|Photos by Ulysses Ang|
Car manufacturers constantly play a game of upmanship each time they come up with a new vehicle. Once in a while though, a car becomes more than merely “best in class”, it starts to transcend segments becoming something that’s totally different and unexpected. The all-new City is one such example. From its humble beginnings as Honda’s B-segment sedan, it has morphed into a car that can take on the competition a segment or two higher. And to prove this point, Honda made us drive it from the confines of the urban jungle all the way to La Union.
Being the first to arrive at the start-off point in Bonifacio Global City, I closely scrutinized the all-new Honda City’s design without the glare of the convention hall spotlights where it was launched the night before. Cast against the soft, orange hue of the summer sunrise, the City looks sleek, angular, and high-tech. Some people reckon it looks very similar to the previous-generation FD Civic and perhaps they’re right; after all, the City is as cutting-edge and sporty as that beloved Civic generation. Credit this to Honda’s new “Exciting H!!! Design” (yes, the three exclamation points are included) which gives it three attributes: a solid wing face with a low frontend, an aerodynamic design, and a clear-cut side panel. Squint hard enough though and you can see the Honda ‘H’ integrated into the City’s face (trust me, once you see it, you cannot unsee it). The same motif is carried at the back though the rear-end is, dare I say it, a dead ringer for an Acura. Honda has definitely gotten their design mojo back with the all-new City.
After the driver’s briefing, it was time to step inside the City and look at its cockpit. And what a driving environment it is. The B-segment sedan label’s a misnomer since there’s nothing sub-compact about the all-new City. The design is as futuristic inside as it is outside with the 7-inch touchscreen taking center stage. It’s nerve central for the entire Honda City experience providing not just access to the entertainment system but to the multi-function computer and vehicle settings as well. I had strong reservations on the new button-less interface, but I must admit that after getting some used to, it works fine. It was equally amusing seeing Honda Cars Philippines President and General Manager Mr. Toshio Kuwahara always looking over my shoulder whenever I tinker with the touchscreen. Now, in as much as I found this interface completely alright, a handful of physical buttons or knobs would have made this set-up absolutely perfect (especially for the climate control).
Compared to its immediate predecessor, the all-new City carries the same-sized body in terms of length (4,440-mm) and width (1,695-mm), but is taller by 7-mm (1,495). The biggest news though is the additional 50-mm in wheelbase bringing the total to 2,600-mm or just 70 shy of the Honda Civic. The size increase may seem modest on paper, but in reality, the City’s just plain cavernous. With a three-to-a-car set-up for the drive, I found myself having the space to actually cross my legs in the backseat; again to the amusement of Mr. Kuwahara who saw me do the deed from his Accord. Clearly, this is a sub-compact by definition alone. This actually trumps a compact car which we also recently drove up north in terms of space.
After spending the first two legs of the drive in the back and riding shotgun, it was time to assess the City’s driving chops. The drivetrain for 2014 is a mix of the familiar and the new with the largely carried over 1.5-liter SOHC i-VTEC (120 horsepower, 145 Nm of torque) now mated to a new Earth Dreams CVT. There’s no need to be afraid of this CVT anymore. Honda’s previous foray with the belt-type transmission resulted in a mixed experience, but this one’s ten times better. Using a low-speed torque converter, the City feels punchy from a standstill—no need for the transmission to wind itself up like a rubber band to get a decent response. The instantaneous response is coupled with surprisingly explosive power making the City feel like a larger-displacement car. It rarely felt lacking executing an overtaking maneuver and in the rare occasion that it does, you can simply flick the paddle shifter to bring the CVT’s ratio down giving noticeable boost. And because of the CVT’s rather wide ratio, the City actually reaches a 190 km/h terminal velocity which is achievable (exact location withheld for my personal protection).
The all-new City also doesn’t drive like a typical B-segment sedan. It doesn’t have the same “hollow” sensation as the others, including the previous-generation model. It feels more planted whatever the road condition from smooth highway roads to pothole-ridden provincial roads. The body structure feels tight and sturdy making the cabin free from any shimmies caused by road imperfections or cat’s eyes. The steering and suspension are also well-balanced providing the right levels of comfort without any detriment to sportiness. Perhaps if there’s one criticism I could level on the City is that it needs a better brake pedal feel. Though there’s good bite (despite the vented disc/drum set-up), the initial stroke feels a bit mushy.
Reaching the Thunderbird Resort in Poro Point, La Union some five hours and 275 kilometers later, it’s surprising to note that the City ate up only half of its 40-liter gas tank achieving up to 15.3 km/L cruising on the highway or 12.1 km/L in a mixed relaxed/pedal-to-the-metal driving routine. Amazingly, the drive wasn’t tiring whether as a driver or passenger thanks to the City’s supportive and well-designed seats.
Mechanically, Honda looks to have gotten its act together with the all-new City; and then we just have to talk about its features. Priced at 880,000, the all-new City undercuts a more popular sub-compact rival and yet offers stuff almost unimaginable for this class: push-button engine start/stop, steering wheel controls, Bluetooth hands-free, two USB inputs, HDMI mirroring for smartphones, automatic climate control, rear view camera, among many others. It almost makes the Honda Civic look like a frivolous and unnecessary upgrade! And that’s the deal here. The Honda City is more than just a new sub-compact offering, it’s more than just simply best in class. This is Honda’s return to glory and a definite sign that its rivals better start cowering in fear.