First drive of the 2014 Honda City
The Honda City has come a long way since its intro as an entry-level subcompact in 1996 in Thailand. With 2.2 million units sold since its global debut, the City is Honda Motor Company’s leading brand in the Asia-Oceania region. Honda Motor targets a bigger share of the B segment in Asia with the launch of the fourth generation, 2014 model in India (which has surpassed Thailand as the City’s biggest market) last year and in Manila Tuesday.
The outgoing third iteration (2009) of the City became Honda Cars Philippines Inc.’s (HCPI) bestseller mainly due to the drastic but attractive changes in its exterior and interior design. Small wonder, then, that although the 2014 City is styled along Honda’s latest “Exciting H” design, it is still an evolution rather than a revolution of the 2008 City with basically the same body shape, albeit 10 mm taller and with a longer (by 50 mm) wheelbase. Built on the same platform as that of the 2014 Honda Jazz, the new City has a chunky new chrome grille (platinum in the top-end VX+ variant), multireflector twin barrel halogen headlights, sharper front and rear bumpers, distinctive new creases on its flanks and new horizontally stacked, BMW 3 Series-inspired taillights with a chrome trunk garnish line connecting them.
FINE-TUNED. The 1.5-liter SOHC iVTEC 16-valve, four-cylinder engine of the outgoing City has been retained and fine-tuned somewhat. Fuel efficiency is enhanced by the restoration of a seven-step CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) replacing the five-speed automatic transmission of the 2009 model (the 2004 City was also equipped with CVT.) With Programmed Fuel Injection, the chain drive powerplant produces 118.36 HP/6600 rpm and 145 Nm/4600 rpm max torque, reaching 100 kph from standstill in 10 seconds and running 10-12 km per liter. Top speed is rated at 195 kph although it may take some time to reach this speed because of the initial slowing effect of the CVT. Incidentally, the 1.3-liter iVTEC engine is no longer offered in the new City.
While the new City looks like an evolution from the outgoing model, the all-black interior with silver accents is a revolution with design cues from the “layered floating cockpit” of the Jazz. Because of the increased wheelbase, Honda was able to optimize its “Man Maximum, Machine Minimum” mantra with more space for all passengers, especially at the rear where shoulder room increased by 40 mm, knee room by 70 mm and legroom by 60 mm. Honda claims that rear passenger space equals that of cars two classes above, meaning the Accord midsize sedan segment. However, six-footers will find headroom in the rear cramped by the swooping C-pillar which gives the City a sporty, coupe-like look.
VARIANTS. The VX and VX+ variants have smart keyless entry with push start system, paddle shifters, a gun metallic console panel with soft pad, a 7-inch touch screen display audio and two USB-in ports, leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio and hands-free telephone controls, Bluetooth and HDMI-in ports, four speakers, a tachometer, automatic air-conditioning system with touch-sensitive panel controls, one front and two rear 12V sockets, map light, driver and assistant sun visors, grab rails (four in the VX+, three in the VX), chrome inner door handles, driver side power door locks, driver and front passenger seatback pockets.
In addition, the top-of-the-line VX+ (P980,000) has leather seats, a 60/40 split-type rear seat with center armrest and cupholder while the rear seat in the other variants are fixed bench. Aside from enormous, class-leading passenger cabin space, the 2014 City has a cavernous 510-liter trunk with a new trunk lid and a larger opening than the outgoing model, making access to the cargo area easier.
USER-FRIENDLY. The bucket-like front seats provide good lateral support and the leather upholstery in the VX+ variant is perforated in the center area, enhancing air flow and keeping the seat cooler on a hot day. With the center console angled to the driver, an easily readable instrument cluster because of the big fonts and steering-wheel-integrated audio and phone controls, the ergonomics are user-friendly. In the VX variants, both the driver and passenger side doors have a black request sensor button that you only need to press to unlock the car, if the smart key is in your pocket or your bag.
The high-spec VX variants are equipped with a multiview reversing camera with dynamic guidelines, rear air-conditioning vents, side mirror-integrated turn lamps and trunk release button, An Econ button with Eco-Coaching (ambient meter in the VX+, eco lamp in the VX) encourages fuel-efficient driving. All the variants, E as well as VX, have ABS with EBD, dual front SRS airbags, door beams and G-CON body structure, but only the VX+ has side airbags, side curtain airbags, Vehicle Stability Assist, Hill Start Assist and an Emergency Stop Signal. So in terms of safety features, only the premium-priced VX+ is complete according to United States and European standards just as in terms of equipment, only the VX+ can be described as fully loaded.
One wonders, though, in the context of improvements, why instead of disc brakes on all four wheels, all variants of the new City are still fitted with ventilated discs in front and drums at the rear. Moreover, the tires on the VX variants are 185/55 R16 and on the E variants, 175/65R15. Honda may have retained skinny tires to lower fuel consumption, but for the power on tap, 195-mm minimum width would have been better. The narrow tires lose traction quickly and create plenty of screeching when cornering or braking hard, as I discovered while driving the new City fast around HCPI’s test track in Sta. Rosa, Laguna, last week.
STABILITY. On the other hand, the brakes are strong and stabilizers fore and aft on the independent McPherson strut front suspension and
H-shaped torsion beam at the rear plus the improved (by 24 percent) rigidity provide high-speed stability. A good balance is achieved between handling and riding comfort and despite the engine getting noisy at high revs, this is a good handling car with fairly good body control and confident damping. Electric Power Steering, standard in all the variants, makes driving the City light and easy at low speeds and decently weighted at high speeds, although lacking feedback. Smooth power delivery via the CVT gearbox makes the car feel faster than it is versus the clock. The City may not be as frisky as the Ford Fiesta, but it is a bit more capable on twisty roads than the Toyota Vios or Nissan Almera.
Summing up, while basically retaining the same powertrain and hardware, Honda has upgraded the City in looks, interior roominess, fuel efficiency and in the VX+, cabin kit and safety features. The slick CVT, Electric Power Steering and light build quality make it effortless to drive and easy to maneuver. The City offers big car equipment and interior space, building on the winning points of the outgoing model in terms of ride and handling and thereby setting a new benchmark in the B segment. There is also Honda’s unblemished reputation for reliability, safety and fuss-free ownership.
The new Honda City seems to be limiting its presence to the upper part of the B-segment, with its new pricing:
1.5E M/T = Php 760,000
1.5E A/T = Php 800,000
1.5VX A/T = Php 890,000
1.5VX+ A/T = Php 980,000
To top it all, the City is assembled at the Honda’s sprawling Sta. Rosa plant in Laguna by a world-class Filipino workforce.
Photos by Walter Villa