The last time I drove the Honda City, much has changed about the subcompact car class. Of course, the Vios is still the class leader in sales, but the market has also seen the arrival of models like the Accent, the Fiesta and now, the Rio.
Could the proud contender be Honda, long the primo choice of young, urban professionals for a daily driver, have been left behind? We'll get to that later.
Honda Philippines has had a terrible 2011, what with the earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan, and if that wasn't enough, a flood gutted their production facility in Thailand late last year as well. Local sales plummeted and several key people left the company. Honda Philippines was set to become a shadow of its former self.
So, imagine our reaction when Honda said they were launching a revised version of the City back in January. We knew it wasn't going to be a full model change, or even a major design and upgrade, but at the moment, Honda Philippines needed a shot in the arm. Anything. Something.
When they removed the wraps off the City, we were taken aback. It looks exactly the same, well, at least at first glance for me, though I imagine a City owner or loyalist would have easily spotted the differences. There are some minimal changes to the exterior, with a slightly redone front bumper and grille, as well as a slightly remodelled rear end and taillights. The wheels have also changed, but overall, unless you compare the 2010 City and the 2012 City side-by-side, it's a little hard to tell.
Inside, again, it takes a side-by-side comparison to tell the differences. The steering wheel is the same, the dashboard is the same, the features are the same. The did add steering wheel audio controls and change the color of the dials for the airconditioning and the lighting for the gauges, but thats about all I can spot.
The last time I drove the City, I just took it around town and onto Clark Freeport. This time, I intend to fully explore its abilities, and take it all the way up to Baguio and see what it's really got.
As stated, not much has really changed in terms of consmetics and features, and thus the engine, transmission and suspension all remain the same. A 120 horsepower 1.5-liter i-VTEC engine gives the City decent power to play with, and drives the front wheels via a 5-speed automatic transmission.
On the highway, it's keeping pace very well with our convoy up to the summer capital, one that includes the 2011 Mazda6 and the 2012 Hyundai Accent (the same one we tested earlier). The transmission and engine combo work very well at highway speeds, effectively keeping the revs down at 100-120 km/h. Compared to my last drive, this one yielded better fuel economy at 17.3 km/l on the highway and 10.4 km/l in the city, though this time I was really trying to be much more efficient, at times driving frustratingly slow (but steady) within city limits and a feather-light foot on the highway. Once we entered Kennon road, however, all that fuel saved was put to good use, as we were going to have a go at it.
With the transmission set to sport mode, we opened up the throttles of our respective cars. The City doesn't feel like it has as much low end torque as the others, though at high revs, the horsepower does come into play. The “paddles” do give it a GT5 kind of feel, as they are practically buttons, but do work quite well in giving you more control of the transmission, either when it comes to holding a gear or shifting earlier.
Braking feels more positive than the City's hatchback brother, the Jazz. The suspension, something I didn't like as much in urban driving, gives the City great reflexes on the switchbacks of Kennon. Still the problem we have all noticed in this car (or any other current Honda) were the uncomfortable seats, but since we were driving spiritedly it didn't bother me as much. Either way, I imagine our dear friend Chris (van Hoven) isn't having as much fun behind the wheel of the Accent as I was in this City.
I still wish Honda's engineers did more to improve the car, especially since the competition has caught up in a big way. However, driving to and around Baguio does give me a new perspective on the Honda City, a lightness of foot that -judging by the others I drove before- can't match..
And to think, there's still the downhill to take care of in a few days' time. Oh joy.