Honda City Continues Youthful Dynamics

By Lee Pang Seng
THE Honda City is now into its fourth generation. It seemed like only yesterday that we were the owner of the first-generation City, which started out here as a 1.3-litre model before the 1.5-litre variant was brought in about six months down the road. It has remained a 1.5-litre model ever since.

Over the years, the City has evolved in looks and engineering to maintain its contemporary standing, especially against the Toyota Vios that counts as its closest competitor. The latest City may look similar to the previous generation model at a glance but the new nose with the thick matte silver louvers carrying the Honda badge and sportily underlined by the lower air section with foglights clearly stamps its fresh status.

The sharper taper of the front, enhanced by the sleek angular headlamps, enhances the windswept look although the aerodynamic co-efficient is similar to the old. We also like the new rear combination lamp styling as it echoes the headlamp design in a slim and angular profile, flowing smartly with the car’s wind-cheating profile.

Since its launch in mid-March, orders had been strong from day one and Honda Malaysia had to go two shifts at its assembly plant to boost production to meet the enthusiastic demand. The waiting time today is said to be about six weeks as the latest City continues to draw customers strongly.

We had a go in the City V, the top model, for a few days to gauge its enduring appeal. It came in the new Brilliant Sporty Blue Metallic that appeared to be well received as many buyers were said to be embracing this hue. This is not surprising as the bold blue lustre blends well with the car’s fast-flowing looks and adds a dashing aura at the same time. Other neat complements are the shark fin antenna, matching five-spoke 16-inch alloy wheels shod with 185/55 R16 Goodyear tyres and the slim profile auto retract door mirrors with indicator lights.

The interior is a good example of spaciousness for a B-segment car. The rear legroom couldn’t be any more generous than this and 536-litre boot can swallow four golf bags easily. The boot is said to be the most voluminous in its class and if you want more space, fold away the 60:40 split rear seatrests (standard to the E and V models) and you can transport some long items as well.

This exemplary spread of interior space is gained from the dimensional increase in the latest City’s body. Firstly, it now runs on a longer (+50mm) wheelbase of 2600mm (a span that the bigger Civic used to run on). That means it is longer than the previous City by 45mm at 4440mm and marginally taller by 7mm at 1477mm. It is, however, 20mm narrower in width at 1695mm without losing on elbow room inside.

Through the greater use of lighter but stronger steel for its body structure, the new City is lighter than the previous model by more than 35kg, depending on models. The City V that we had a few days with tipped the scales at 1106kg kerb while the previous City’s top model weighed 1140kg.

As the top model, the City V comes well equipped: keyless entry with pushbutton engine start/stop; leather wrapped steering wheel with cruise and audio control; foldable rear armrest with cupholders; power retractable door mirrors; 7-inch audio display on the central dashboard area; eight-speaker audio system; auto volume control by road speed; HDMI socket; steering wheel voice recognition control; to name a few.

The engine powering the latest City may not be new but is an updated and improved version of the old. This is the 1.5-litre (1497cc) four-cylinder single overhead cam four-valve per cylinder unit that is undersquare in configuration with a 73mm bore and 89.4mm stroke. The compression is slightly lower at 10.3:1 from 10.4:1 previously. As expected, the output is similar at 88kW (120PS) at 6600rpm and 145Nm at 4600rpm.

The big change is in the transmission, which is a product of Honda’s Earth Dreams Technology. Honda has gone back to CVT (continuously variable transmissions) from the automatic system as it has combined the smooth operation of the CVT with a positive thrust on kickdowns to provide a speedy pace. While there is no option for manual selection of ‘gears’, there are three drive modes via the floor gearshift: D for drive, S for sport and L for low gear.

We found the engine responsive within expectations in Drive mode and could easily live with it in normal urban and highway drives. For our regular winding road section, engaging Sport mode raised the engine speed by almost 1500rpm so that the engine was operating near the torque peak to give the car good traction through the corners.

The Electric Power Steering, which is a new feature, gave reasonably good directional feedback and we could take the corners at pretty fast speeds. Body roll was nicely checked by the MacPherson strut and torsion beam suspension system. As the City came with more than 7000km, the tyres were quite well scrubbed and yielded to the mild understeer with some squeals. Nevertheless, we enjoyed the City drive through our favourite corners.

There is a Vehicle Stability Assist feature, which we didn’t turn off for the winding road experience as we felt the new City would have been just as easy to drive hard through the corners without the computer coming into play to compensate for the uneven dynamic forces acting on the four wheels of the car by applying braking action accordingly.

We didn’t come across a steep descent that required the use of the Low mode, which would have electronically selected lower ‘gears’ and raised engine speed to slow the car for the drive down places such as Genting Highlands.

The new City’s suspension set-up may be similar to the previous model but we found the tuning to be noticeably improved. It took to bumps well, with appreciable soft cushioning to make the ride that much more comfortable. This made the new City to be about as good as that of the Civic and Accord in ride comfort over bumpy stretches.

If you are fuel conscious type, the instrument panel has a dial that tells you the fuel consumption in real-time so that you can be gentle and progressive in accelerator pedal use to achieve good fuel mileage. There is also the green Econ button that you can press to get the engine management computer to let the power unit work even less effortlessly by selecting higher ‘gears’ to proceed. A less stressed engine means less fuel is burnt and better fuel mileage.

We didn’t have enough drive time on highways to gauge the new City further but the short sprints gave us a fair idea of its capability. Wind noise was appreciably low, even up to 140km/h; road roar was nicely suppressed and filtered; and the car felt stable. Engine speed at 110km/h was a low 2000rpm, which would easily have led to good fuel mileages on long drives.

The latest City is by far a big change from the first-generation model that we had owned before and a positive evolvement from the third-generation version in ride comfort and practical motoring without losing its fun-to-drive experience through winding roads. We came away hardly surprised that the new City continued to draw strong appeal, especially with its bold and youthful look to complement its strong overall performance.

The high-spec City V we drove is a bit pricey at RM87,896.00 but there are more attractively priced models down the line, such as the City E (RM81,078.00), City S (RM73,286.00) and City S+ (RM76,208.00). All prices are on-the-road without insurance.

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