Text: Anton Andres / Photos: Kelvin Christian Go | posted April 12, 2016 18:08
The baby Honda grows up
With thousands on the road, it's easy to guess which car is Honda's best-seller in the Philippines. Now more than just a Jazz with a trunk, the City offers a lot of kit for its segment. Bigger and more spacious than before, it could even be said that the City is what the Civic was in the 90's.
The car's exterior is perhaps best described as evolutionary rather than revolutionary. When the car first appeared back in 2014, it was understandable for people to mistake the current City as a facelift. Underneath the familiar sheetmetal lay an all-new chassis derived from the current Jazz. We tested one in 2014 and, since its launch, Honda has given the City new variants and more tech. Will more tech mean a better car? We take the top spec VX + Navi out for a spin.
Familiar looks aside, the City is a good looking car with its raked windshield, smooth flowing roof line, a strong center character line that merges into the tail lights. The front end looks rather sharp too. The upswept headlights complement the grill rather well. Its grill reminds me of an Acura with its silver-finished trim piece. Overall, styling is clean, simple and inoffensive.
Step inside and its a world removed from the Citys of the past. The first City was downright basic. Those who own one with be in a bit of a shock when they are greeted by the Garmin infotainment system and a touch panel for the automatic climate control. Faux leather padding spruces up the cabin along with gunmetal grey trim. The piano black trim on the center console is a classy touch too. You begin to get the impression that the City is no longer the budget car its was 20 years ago.
The upmarket feeling is further enhanced by the car's leather wrapped steering wheel, blue or green lit dial bezels and its 3D effect instrument cluster. The moment you start pressing buttons, it gives off the impression that you have indeed own a car that hits over one million pesos. As a bonus, it even gets a telescopic adjustable steering wheel for people with shorter arms. 20 years ago, you wouldn't even be able to adjust the steering wheel in a City. To sum up the interior, it's all grown up.
Space is no issue with this B-Segment sedan, rivaling C-Segment sedan interior volume. With its curved roof, the City offers loads of headroom while hip and shoulder room up front is rather good. Thanks to its flat floor, the City is also spacious at the back. Adding to the big car feel is the fact that the City comes with a rear center arm rest. As trivial as that sounds, many cars in the segment do not offer one. Plus points for Honda there in my opinion. Speaking of volume, the trunk can take in a family weekend's worth of luggage.
The Honda City is powered by a 1.5 liter i-VTEC engine with 120 PS and 145 Nm of torque, making it the most powerful gas-powered car in its segment. As with before, it is mated to a continuously variable transmission with seven simulated gears.
We used to own the first City with a CVT and driving this made me believe that this belt driven transmission has come leaps and bounds in terms of development. No longer does it feel like it runs out of breath when accelerating to 60 km/h or starting off from a traffic light. Old CVTs felt sluggish all the time but not this one. While it is expected to have milder throttle response on Eco Mode, it takes off the line decently on Normal with the revs staying under 2,000 rpm and drops slowly when you get to your desired speed. It's no Civic SiR but it gets to job done smoothly and efficiently.
The electronic power steering makes easy work out of tight streets although still a touch too light for my liking at about 40 to 60 km/h. Still, it offers a stress-free drive in the metro. Front and side visibility is good thanks to large windows although you may have to squint a little when looking through the rear windshield. The sloped rear windshield makes for a rather small opening but fortunately, the VX + (and lower VX) models come standard with a rear view camera with three view modes: bird's eye, wide and normal.
Out on the highway, the and engine and transmission combo make a great team. It was quiet and refined as I drove along the expressway and never felt strained even with a strong head wind. Good noise suppression kept the drive relaxing at 100 km/h. With an average speed of 92 km/h along NLEX, the City returned 14.8 km/l. On heavily congested roads, the fuel economy figure drops to 8.6 km/l. Not bad considering the average speed was 16 km/h.
So far, so good then but the City isn't perfect. My main gripe with the City was with its seats. Perhaps it's my height (or lack thereof) but I felt like it lacks lumbar support with road imperfections going straight to my lower back. It offers a big car ride but the seats don't justify the excellent suspension tuning which keeps body sway and motion in check on twisty roads.
The Honda City pushes all the right buttons for those looking for a sensible B-Segment sedan. It's somewhat fun to drive, comes with a powerful (for its class) engine standard, easy on gas and offers loads of space. Another thing it's big on is price: It retails at Php 988,000.
Granted, the City VX+ is loaded with standard features found in bigger, more expensive segments but for some, coughing up almost a million pesos for a Honda City is rather shocking. The sticker price on this variant may be enough for potential buyers to turn around and walk away but they may be missing out on a good thing here. With the new Civic well into the millions and the City going upmarket, perhaps this former budget car is taking the slot its bigger brother left. Maybe you can even say that this is the Civic of the new decade. One thing is for sure though: The baby Honda is all grown up.