By now, you've been reading a lot about the all-new Honda City.
The Philippine distributor of Honda automobiles, Honda Cars Philippines, Inc. (HCPI), has introduced the new generation City, the car that has been consistently one of (if not outright) their best selling model for decades. The new model is the seventh generation overall, and the fifth-generation available in the country; the first City sedan launched by HCPI was, in fact, already the third generation. The previous two were hatchbacks and were not sold here officially.
The 2021 City also has the unusual distinction of being the first City offered by HCPI that isn't assembled at their factory in Laguna. Earlier in the year (and before the onset of the pandemic), Honda announced that they were closing down their factory, a decision that was definitely not without its controversies given the many employees and other businesses that an automotive plant supports down the chain (i.e. parts suppliers).
Still, the decision means that Honda should be able to be more competitive in the automotive market with the City. The reality is that importing Thai-made units (unfortunately) is more advantageous to a company's profitability. Producing a car in the Philippines is not as competitive in terms of costs; a locally-made car is typically more expensive by about USD 1500 (more or less) to produce compared to a similar model from places with greater economies of scale such as Thailand.
The effects of that can be seen on the special introductory prices of the new generation City. The City 1.5 S with the manual gearbox effectively replaced the previous generation 1.5 E MT, but only experienced a PhP 10,000 price bump to PhP 838,000. The 1.5 S CVT which was really the replacement of the previous 1.5 E CVT is priced at PhP 878,000, or just PhP 2,000 more. The PhP 968,000 price tag of the 1.5 V CVT is actually more affordable by PhP 17,000 than the preceding model with similar price and specs. Honda was even able to offer the sporty 1.5 RS CVT for PhP 1,048,000; while it has no direct (more or less) predecessor in the previous generation, it is PhP 20,000 more affordable than the outgoing 1.5 VX+ Navi CVT.
So, given that HCPI has now fully transitioned to become a vehicle importer/distributor, why then are we not getting the City with the more interesting engine from Thailand? Why did they launch the new generation City with the 1.5-liter L15B and not the 1.0-liter VTEC Turbo engine?
Honda was actually ready with an answer: "Considering each country's customer needs, local regulations, we selected carefully the most suitable powertrain and features which can fit each market."
Honestly, the statement was a bit safe; Honda had anticipated that we were going to ask. HCPI's Assistant Vice President, Mr. Koki Hattori, gave a more thorough answer.
"Our new 1.5L DOHC I-VTEC engine has the best combination of power, torque, fuel efficiency and affordability," said Hattori. "Considering the PH market’s customer needs, regulations, and affordability, we concluded that this new 1.5L DOHC i-VTEC engine is the most suitable option for our market rather than 1.0-liter turbo."
We were looking forward to the small VTEC turbo engine in the City. Honda has been making their turbo engines available in the local market with the Civic RS Turbo and the Accord Turbo, both with the 174 PS 1.5L version. The Civic Type R is also available with the 2.0L VTEC Turbo. The three-cylinder 1.0L VTEC Turbo for the City in Thailand may make similar horsepower at 120 PS compared to the 1.5L non-turbo units, but the torque is very different: the 1.0L Turbo makes 173 Nm of torque versus the 1.5L's 145 Nm.
Still, the new generation City did get an improved version of the 1.5L engine known as L15. The L15A engine has been a mainstay of the models of Honda Cars Philippines such as the Mobilio, BR-V, Jazz, and the City. The engine in the new generation Honda City is the L15B; the major difference is the head of the engine, as the City's L15B has dual overhead camshafts (DOHC) as opposed to the single overhead camshaft (SOHC) of the L15A. The power enhancement is really minimal; just one extra horse and the same torque. The change was at the rpm that the max torque arrives at 4300 rpm as opposed to 4800 rpm. That should help improve fuel economy.
While the L15B is better (even by a little bit), what Honda was looking at was cost. The 1.5-liter non-turbo engine was the more cost-effective option, as that means the primary maintenance parts are largely the same compared to the outgoing model and requires minimal restocking and reduced training. Still, we can't help but be a little disappointed that they didn't take the chance and give us a variant of the RS with the 1.0L Turbo to try out.
Perhaps they're saving it for a future model update. Would you want a City 1.0L RS Turbo with a 6-speed manual?