There was a time not too long ago when you’d see at a subcompact car and say nah. It was either too small, too basic, or just too plain. The fifth-generation Honda City changed all that in 2008, and they’ve never looked back since.

I look at the latest version of this B-segment car, and it is none of those adjectives mentioned above. It is bigger and grander than its predecessors, and it is as elaborate and appointed as bigger models.

Honda Cars Philippines offers four variants of the sixth-gen City, and this is the entry-level S with a continuously variable transmission (CVT).

From the outside, it's not easy to tell how different this City is from the higher trims, and it's because the thick chrome trim grille has that kind of Civic/Accord vibe. In addition, the intricate design of the headlight housing creates an illusion that the car's equipped with LED headlamps, but they're actually projector halogen-type ones. Perhaps, the two things that give it away are the fog lamps (or lack thereof), and the fender-mounted turn signals.

2021 Honda City S image

You won’t be able to tell from the photo, but this car has stretched to 15 feet. That makes it longer than any Civic, except for the latest edition. Looking at the car's side profile, there is a deep crease running along the side that gives the City character, hence why it’s called a character line. In addition, the groove just above the rocker panel adds to the car's curves.

2021 Honda City S image

The longer wheelbase eats up some of the tail and the trunk space. It’s still shapely but in an old Mazda6 sort of way. Despite being an entry-level variant, the City S still gets LED taillights, an LED high-mount stop lamp, a shark fin antenna, and bumper reflectors.

Design-wise, I still believe it is one of the best-looking subcompacts out there. The City is more elegant than sporty even with the Lunar Silver Metallic color. Quite simply, it can distinguish itself against the Almera, Vios, and other rivals in the segment.

2021 Honda City S image

The City S has a Start/Stop button for ignition but you have to click the unlock button on the key to open the doors. It doesn't unlock automatically when you grab the driver-side door handle. You're not paying for comfort access with the City S yet. 

2021 Honda City S image

As expected, the City S doesn’t get more upscale treatment like the V and RS variants, so it does look plasticky on the cockpit and door panels. Like other Hondas, at least the layout is intuitive so it’s easy to figure out what goes where, and there’s a nice touch of silver trim on the middle of the dashboard and on the polyurethane steering wheel to break the monotony of the black cockpit.

The huge aircon vents allow more cool air to come out. That makes it is easy to lower the temp on a hot day. Believe me, I’ve tested that already. I’m glad the aircon controls are analog too. These are just so much more responsive than digital touch panels. And that’s important when you’re getting into a hot car parked under the sun. The instrument panel is also analog but comes with a trip computer.

2021 Honda City S image

I felt small in the fabric seats as they aren’t as snug and feel like a size L for an M body. The gear shifter is ergonomic, but they could chop a few centimeters off it for a sportier look.

2021 Honda City S image

The 8-inch infotainment system has colored graphics which are nice to look at. The fonts are slimmer, so it could be harder to read on the go. It comes with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Weblink, and Bluetooth but sends audio to only four speakers.

One of the City’s strengths is interior space, and it’s no different with this latest model. Also, it’s actually the roomier option without the extra equipment of the higher variants. Head room, elbow room, and leg room are impressive, and that is what you want in a subcompact car.

There are some notable deletions though. This City has no rear A/C vents, no center armrests, and no rear armrests with the accompanying cupholders.

2021 Honda City S image

Under the hood is a new version of the City's 1.5L engine. This one comes with double overhead camshafts and output is increased to 121 PS; basically, you get 1 extra horsepower.

In Normal mode, it’s surprisingly pretty lively for a 1.1-tonne car. Acceleration is quick at low, city speeds. Because it uses a small displacement engine, you will need to be more judicious when overtaking on national roads and SLEX because it won’t have the same pull.

It is efficient though as the CVT has better control of the engine speed range. I averaged about 11 km/l in the city and picked up 17 km/l on the highway, and this was all normal driving style. Eco mode greatly suppresses the 145 Nm of torque. It reduces the response of the powertrain for the sake of economy, so I’d use this mode sparingly; perhaps during those times when you're low on fuel and waiting for the next price reduction before refueling. 

2021 Honda City S image

The drive is smoother than before and feels a lot softer. The City is comfortable, but the trade-off is more body roll. What it could improve on is its NVH, or the noise, vibration, and harshness damping, as rough road surfaces overpower the music from my 80s playlist.

Handling has the same light feel at low or high speeds. That’s really nothing new for vehicles in this category. Like most in the segment, it still uses rear drum brakes, which helps keeps its price low and is easier to maintain but isn't as confidence inspiring as having all discs. 

What you’ll appreciate from Honda is that this variant has most of the safety and convenience features of the RS. They did remove the side curtain airbags, the multiview reverse camera, and cruise control, but this version has 4 airbags, child seat anchors, ABS, stability control, and Honda's Agile Handling Assist. That last part applies light braking force to the inner wheels when cornering to enhance responsiveness and stability.

2021 Honda City S image

You lose some and win some with this variant of this City. There are no luxurious appointments, but the essentials are still there. Plus, it has the same engine as the top-of-the-line model, so you’ll still get amazing fuel efficiency. What really makes it appealing is the affordable price tag of Php 899,000.

Even with the rising popularity of crossovers, the subcompact sedan segment continues to grow. The latest challenger is Geely’s Emgrand. Despite that, the City remains a Filipino favorite. It was the most successful Honda in 2021 with 3,957 units sold. If you’re wondering what the best-selling variant is, you’re looking at it, the 2021 Honda City 1.5 S CVT.

We still wish it was assembled here, providing jobs and boosting the economy, but that’s another topic altogether.

  • Make: Honda
  • Model: City S
  • Engine: 1.5-liter DOHC 16-valve Inline-4 i-VTEC
  • Max Power: 121 PS @ 6600 rpm
  • Max Torque: 145 Nm @ 4300 rpm
  • Transmission: CVT
  • Price as Tested: ₱899,000