Fun and Functional
When we got word that Honda was ditching the Jazz (AKA: Fit) in the Philippines in favor of a hatchback version of the City, we were very skeptical.
The Jazz has been our absolute favorite in the subcompact hatch class. The Yaris (the non-GR SE Asia version) is OK, but not exactly inspiring. The Fiesta had promise, but Powersh*t -er- Powershift issues contributed to its demise. There were others like the Rio, the Sonic, and a few more, but none really succeeded as the Jazz did for customers looking for a practical hatchback, or an enthusiast looking for something sporty that they can play with and mod.
The City Hatchback has a lot to live up to, but after spending a week with it and evaluating its potential, my opinion is that Honda made the right decision by taking this new lane, especially given their circumstances.
We actually had the City 4-door sedan and the 5-door hatchback together at the same time, allowing us to compare both vehicles directly. The hatchback is the RS variant; it's the only variant, and thankfully Honda also sent us an RS sedan. Design-wise, they're exactly the same. The front end is the same with the RS badging and the black details. The wheel design is the same, but the color is different: on the hatch the wheels are black. The wheel design seems to be a carryover from the now phased-out Jazz RS.
The big difference is really with the side profile compared to both the City sedan and the previous-gen Jazz. The City sedan is a good-looking vehicle, and so is the hatch minus the trunk. But what I like about the new generation City is how Honda borrowed some styling cues from German automobile design. The hatch actually reminds me of an Audi A1, especially with the slanted rear.
Compared to the Jazz, the profile is totally different too. The City hatch isn't wedge-shaped like its predecessor, as the A-pillar doesn't form a straight line with the hood and towards the bumper. There's no front quarter glass like you would see in the Jazz. The character line on the side is also very horizontal; if you look at the previous-gen Jazz and City, you'll spot that the crease on the side is sloped downward for a sportier look. This one is level with the road, a typical design feature on a German car like a VW or Audi.
When you pop open the trunk, gas lifts help push the tailgate up, exposing the cargo area. It's not big in standard 5-seater configuration; the width is the same as the sedan at 51 inches max and 35 inches between the wheel wells, but the depth to the rear seat is only 27 inches, which isn't much. But thankfully Honda kept the most important feature from the previous generation of the Jazz: the fold-flat seats.
Unlike many rival models, Honda has always had a system where the rear seats fold absolutely flat with the cargo area. This gave the Jazz the ability to take on cargo that would normally need a larger crossover SUV. They achieve this versatility via a mechanism that drops down the rear seat cushion to the floor, giving the backrests the ability to fold down.
Many competitor models just have a swivel point for the rear seatbacks, meaning when you fold them they stick up like a ledge. Sometimes other carmakers cleverly cheat by adding a rear cargo floor to be level with the rear seats, but not Honda with their system called ULT or Ultra Long Tall. In the new City hatch, they call it ULTR; the R being “refresh” and denotes the ability to lean back the front seat (minus the headrest) to be level with the rear seat cushions. It's supposed to be a couch of some sort; a concept of your own personal room on the road. As to what you do with that space, I'll leave that to your imagination.
The cabin of the City is very nice. The RS hatchback shares pretty much everything with the 4-door version such as the steering, dash, touchscreen audio system, cruise control, and more. There are some subtle differences like the upholstery pattern and the color of the trim on the A/C vents. The only real difference is the position of the rearview mirror; they mounted it a little bit forward and lower than where it was on the City sedan. The reason is actually in the back: it's to allow the driver to see behind because the thicker support bar (like a roll bar) for the tailgate may impede the vision a bit.
The driving feel is exactly the same if you're in town. You won't really notice the difference with the hatchback, apart from the rear feeling ever so slightly more firm on the bumps because there's not much weight past the rear axle like the sedan. This feels great to drive even on bumpy roads, and it's clear that Honda stepped up the refinement of the vehicle. It's quiet on concrete, and super smooth on asphalt. Even the horn button sounds muted in the cabin; if you own a previous-gen Jazz, you'd know that the horn sounds like it's in the car with you whenever you press the button.
In terms of acceleration, it's pretty much the same and that's because the engine is the same: it's a 1.5-liter naturally aspirated i-VTEC motor that makes 121 PS and 145 Nm of torque, and is mated to a CVT. In town, it's smooth, quiet, and a good match for the size of the vehicle. It may seem like a direct carryover from the previous generation City and Jazz, but it's a twin-cam engine and not a SOHC. So if you like having a DOHC VTEC sticker on the rear side doors, you can legit do it in this City.
I am a bit disappointed that Honda didn't select the 1.0-liter three-cylinder VTEC turbo engine in the Thai model. That engine may have 1 less PS than the 1.5L, but it has significantly more torque at 175 Nm. The torque comes in way earlier than this 1.5L too; the turbo has max torque at 2000 to 4500 rpm while the 1.5L peaks way up at 4300 rpm. Mind you, this City hatch is efficient, easily doing over 11 kilometers per liter without much effort around town. But I can only imagine how much more efficient the turbo would be compared to this one. 15 kilometers per liter in town sounds like a very real possibility.
Nevertheless, I'm enjoying the City hatchback. Honda always dials in their cars well to be fun behind the wheel, and this is no different. Actually, I think it's better than the Jazz it replaced in the way it manages weight around the bends. This hatchback is a better drive than the sedan if you enjoy cornering and driving at speed.
There are a few things I'd like changed on the City RS hatchback (and sedan), one of which is the rear camera; the video looks so low res on the really nice screen. The 360 camera system on the Almera is way ahead. But mechanically the only thing I would really want to be improved (apart from swapping out for the turbo engine) is the selection of the rear drum brakes. Dear Honda: it's 2021 and this is an RS variant. Drum brakes don't have any business being in the room, much less the conversation when planning the specs. For all the jokes hurled at the Vios 1.5 GR-S (and the 1.5 G), Toyota did select disc brakes for the rear. The same goes for the Yaris (non-GR) 1.5G.
Despite that, I do think the City hatchback is the current one to beat in the segment. It's so far ahead of the class because many of the rivals are aging models, already discontinued, or were never offered. The Yaris has been around for a while, so has the Mazda2 (but it's still good) and the Suzuki Swift (also good, but lacks power). The Mirage isn't in the same class as this either. Nissan doesn't offer the Note hatchback here to compete against the City, and we think that will be an interesting one if they do.
For the price, this is a bit more than the City RS sedan. Honda is selling this hatchback for PHP 1,115,000 versus the City RS sedan which is at PHP 1,058,000. That's fairly consistent, as Honda has always priced the hatchback higher than the sedan. Versus the old Jazz RS, the price I remember (from 2018) is PHP 1,058,000, but considering this has more tech and features, that's not too bad.
Now we come to the question: why the City hatchback and not the new generation Jazz/Fit? At the 2019 Tokyo Motor Show, Honda revealed the new generation Fit, but that wasn't to be the model for our market despite the cries from Jazz/Fit fans. And judging by the online reception by many of you (our readers) it's good that Honda didn't go in that direction for our market.
Originally, the City was a hatchback that came with a little companion scooter called the Motocompo, but a throwback wasn't the reason behind the revival of the model in hatch form. The real reason behind the existence of the City hatchback is economies of scale.
Unlike other car companies with multiple brands like the Volkswagen Group (VW, Audi, Skoda, etc.) or companies with partnerships like Toyota, Mazda, and Subaru as well as alliances like Renault, Nissan, and Mitsubishi, Honda stands alone.
That in itself poses a challenge because they can't negotiate costs with parts suppliers to achieve greater economies of scale on a per-model basis. By engineering the City sedan and City hatchback to have as many common parts as possible including body panels, they can get parts at lower costs. They're engineering their own economies of scale to be more competitive. If it was cheaper by the dozen, then it's certainly cheaper with multiple dozens.
Given the economic situation now in the region, Honda couldn't have timed it better. And the car is great too.