Together with a group of motoring journalists, I was one of the chosen first to come from the island paradise of Bohol for a two-day jaunt in the new Honda City. While the scenery in Bohol was literally mindblowing, the experience with the new City was equally so, no doubt making for a great time.
It's not the Clarin ancestral home in Loay, Bohol. 20-23 minutes from Bohol's capital of Tagbilaran, the house was the start of the Honda City Paradise Experience. The residence of Don Aniceto Velez (former governor of Bohol), and his son Jose Butalid Clarin (former Senate president), it has an ambience that harkens back to the 1800s. That's not surprising, considering that the house was built in 1840 and retains much of its Old World charm. The living quarters are located on an elevated floor made of huge wooden planks, the roof is made of nipa, with furniture made by the reknowned artisans of the time, and a collection of baro't sayas and barongs. Antique jars, lamps, and rocking chairs, a huge pot filled with American era centavo coins; kitchenware and furniture adorn the house. Despite being declared by the National Historical Institute as a heritage site with the descendants of the Clarin family maintaining the house, the residence still is in urgent need of some repair. The Clarin residence houses Cafe Olegario on the ground floor, known for its hot chocolate and a bevy of desserts.
Our next stop was the Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception in Baclayon, it is considered to be one of the oldest churches in the Philippines and one of the best preserved. The first Spanish doctrineros (missionaries) in the region - Fr. Juan de Torres and Fr. Gabriel Sanchez - first settled in Baclayon in 1595, and soon after their arrival, a visita was erected on the spot. Although Baclayon was the first seat of the Spanish Jesuit missionaries, fear of Moro mauraders soon forced them to move their headquarters more inland to Loboc. It was only in 1717 when Baclayon became a parish, and construction of a new church commenced. Some 200 native forced laborers constructed the church from coral stones, which they took from the sea, cut into square blocks, and piled on to each other. They used bamboo to move and lift the stones in position, and used the white of a million eggs as to cement them together, with the building completed in 1727 and it getting a large bell in 1835. In the Baclayon church is a dungeon, which was used to punish natives who violated the rules of the church.
The highways in Bohol provided numerous opportunities for both City variants (1.5 E A/T and 1.3 S A/T) to stretch its legs, reaching up to 160 kph for the latter. The 1.5-liter i-VTEC, has its powerband entry at 3,200 rpm, with the i-VTEC waking up by 4,000 rpm. Its five-speed A/T is willing to downshift at half throttle, but for overtaking you have to stomp on the gas or put the a/t stick in "S" mode and use its paddle shifters (particularly third gear) since shift points are much higher. On the other hand, the 1.3-liter engine has powerband entry at 3,500 rpm, with the i-VTEC waking up by 4,250 rpm. However, you can't get gingerly on the gas; for best acceleration results you have to put the a/t stick on "D3" - meaning only three gears are used - and floor it.
The Exterior design is a creative expression oasis, with the "arrow-shot" concept for the overall look making the car look larger and sportier than it really is, particularly when matched with the five spoke 15-inchers on the 1.3 S A/T variant. The front end is similar to the current Honda Accord due to the front grille, and the tailights are similar to the present BMW 3-Series. It's particularly edifying when the City is matched with an aesthetic wonder like Bohol's Chocolate Hills. On the other hand, the interior is pure bliss, given its subcompact car designation. Everything is logically placed, making them easy to read or reach for all occupants. The gauge cluster has the same red backlighting and small gear indicator fonts as its Honda Jazz brethren.
Despite being a subcompact, the new City has an ability to handle occupants or cargo. It's very comfortable for four to five, and this writer managed to easily doze off occasionally at the rear area while playing backseat driver due to the comfortable fabric seating. Put two five-foot-nine folk in front, and average folk in the rear have a fistful of kneeroom and legroom left. The cupholders around the handbrake and in front of the a/t stick can hold a one liter bottle of water, while the trunk can fit two golf bags and two large duffel bags.
Driving through twisty roads leading to and from Bohol's man-made forest, the City demonstrated lighter steering feel compared to its hatchback platform sibling Jazz (which handles with a sharper character). You occasionally tend to move the wheel a few more degrees to either lateral side on hard turns just to get the line right. But Honda counters that the City is more for comfort than cornering. Also, the City has very strong active safety elements with bring headlights and the side mirrors offering lateral viewing up to the second lane of sight.
If only I had more than two days to experience Philippine paradise, all via a subcompact sedan haven.