, it’s more than fine. Also, the build quality and finishing of the interior as a whole is pretty decent.
Seats are adjustable in almost every way. You can adjust the height of the driver seat with lever right next to it. The rear seats can also be adjusted and you can push the back of the rear seats all the way to the front, making one large storage bed in the rear. Just pull the strap on the shoulder of the back of the rear seats and you can adjust its reclination. The rear seats can also move forward or backward like the front seats, making some excellent legroom for the rear occupants. The seats are made up of textured fabric as well as imitation leather like material with purple thread stitching.
The gear lever is situated in the dashboard hence giving you some excellent room in the front as well.
As with all Kei cars, the N-WGN also comes with a 660cc engine (S07A); 658cc to be exact. It is a 3-cylinder 12-valve engine that powers the front wheels through a CVT (continuously variable transmission). The tiny engine makes humble 58 BHP at 7300 RPM and 65Nm of torque at 4700 rpm. There is a turbo variant as well. The turbo N WGN makes 63 BHP at 6000 RPM and 104 Nm of torque at much manageable 2600 RPM. The N WGN we drove was a front wheel drive car with a naturally aspirated S07A motor. By the looks of the number, one can argue the turbo model can be a bit more fun to drive than the NA version. Other than the front wheel drive option, there is an all-wheel drive version as well. As mentioned above, the one we drove was a front wheel drive car.
One thing that you will immediately notice about Honda’s 3-pot engine is that when you give it some gas, it can be noisy. But we’ll talk about that a little later. As far the performance of N WGN is concerned, let’s be honest. No one buys these small cars for their speed. The whole purpose of the car is to save space on the roads (smaller stature) as well as fuel. Zero to sixty took fairly long that I didn’t bother trying taking the time. The turbo version is fairly quicker than the NA version.
Also, whenever I tried to push the car hard, it being a CVT, tried its best not to drag the engine revolutions. Driving it fast felt like a continuous struggle between the car’s engine and gearbox regarding how fast should the car go and how much RPM the engine was willing to spare for that speed. It got tiring pretty soon, to be honest. The RPM meter in the dashboard didn’t even reach the halfway section let alone be around the red line
Honda claims the car returns as much as 29 km/l in JC08 mode. The car comes equipped with Honda’s twin injection system that is supposed to provide exceptional fuel economy while maintaining the overall drivability of the car. But that kind of fuel average is not possible in real life scenario. And it is especially hard when you are driving it in Pakistan. The real-life fuel average of these small cars can vastly vary depending on a lot of variables. The quality of our fuel is the number one of those variables. Besides, JC08 test cycle is not supposed to be taken literally when comparing with real world driving conditions.
The best we got from this particular Honda N WGN Custom was 16 km/l. But that required smooth roads, with almost zero braking and driving between 60-70 km/h while being in ECO mode. In regular start-stop traffic, the fuel average fell to as low as 11.7 km/l. But generally, the fuel average meter showed 12.6 km/l for the most part of the driving with mixed driving conditions and air conditioning running all the time. Considering the car comes with a 30-liter fuel tank, you can have an idea how much one fuel tank will last you on a long trip. The N-WGN also comes equipped with start-stop technology. Activating it will help improve the fuel average. However, I conducting my test drive without start-stop system working.
The low fuel average can be attributed to a couple of things here. First, it could be the inferior quality of the petrol, secondly a choked catalytic converter. If you own one of these imported Kei cars, you will know how much a pain a choked catalytic converter can be in these vehicles. I have come across another Honda N WGN which was a fresh import and was returning as much as 22 km/l in certain situations. Otherwise, it was normal for that car to do 20 km/l. But within 6 months, the fuel average dropped to similar 12 km/l. And the culprit of this drop was none other than the choked catalytic converter.
Brakes were good but I think better tire will help them improve a lot. The tires might be lacking a bit there. Also, during emergency braking situations, I notice how late the car engaged its ABS system. And that is a good thing. This is how it should be. The ABS should only kick in when it’s impossible for the car to prevent its tires from skidding. But there is one thing I must confess here. I have also driven a Pakistani Suzuki WagonR for one of these reviews. And I must say, I feel like that WagonR showed better stopping power under hard braking. But as I said, that can be mostly due to the condition of tires.
As far the performance of the air conditioner is concerned, it was not up to the mark. Hondas generally have great A/C units, whether it’s a local Honda or an imported one. But this vehicle struggled with A/C a bit. And I am fairly certain the poor performance of the A/C was only because maybe it needs some thorough servicing and refrigerant top-up maybe. In stand still traffic, AC was hardly working. Turning off econ made it a bit better. But it was not up to the mark.
Comfort & Handling
For such a small car with such as a higher center of gravity the car behaved very well on the road. It gripped and hugged the road as a Honda should do. I can comfortably say when it comes to road handling of N-WGN compared to other equal cars in the same category, the N-WGN is going to take the prize home every time. The car was running on its stock 155/65R14 tires and even with those it handled curves and bends of the roads fairly well.
But then there is the comfort trade off. Over all the N-WGN has a fairly stiff ride. The moment the road gets bumps, you are going to start feeling how uncomfortable the car can be in such driving conditions. The car bumped and jumped on uneven roads making the journey a little uncomfortable. But the good thing is, not for once did I feel the car is losing its grip in those bumps. It is one thing for the car to be stiff, but it’s another to handle badly in such situations. The N-WGN didn’t for once made me feel like it’s getting twitchy or losing itself. Of course, if you throw it around hard enough, you will end up in a median or a ditch. But that traction control along with superior suspension design worked extremely well in keeping me alive. I would say the Honda N-WGN has good suspension design because considering its tall height, the car didn’t feel wobbly when I swerved it even at 80km/h. The car came back right on its feet every time I did that. Not once did I feel, well there it goes.
But I must confess that I got tired of driving the car way sooner than I had hoped I would get. Maybe it was the city traffic to blame or maybe it was just the car itself but after an hour or so I felt that I was tired and wanted to take a break. I mean of course it wasn’t that bad but still, I felt bit uncomfortable and annoyed. It is by no means like riding in a rickshaw but the first thing that I noticed about the car and its comfort is how insufficient back support the from seats of the car provides
As for the passenger room is concerned if you are sitting in the rear I have good news for you. You get a lot of legroom as well as head room in the rear. Those extra millimeters in the height of the car do pay off. But if you are sitting in the front even while the seats are pushed all the way to the back, if you’re six feet or taller, you’ll feel your knees touching here and there. There isn’t much space to stretch your legs even if the seat is moved all the way back.
Although the ground clearance is just 150mm (to put it in perspective, that is less than 6 inches), considering the car has relatively shorter wheelbase, you can get around most speed breakers. Also, the turning radius if the car is measured at 4.5m. Putting that in perspective, your local Suzuki Mehran has the turning radius of Suzuki Mehran is 4.4m, imported Mira’s turning radius is 4.2m and imported Suzuki Alto’s turning radius is 4.6m. That electric power steering definitely helps in maneuvering the N-WGN in tight spaces.
As for the noise with the cabin is concerned, well I have bad news for you. The engine is small so it takes a lot to make it run faster. Give it some race and the noise it makes will make you think that it is being slaughtered. The CVT also doesn’t help in this regard. The whole purpose of the CVT is to keep the engine revs low while increasing the speed of the vehicle hence consuming as less fuel as possible. That continuously variable gearbox combined with the tiny engine make it one loud car. And since the front end is so small, it’s like the engine is touching your toes in the front. That factor of proximity combined with the overall small structure of the car doesn’t help the cause. So, get ready for a noisy ride. But if you are not driving it like a madman, the ride is fairly nice.
The Honda N-WGN easily fits four adults; two in front, two in the back. If a young kid is traveling with you, they can easily sit in the middle in the back seat. However, the rear is definitely not adequate for 3 adults. You will be squeezing yourself there in the back of the car. Also, if you will find the boot is hardly sufficient. But that understandable considering the size of the car and how spacious rear passenger area is. There is no spare tire but instead you get a puncture repair kit.
Like all new Honda vehicles, the N-WGN is also based on Honda’s G-Con passive safety structure. G-Con stands for G-Force Control. Honda claims the vehicles designed on its G-Force control technology helps distribute the g-force away from the passengers in case of an impact. So, although the Honda N-WGN has a short front end, Honda believes its G-Con structure can help prevent major injuries to its occupants in certain crashes.
Other than its structural advancements, you get as many as 8 airbags. Two in the dashboard, rest in the pillars. Both front and rear seats, of course, come equipped with adjustable seatbelts. Since the car is made for 4 people there is no seatbelt for anyone sitting in the middle of the rear seat.
Driver aid and safety
Honda N-WGN comes equipped with traction control (Vehicle Stability Assist™) as well as radar braking system (CTBA). CTBA stands for city braking assist. The feature applies brakes on its own if it detects someone has jumped in front of the vehicle. There are sensors in the front that continuously monitor moving activities in the front of the car. The system engaged twice while I was driving through Lahore’s city traffic and a couple of motorcyclists decided to dive in front of my test car. It is no doubt a great feature but I can imagine it getting annoying after some time.
Also, VSA (Vehicle Stability Assist) is standard in all Honda N-WGN and N-One variants.
Lately, the demand for all these small 660cc cars has increased in Pakistan thanks for ride sharing apps like Careem and Uber. And increased demand has also led to the increased price. A top of the line Honda N-WGN can cost you as much as PKR 14 lacs. You can buy one in the range of 11 to 14 lacs depending upon the year and variant.
The N-WGN and N-WGN Custom are far better in looks, build quality as well as features compared to many other Japanese Kei cars. Would I recommend it over its immediate rivals? I definitely would. Honda makes good cars, there is no doubt about it. It’s the matter of choice here. Also, it all depends on what you are looking for in your new small car. If your requirement is space and great handling, then the N-WGN is the car for you.
The fact that this tiny car which should be at the bottom of the food chain has more safety features than our locally produced Honda City, says a lot about the Japanese as well as their approach regarding us Pakistanis. But that aspect aside, Honda N-WGN Custom is a big car in this small car category.