The Honda City is at a crossroads.
Honda's top seller in the Philippines has levelled up in so many respects that it's getting harder to still call it an entry level subcompact that we've always known it to be. Let's see if we can put that conundrum to rest as we test the all new Honda City.
We've driven it before on the highways to La Union, but now we drive it on where most of you will make use of the City the most: in the Metro.
At first glance it doesn't seem like the City has made leaps and bounds in design. In fact while at the carwash, people asked if this City was a facelift even though by an eye familiar with the look of the previous one, it's identifiable as an all new body.
Honda's designers appear to have worked to create an evolution of the City's design with the raked windscreen, A-pillars that appear to extend beyond the front wheels and a relatively high rear deck; creating the signature wedge-like profile typical of Honda.
The front grille consists of a rather thick bar of chrome flanked by headlamps that don't taper as much as 2009-2013 City which went well into the fenders. Instead of the wide taillamps of the previous, this new model has a rather complexly shaped pair, and blends in with the strong character creases that stretch out alongside the body from the front doors. What I didn't particularly find fitting for the look are the 5-spoke wheels; it just looks a bit too flat given the details that went into the body.
That cabin is what surprised many of us; it looks and feels far more premium than the model it replaced. The dashboard is one clean piece of work with a gun metallic accent piece that spans the dashboard itself and down into the center console. Dashboard tappers would be surprised with the soft touch material that Honda used for the black surfaces.
Honda have upgraded the steering wheel to conform to the new standards as found aboard the Civic and Accord. What's also been upgraded are the gauges, as the new City has a triple binnacle cluster with a large speedometer in the middle flanked by a tachometer on the left and a digital display with current fuel economy (in km/l), the fuel gauge, tripmeter, clock and average consumption, among others.
It's also much roomier. The 2014 Honda City is longer than the previous model at 4440mm (+25mm). Width is the same at 1695mm though the car is taller at 1495mm (+25mm). Wheelbase is also longer at 2600mm (+50mm), contributing to the fact that most people can comfortably and easily cross their legs in the back seat. The seats too have been improved upon, particularly the front seats; if you recall, the driver's seat has a rather prominent lumbar 'hump' that, while good for posture, isn't all too comfortable on long drives. The new City seems to have toned down versions of those lumbar supports.
The centerpieces of the Civic, err, City is the 7” touchscreen audio unit as well as the touch panel for the climate control system. Honda is marketing the City with their “Touch Tomorrow” slogan, and it seems to make good sense. The audio unit is intuitive to use and features USB input, Aux input and even HDMI input, though for the latter you'll need an HDMI adaptor for your iPhone or Android. Neat features include the red push button ignition, the green ECON button and the paddle shifters.
At the heart of the 2014 City is the L15Z1 engine: 1496cc, 4 cylinders, SOHC, i-VTEC and makes 120 PS and 145 Nm of torque. Those figures aren't particularly stellar, but it's a good match for that CVT driving the front wheels. And yes, Honda has eliminated the 1.3 liter engine that the previous generations had.
In town, the i-VTEC/CVT combo is undeniably good in terms of smoothness, power delivery and economy. To put that in perspective, when compared to the Vios 1.5G which uses a 4-speed “classic” automatic I'd say the City's powertrain combo performs better overall. The Fiesta EcoBoost may have a leg up in terms of power delivery to the heavier City, but I would pick the Honda's CVT over the clunky operation of the 6-speed dual clutch gearbox of the Ford at low speeds any day of the week.
Fuel economy is rather good too, despite the heavier weight. During our previous drive, the City registered an average economy of 12.7 kilometers per liter at an 86 km/h average. Upon our full test drive, the City managed 12.9 kilometers to the liter at a 90 km/h average. In the metro the City delivered a respectable 9.5 km/l in light traffic (32 km/h average) and 8.4 in moderate to heavy traffic (22 km/h average) on the same route.
For comfort and refinement in the metro, the City is really the “class” leader now. The transmission, the suspension's manners, the way the car drives and rides on our concrete roads is pretty good; a definitive improvement over the previous generation. Those along with all the other upgrades inside including the suite of safety features (stability control and 6-airbags, among others for the VX+) take the City to new heights. All that comes at a cost, which that brings us to the only real issue with the City: the SRP.
The pricing of the 2014 Honda City has caused many enthusiasts -Honda fan or not- to voice their concern. No longer is the Honda City positioned to compete against its traditional nemesis, the Toyota Vios, given the former's significant upgrade in size, room, features and pricing, given that the City starts at PhP 756,000 all the way up to PhP 970,000. This one is the 1.5L VX variant and it costs PhP 880,000. It's also the same story for the recently launched Jazz.
What Honda is truly planning for is for something to slot in both under the City and the Jazz. That will be the forthcoming 4-door and 5-door versions of the Brio; the nameplate that will eventually compete against the Toyota Vios and the Mitsubishi Mirage while the City starts to nip at the heels of the larger compact cars.
There may be an outcry amongst enthusiasts, but the sales and reservation numbers speak for themselves. The last time we checked, Honda's Santa Rosa plant (Yes, this is proudly assembled in the Philippines) is working hard to supply the 2,500 unit reservation list for the 2014 City; at a rate of 40 units per day, it would take 62 and a half days to service all those customers.
Do you think the product strategy alignment of Honda Cars Philippines will work? Let us know in the comments below.