You’re a dean’s lister and you’ve been bugging your parents for a reward. With the semester starting again soon, why don’t you skip the Boracay trip and go for a new car instead? While your folks may be easily tempted by low downpayments and zero interest deals, it’s much more important that your new ride reflects who you are: smart, individual and hip. And so, let’s put on the cool hat and bring you the refreshed Honda City and Toyota Vios—two of the country’s slick but practical cars. Best of all, these cars won’t have your parents crying, “uncle” with their affordability. But which one of these is the slicker one?
Undoubtedly, Honda has always gotten the mechanical bits right, however judging from the previous generation it seemed to lack the “good looks gene”. The City has always been the aspiring athlete with great potential but not the endorsement attracting face. But the current generation is very different. Honda designers have finally given the City killer looks to match the sporty pretentions and has gotten everyone’s attention for all the right reasons. Plus, early this year, Honda has given the City a mild refresh further complimenting its sporty and sleek profile. The three-bar grille is now finished in chrome and the rear features horizontal strakes in its hexagonal-shaped tail lamps.
On the other hand, the Toyota Vios is the victim of ubiquity. It’s available in just about every color and configuration from taxi cabs to cop cars. Still, a million user-choosers can’t be wrong. It’s bland, but timeless. It’s sure to weather the test of time very well. But like the City, the Vios has been given a revamped nose thanks to a chromed-up grille with a dark surround. Plus, the 10-spoke 15-inch alloy wheels now feature a gunmetal finish improving the style factor. At the back, the rear lamp cluters now feature a prismatic finish, and the chrome garnish on the trunk has been toned down. But perhaps, the most welcome change to the Vios is the antenna’s move from a bee-sting type to one that’s printed on the glass. This gives the Vios much better radio reception over the City.
The Honda City’s daring design gets a bit muddled the moment you enter its’ cabin. It’s best described as sold but uninteresting. There’s absolutely no soul, but again, there’s nothing you can genuinely criticize. Well, maybe orange-lit controls which are a throwback to cars circa 1990’s. Thankfully the new gauges are downright nice and easy to read. The story’s the same with the Vios’s cabin. But for a much older car, Toyota has done some changes to improve the cabin. For instance, the matte-silver accents are now finished in a high-gloss piano black material. Equally welcome is the new flat-bottom steering wheel which adds some hip room. An advantage of the Vios over the City is the ventilation and audio controls which feel more solid and luxurious. Finally, the Vios has entered the modern audio age with the introduction of an auxiliary input jack. Still, it’s oddly placed near the handbrake with no cradle or box to secure your iPod in. The City still has the connectivity edge with full iPod control via its nicely placed USB port.
The Honda City is a nicely packaged car with enough space for five occupants. Upfront, the room easily matches that of a compact car thanks to the simplified layout of the central cluster which frees millimeters of space. At the back, despite the small rear hump and protruding cup holder, three adults can revel in the available space, though thigh support is a bit lacking. And though fairly minor, it’s good to note that the rear headrests aren’t adjustable, so if you’re on the tall side, better look elsewhere. As for luggage space, there’s enough space in the trunk for the occasional airport run, but not for multiple balik-bayan boxes. Meanwhile, the Toyota Vios isn’t class leading in anyway either, but despite its age, it still gets fairly good marks in its use of available cabin space. For one, there are more cubby holes to put your knickknacks around such as those found behind the central cluster and so forth. Like the City, there’s ample seat adjustment for all occupants, though the Vios has the slight edge for the rear occupants where the flat rear floor and folding cup holder makes way for more knee room. Additionally, the Vios is the only one to offer adjustable rear headrests. Like the City, there’s no 60/40 split-folding rear seats in the Vios and because of the shallower truck, airport trips maybe a bit more hassle. Still, it’s more than enough for everyday use.
The Honda jumps to its biggest strength the moment you crank the starter and drive off. The 1.5-liter displacement may seem modest, but it packs quite a punch: 120 horsepower and 145 Nm of torque. At lower rpms, it’s nothing extraordinary, but once it opens up, it sounds like how a Honda should: refined with a hint of authority. The five-speed automatic means that the Honda has better off-the-line acceleration and much more relaxed at highway speeds. Though geared towards fuel economy than performance, nail the throttle and the car does respond well enough. When you’re not pretending to be a racer, the City exhibits a very refined personality. The low speed ride is good and it rides bumps very well. At higher speeds, the City still feels stable. There’s noticeable body roll when cornering, but that’s a more than acceptable trade-off. After a week’s worth of driving, the City averaged about 11.52 km/L in an urban environment.
Though sharing the same displacement as the Honda, the Toyota Vios’s engine relies on a broad torque curve rather than peak power to pull itself forward. The result is smooth takeoffs from standstill while giving adequate overtaking acceleration when needed. It doesn’t’ like to be revved and it sound asthmatic beyond 4,000 rpm. With the four-speed automatic, the Vios is responsive and smooth and partners well with the engine. It’s tuned to minimize revving, so the cabin is kept muted most of the time. Despite losing one gear against the City, the Vios exhibits a commendable 11.23 km/L in similar driving situation. Aside from the smooth engine and responsive transmission, the ride is dampened without being too isolated. It modulates itself well, absorbing sharp and abrupt road imperfections while keeping some degree of enthusiastic handling. The brakes do their job better than the City because of the wider tires. The quick-witted steering may be good for slower speeds and parking situations, but it feels somewhat disconnected at higher speeds, limiting this car’s fun-to-drive factor.
Before, pricing a sub-compact sedan above the psychological P 800,000 barrier is a shot in the foot. However, both the Honda City and the Toyota Vios break the mold, pricing their respective range-toppers at P 836,000 and P 820,000 respectively.
Still, both of these cars offer remarkably similar features inside and out. Outside, both have 15-inch alloys and front fog lamps. Inside, leather steering wheel with controls for the audio system, multi-information display, and high quality fabric seats are standard on both cars. Even in the realm of safety, both cars feature dual SRS airbags, four-wheel disc brakes, and anti-lock brakes.
In fact, the City’s advantage is only in its engine and transmission which are both more advanced than the one in the Vios. That and perhaps the standard iPod integration. But are these advantages worth the additional P 16,000? The answer is: it depends. You probably won’t feel the additional 13 horsepower and 3 Nm of torque. Plus, the City doesn’t really have a real fuel economy advantage either. So, it’s all paper advantage really. Personally, you can opt to save the additional money, opt for the Vios and enjoy lower maintenance cost because it’s a Toyota.
Winner: Toyota Vios
Though it fails to really set your loins on fire, the sheer predictability of Vios ownership is probably what attracts buyers to it. Ask anyone what they think of the Vios and things like bullet-proof build quality, fuel frugality and excellent value for money all pop up. The Vios has certainly gone the safe route in almost every aspect, but it’s this approach that’s making it the go-to choice for first car buyers.
On the other hand, the Honda City is the polar opposite of the Vios. It remains high-tech, sleek, and manages to retain the “value for money” formula. On paper, the City should easily trounce the Vios with its advanced drivetrain. But the difference is less than you think. On the road, the Vios can keep up with the City in more ways than one. Still, you can’t fault the Honda City for its sleek execution, solid construction, and excellent features. Unfortunately for would-be buyers, the City’s still more expensive and with almost no special promotions for it, it could make it prohibitive to buy.