In this line of work, it's getting harder and harder to be genuinely impressed by each new car that rolls out of the factory and the showroom floors.

The technology, the design, the engines and everything else in between have all been stepped up to a point that you have to wonder how a car can stand tall amongst its peers.

Enter the 2014 Honda City.

Fresh from its launch at the SMX Convention Center, Honda Cars Philippines handed the keys over to several of us in the motoring media, just so we could get a feel for what the new HCPI President, Toshio Kuwahara, sees as “Touch tomorrow.”

Let's find out for ourselves, then.

Meet the all-new City

The new 2014 Honda City comes packed with many surprises and it starts with the look.

Honda has been known to drastically change the look from one generation to another and this is most evident in the past three generations of the Honda City.  The new one is surprising in that it bucks that trend.

Even though this is an entirely new model with a completely new body, the most common comment is that it appears (at least from the front) to be a gradual evolution of the previous look, so much so that people actually ask whether it's an all-new model or a facelift.

Nevertheless, the new design (Honda calls it the Exciting H) does look pretty classy and more mature, especially when compared to the 2002-2008 City, which looked quite like an escape pod or shuttlecraft from a sci-fi flick. Yes, the new City has grown up a bit.

The new model is also longer than the outgoing generation, now measuring 4,440 mm long. The 2014 City is also taller at 1,495 mm, though the overall width remains the same at 1,695 mm.

In another odd move, Honda has dropped the 1.3-liter versions of the City in favor of just the 1.5-liter. The decision sounded strange at first, but that was until Honda announced that the Brio Sedan will be coming in with a lower-displacement engine to slot right under the City.

International variants (i.e. India) have the new ‘Earth Dreams,’ 1.5-liter diesel engine, but sadly we won't be getting that version.


Oh that cabin

If we had a few doubts about the design and the engine choices, they immediately vanished once we saw what cabin the new City had in store for customers.

Right upon settling into the driver's seat, it's clear that Honda's interior designers had done their homework and then some. The dashboard really is a thing of beauty and simplicity; definitely not the interior expected of a typical ‘economy’ car.

The steering wheel is of the new Honda family look, though your eyes really are drawn to the wide silver wing at the leading edge of the dashboard, along with the glass touchscreen for the audio entertainment unit as well as the touch panel for the climate control.

The gauges, switchgear, surfaces and materials are all a notch or two above the class. Neat features include the red, push-button ignition, the green ECON button and the paddle shifters.

What I was really keen on getting acquainted with was that touchscreen on the center console. It's certainly got plenty of potential given its size. The glass actually feels like you're using an iPad instead of those soft touch LCDs commonly found on touchscreen panels on most cars. Bluetooth is standard for the top-spec versions, along with USB input and Aux input.

Now we've driven quite a few cars for the past couple of years, but this is the first one in which we've seen an HDMI port at standard equipment for the top-spec versions. What this allows you to do is to mirror the display of your phone (iPhone, Android) on the touchscreen display.

It's neat, but it does have a habit of shutting off the display when the car is in motion for safety. We'll have to test that further.

The biggest improvement, without question, has to be the rear seat. Having just jumped from the 2014 Mazda3, a compact car that could use a bit more rear legroom, the subcompact (if it could still be classified as such) 2014 Honda City is better. In fact, the rear legroom in the backseat of the Honda is comparable to something like the 2014 Toyota Corolla Altis. You can easily cross your legs while riding in the back.


Northbound, again

Honda had prepared a range of top-spec versions of the City, including the Modulo versions, for the group to drive.

It appears going north is becoming a habit yet again given a series of three expressways: the NLEX (North Luzon Expressway), the SCTEX (Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway) and the newly opened TPLEX (Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway). The route consisted of plenty of expressway driving, as well as plenty of two lane provincial highways, including some good winding roads from the foot of Baguio up to La Union.

The smooth tollway tarmac presented plenty of opportunities to test out the 2014 Honda City's legs. At the heart of the car is the L15A7 engine: 1496cc, 4 cylinders, SOHC, i-VTEC and makes 120 PS and 145 Nm of torque. Nothing particularly stellar about the engine, but Honda had another surprise: on top of the manual gearboxes, the City would be returning to a CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) for those who want a car with two pedals.

One noticeable part about the new 2014 City is how smooth it drives. At 120 PS, there's not much in terms of power, but the CVT seems to find the perfect drive ratio given the speed, ensuring smooth and precise acceleration.

As an added benefit, the CVT feels like it allows for a taller ratio than the previous version with the 5-speed auto, keeping the RPMs and the consumption down. Based on the fuel computer, the 2014 City 1.5L CVT was doing 12.7 km/l on the highway at an average speed of 86 km/h.

If you wish do push the car to its maximum speeds, do so at your own risk. As it stands, the City CVT does an excellent job cruising at 100 km/h and the quick kickdown of the transmission makes overtaking easy.

What I did notice is that the pronounced lumbar support (that bump on the small of your back) in the previous City (and several other Hondas, for that matter) is still present. Personally I'm not a fan of that, but at least in this 2014 City it has been toned down a bit.


Engaging drive

Expressways really are a bit boring given that it's just straight driving and coasting. The real test comes in the provincial highways: the two-lane roads that make up the majority of any out-of-town drive, including the tricycles, bicycles, trucks, jeepneys, motorized oxcarts (kuligligs) and everything in between.

If you find yourself stuck behind a slower car (or truck), you can easily make a pass given how well the transmission responds, though I found myself using the paddles more often as, well, it's just easier.

Out of the TPLEX and onto MacArthur Highway, the 2014 City proves itself an agile and capable drive. That same agility also holds true if you encounter a high speed mountain road, much like the bypass leading to and from the intersection heading to Marcos Highway.

At this point, I'm purely in manual mode, meaning I have seven ratios to choose from via the rather superb paddle shifters. I still maintain that the paddles on most Mitsus (i.e. Lancer, Montero) are still my favorites, but the ones in the City are pretty good too.

The 2014 Honda City is still a heavier car than the old one, so the handling isn't as sharp or as direct. However, the way the car brakes, manages body roll and weight is pretty decent. On a road like this with fast but cambered corners, the City offers up loads of fun that we have to wonder how the 2014 Jazz will be like.


Stepping up

Upon arriving at our stop for the night at the Thunderbird Resort and look upon this latest entry by Honda Cars Philippines into the market, we can't help but feel that the City really has levelled up in so many different ways.

The 2014 Honda City really has moved up over the competition in terms of feel, quality, space, drive and technology that it could be considered as part of a new subcategory already.

People may see that the City is still a Vios competitor in the B Segment (subcompact), but let me tell you now that it really can't anymore, not with a ceiling price of PhP 970,000 for the top-spec City VX+ model.

As you can see, Honda is working to restructure their strategy in the entry-level categories with the City and upcoming Jazz in the upper range, while both the upcoming Brio and Brio sedan occupy the lower range.

Given the number of compact car launches for Honda in the coming year, Kuwahara and his team are going to keep the motoring press very busy and very interested indeed.