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May 22, 2021

Review: 2021 Honda City 1.5 RS

For avid readers, they’ll know we’ve tackled the 2021 Honda City before in the 1.5 S AT guise (read the review here). While it had minor flaws, it was a reminder that Honda always set the benchmark in the sub-compact sedan category. It also showed that even as a base model, it was a solid offering. And people seemed to agree—the 1.5 S AT is the best-selling City variant in the country. But what if you wanted something a bit more stylish? Something with more bells and whistles? Well, there’s this: the 2021 City 1.5 RS.

As the top-trim City, the 1.5 RS is the fully-loaded model, and with a price tag crossing the one million mark (P 1.058 million to be exact), it better be extra special considering that two of its main rivals—the Mazda2 1.5 Elite and Toyota Vios GR-S are both priced lower at P 995,000 and P 1,020,000, respectively.

Let’s get one thing out of the way first: the RS badge. For Honda, these two letters don’t mean Rallye Sport or Racing Sport or Rice Standard; it means Road Sailing. It was meant to create an image of a boat sailing on land. It’s poorly-worded Japanized English, but they’re meant to be comfortable cruisers that people want to drive. So, Honda isn’t shortchanging you for not offering a kazillion horsepower or an 11-speed manual; you’re just barking up the wrong tree.

With that out of the way, how does the City “Road Sailing” fare? Well, things certainly start off on a high. The low, elongated profile of Honda’s sub-compact sedan responds very well to the whole RS treatment. In particular, the high-gloss black grille with honeycomb inserts at the front, and the integrated diffuser at the back do a lot to impart a sportier, more premium feel as do the two-tone alloy wheels. Honestly though, we’re torn when it comes to the black exterior highlights. They work great for the side mirrors and the rear spoiler, but not so with the Sharks’ Fin antenna—it looks rather unfinished.

Inside, the City 1.5 RS is more agreeable in both design and execution. Mind you, despite looking the part in photos, in reality, there’s still a shortage of soft-feeling or plush plastics. Regardless, at least everything feels well screwed together. Driver touch points though are well-done with the thick-rimmed three-spoke steering wheel and shifter both feeling more at home in a compact or executive sedan than in an entry-level sedan. Ditto the climate control knobs which operate with a crisp, premium feel absent in any of its rivals, including the much-vaunted Mazda2.

The City 1.5 RS shares the same 8-inch touchscreen as the rest of the City line-up (barring the entry-level manual variant), so the learning curve isn’t steep. In fact, it takes just a couple of minutes to set everything up. If there’s one issue here, it’s the lack of a traditional volume knob. Although there’s a vertical row of physical buttons, they’re located on the wrong side of the screen—a holdout of its transformation from right- to left-hand drive. It’s the only glaring unergonomic item in an otherwise driver-friendly cabin. Also, it’s worth mentioning that unlike the Civic or Accord, the City’s infotainment system doesn’t contain any sensitive vehicle settings (even the adjustment for the clock embedded in the multi-function display is separate) meaning audio upgrades could be done much easier. That’s not to say though that the stock audio system isn’t good enough though. It doesn’t offer thumping bass, but the 8-speaker system passes muster.

One thing’s for certain: the City’s taken some growth hormones. It grows to the point that it’s nearly identical to the ninth-generation “FB” Civic. It’s unsurprising that the interior space is huge—like compact car huge. The sheer amount of legroom can shame much larger cars. On top of that, the decision to install a horizontally-themed dashboard with a lower cowl, and thinner A-pillars do well to increase its feeling of space, all the while improving visibility. If there’s an issue, it’s that the centrally-mounted fuel tank—a design trademark of the City/Jazz since the first-generation “GD” days makes the seating a bit awkward. It’s not uncomfortable, mind you, but it’s not perfect either.

The road sailor also dons more upscale clothes such as leather on the steering wheel and shifter, and a suede-fabric number on the seats. The color scheme also goes dark (down to the headliner), and mixed in with the red-and-white themed gauges, it looks great.

Now, all these sporty design details may setup expectations of a racy driving experience. In reality, it’s more in tune with its touring namesake.

Like the rest of the City line-up, this one uses a 120-horsepower, 145 Nm of torque 1.5-liter engine mated to a CVT. It’s noticeably smoother and less gruffy than before, but as expected from a normally-aspirated, small displacement engine coupled to a gearless transmission, it’s not exciting either. Jab the throttle, and you’ll see the tachometer go up and stay planted at around the 4,500-rpm mark. It doesn’t sound like it’s screaming for dear life, but it’s not sporty either. Stay sensible though and progress is decent.

Like most modern Hondas, the City 1.5 RS comes with an ECON mode. It neuters the already neutered driving experience (like someone placed a sponge behind the accelerator), but it does result in a commendable 10.4 km/L figure in 22 km/h (we had it on for almost the entire week of our drive). Weirdly enough, this variant omits the ambient coaching light—the LED strip that changes color depending on your driving—going for a simpler “ECO” light instead.

Where the City 1.5 RS really shines is its suspension. Again, it doesn’t feel as pointy or agile as previous models, but it’s still easily the smoothest and most refined in the sub-compact class. It also feels solid and obedient through bends, but it does hop and skip through corrugated roads. Steering is light, but tightens up quite well at speed. The brakes bite very well too, though Honda’s insistence on rear drums means modulation isn’t as great; it’s more of an off/on feel.

Going back to where we started, is the City 1.5 RS a worthwhile upgrade from the City 1.5 S? In all honesty, it’s not a cut-and-dried affair. Budget-conscious buyers will find the P 888,000 version more than enough car, and that’s certainly backed up by its 43 percent uptake rate in the market. However, for those who’re willing to spread their budget a little bit more—P 170,000 more—the RS adds the right dose of style and features on an already solid package. As a driving machine, Honda could surely afford to make further enhancements (the addition of rear disc brakes for one), but it still is the segment’s best offering. With the RS version, it’s been fully realized too.

2021 Honda City RS

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Ownership 2021 Honda City RS
Year Introduced 2020
Vehicle Classification Sub-compact Sedan
Warranty 3 years / 100,000 kilometers
The Basics
Body Type Sub-compact Sedan
Seating 5
Engine / Drive F/F
Under the Hood
Displacement (liters) 1.5
Aspiration Normally Aspirated
Fuel Delivery EFI
Layout / # of Cylinders I4
BHP @ rpm 121 @ 6,600
Nm @ rpm 145 @ 4,300
Fuel / Min. Octane Gasoline / 93~
Transmission CVT
Cruise Control Yes
Fuel Economy @ Ave. Speed 10.40 km/L @ 22 km/h
Dimensions and Weights
Length (mm) 4,553
Width (mm) 1,748
Height (mm) 1,467
Wheelbase (mm) 2,600
Curb Weight (kg) 1,120
Suspension and Tires
Front Suspension Independent, MacPherson Strut
Rear Suspension Torsion Beam Axle
Front Brakes Vented Disc
Rear Brakes Drum
Parking Brake Manual
Tires Dunlop Enasave EC300 185/55 R 16 H (f & r)
Wheels Alloy
Safety Features
Airbags 6
Anti-Lock Brakes (ABS) Yes, with EBD
Traction / Stability Control Yes
Parking Sensors No
Parking Camera Yes, Rear
Front Seatbelts 3-pt ELR with pre-tensioner x 2
Rear Seatbelts 3-pt ELR x 3
ISOFIX Child Seat Anchor Yes
Other Safety Features Hill Start Assist
Exterior Features
Headlights LED
Fog Lamps Yes, Front (LED)
Auto Lights No
Rain-sensing Wipers No
Tailgate Manual
Interior Features
Steering Wheel Adjust Tilt/Telescopic
Steering Wheel Material Leather
Seating Adjustment (driver) Manual, 6-way
Seating Adjustment (front passenger) Manual, 4-way
Seating Surface Suede/Fabric
Folding Rear Seat No
Sunroof No
Trip Computer Yes
Convenience Features
Power Steering Yes
Power Door Locks Yes
Power Windows Yes
Power Mirrors Yes, w/ Fold
Rear View Mirror Manual
Proximity Key Yes
Climate Control Auto w/ Rear Vents
Audio System Stereo
Smartphone Connectivity Apple CarPlay
Android Auto
# of Speakers 8
Steering Controls Yes


  1. Dressed up overpriced mediocre car.

    1. Mediocre? Siguro chinese-made kasi ang sasakyan mo noh.

  2. Replies
    1. Which doesn't mean much since the 1.5 vios is another car that's overpriced and mediocre. Honda and Toyota can pass off cars that stinks of mediocrity and still price it high because in the end, people are buying the badge and not the car.

    2. They are far from mediocre when it comes to their track record in reliability and dependability. That consistency allowed these companies to charge more as customers had equated their brands with a good ownership experience.

  3. "Jab the throttle, and you’ll see the speedometer go up and stay planted at around the 4,500-rpm mark."

    Uly, I'm sure you meant tachometer, right? Anyway, in the battle of rubberbanding trannys, I think Honda & Kia's implementations are the best. The others haven't improved in generations.

    The really off-putting element I noticed inside this City's cabin is the very low-res 80's Casio calculator-level graphics on the MID between the 2 dials. They literally used a 7-segment digit display for the numbers. Heck, my 90s calculator has more pixels on its LCD than the MID on this car!

    And yeah, kudos to Uly for mentioning the RHD-oriented vertical column of buttons on the head unit. Cringey AF. None of the YouTube "reviewers" even mentioned that glaring issue for some reason. Can't they source something better for the audio display? Just not the 3rd-world AVT units that Toyota uses in everything, that's even more atrocious, bordering on criminal.

    1. Sorry, tach. Corrected that.

      Kia has so far the best implementation for CVTs...maybe Honda / Toyota in second and third respectively.

    2. was hoping they'd use the volume rocker like the ones on the refreshed crv and civic..... But yeah those buttons doesn't seem to blend well with the whole system :P

  4. RS version = Road Sailing? a bit Anyway, I hope they bring in the turbo engines next time. This latest version carries what I believe to be a 10 year old engine...may be older....I don't know why the Jap brands hesitate or avoid bringing their latest engines to our market. Obviously, the China brands have made turbo engines mass market....and they are better.... it seems the Japs believe we deserve 10-15 year old engines.... and even if they do bring in the turbo engines, they it make it such a big deal and overprice it. Kudos to the China brands for making turbo engines "normal". This ain't no new City. Adding RS badges, 1 or 2 HP to the engine and "enhanced cosmetics" betrays its 2021 Model nomenclature. Come on Honda....rear drum brakes for a subcompact above 1M? The Chinese have indeed arrived.....

    1. Max Cyclo 44, my family is a Toyota vehicle owner. I love both Toyota and Honda, but just like you, I'm slowly becoming convinced that they are shortchanging their customers with the engine, infotainment, etc. (except, hopefully, with safety). Hopefully, also, Chinese brands such as Geely will prove their long term safety, reliability and durability so that Japanese brands will give us the best that they offer in other markets.

  5. Honda, as well as the other jap and korean brands are guilty of repeating the same formula but hoping for a different result. This simply won't do anymore. Your Board Rooms are full of yes men and women.

  6. The "RS" badge was also the only way you could get a GE8 Honda Jazz in Japan with a six-speed manual gearbox in the past, so yeah. To say the badge's meaning is inconsistent is stating the obvious. The "Road Sailing" badge can be anything Honda wants it to be, especially as it's not deeply tied into a certain ethos like the Type R and (Acura) Type S badges are.


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