Today, a lot of manufacturers have hopped on the same trail that the original City blazed, thus we have cars like the Chevy Aveo, the Kia Rio, and the Hyundai Accent that features diesel thrift and power, but the undisputed leader has always been the Vios.
So how do you challenge another market leader from Toyota? It's simple really: design, marketing and engineering.
The City is one of the most modern looking in its class, and most definitely the sleekest of them. The front end is pointed like a sharp arrowhead, continuing on with smooth lines towards the back that mimics a fastback's profile. It's got a poised stance that belies its subcompact dimensions, while the accents and trimmings further add to the modern appeal and look of the City.
Inside, the City has distanced itself very well from its hatchback brother. The City's interior design goes mature and modern, directing itself away from the Jazz's fun and funky demeanor. The cabin lines and surfaces look and feel more upper class than the pricetag of the City would suggest, and that's always a good thing, showing that the City can punch at a higher weight class.
Being a top of the line City, this model is equipped with the full complement of features that Honda has to offer. Apart from the usual thigns like powered windows, locks and mirrors, the City 1.5E has a lot of firsts in its class. The City 1.5E also has a pair of paddle shifters behind the steering wheel, a first in the class, handing the driver the reins to a 5-speed automatic transmission, the best in its class. At the center of the dashboard is an AM/FM/CD/MP3 stereo which has an aux-in port and USB connectivity and iPod compatibility, again another first in the class. They've also included aircon vents underneath the front seats so that the rear passengers will be a little more comfortable, and there's a decent amount of rear legroom too.
The amber gauges and dials are great to the eyes, and the deep dish steering wheel feels great to the touch and tilts and extends for the ideal adjustment. The driver's seat still doesn't appeal to me as the contours don't fit my back that well, but then again, I don't fall into the 95 percentile man category. I'm actually glad they opted to equip the City with sporty fabric seats as opposed to leather, as the latter would retain more of our intense tropical heat.
Where the City really shines is in the way it drives. The body feels rigid and strong, and lends the City good stability while handling is taken care of by a sport tuned suspension system matched with a set of 15 inch wheels and tires. Toss the City into a corner and it'll respond well as a result, inspiring you to push its limits and have a bit more fun. If the sporty handling wasn't enough, you have a great engine under the hood to play with too.
Honda has always been known for producing great engines that rev freely and aggressively, thanks to VTEC technology. At the heart of the City is a 1.5 liter Honda engine, capable of 120 PS and 145 Nm of torque. What's great about it is that it's matched to a 5-speed auto, as opposed to the more common 4-speed auto, lending the City better breaks in the ratios and a taller gear for a better top speed. Unlike the VTEC motors of old in which the cam rocker arms switch to a higher lift lobe (i.e. the venerable B16 series), the i-VTEC series works by adjusting the cam's timing, yielding better power than normal while preserving fuel economy as opposed to the older VTEC system. Oh, and it's drive by wire too, doing away with the inaccurate throttle cable.
While some would contend that the 1.3 variant is the more economical version, it's a bit of a double edged sword. The 1.3L definitely consumes less while stuck in traffic, though when faced with the weight of the car while accelerating, the 1.5 is a better match. With more usable and low end torque, the 1.5L allows the driver to use lower revs and maximize the improved torque figures, balancing out the fuel economy advantage of the 1.3L in urban conditions, making for a 9.5 kilometers to the liter. On an open highway, that figure jumps up significantly to 15.2, though I suspect more can be had as the conditions on the day of the test were less than desirable.
It was always going to be an uphill run for the Honda City when it first came out. Thanks to a great combination of a great design both inside and out, great engineering of the suspension, chassis and powertrain, and being marketed with a whole range of upper class and high tech features, Honda made sure their subcompact sedan is fit to take on one of the most competitive segments in the market and reestablish itself as a force to be reckoned with... and they have 10,000 examples sold to prove it.