The non-national B-segment passenger car market is highly competitive especially with the recent attractive entries from Korean, American, French and German marques.
Enter the all-new Honda City.
We set off to Phuket, Thailand recently to check out if the latest incarnation of the City has what it takes to battle its rivals. The City that we drove was the Thai-spec model, which has a few differences in terms of equipment when compared with the Malaysian-assembled units.
Externally, the new car is similar in dimensions with the outgoing model, albeit with a longer wheelbase.
The styling is sleeker, with a sweeping front facia that sees the lights merge with the rather large grille, which has a passing resemblance to the hydrogen-powered Honda FCX Clarity.
Our top-grade V-spec City unit had a platinum-effect finish, which we found to be rather sexy.
A sweeping character line adorns the side from the front door all the way to the stylish rear tail lamps, which looked like LED units but actually use conventional bulbs – a pretty neat design element.
Taking a number of cues from the third-generation Fit (or Jazz as it’s known here) which it is based on, the new City features a rather sophisticated overall design language, especially when compared with some of its Japanese rivals.
If we had to nit-pick, it would probably be the rather small-looking wheels, which despite being 16-inches (V-spec), could do with a little upsizing to fill the arches.
Stepping inside, one would immediately notice the more spacious interior, thanks to the new platform.
The dashboard, which is a mix of piano black and silver, has an upmarket feel and is among the best-looking in its class.
Quality is generally decent, with hard plastics here and there, and is expected for a vehicle in this class.
In more expensive variants, the area above the glove box is clad in a rather interesting soft-touch leather-like material, with faux-stitching (like the new Toyota Vios).
A nice touch are the rings around the meter clusters, which glow from green (most fuel efficient) to blue (least fuel efficient) depending on how you drive.
V-spec variants are equipped with six airbags, a first in this segment.
The conversation piece would most probably be the large 7-inch touch-screen multimedia unit and touch-panel climate control (range-topper only, other variants get more conventional equipment).
The multimedia unit was a joy to use, and was very responsive – sometimes too responsive in fact – we noticed that it even responded when the power cable from our portable GPS unit hit it.
Those hoping for connectivity would be in for a treat. In addition to the power socket and Bluetooth, there are two USB ports and a HDMI port to link your iOS device via HondaLink.
Furthermore, the rear gets not one, but two power sockets, ensuring that everyone’s mobile devices stay charged throughout the journey .
The steering wheel – while moulded in plastic – is nice to hold, and good news is that Malaysian spec City would be getting leather-wrapping for higher variants.
Seats are comfortable and supportive. Those sitting in the rear would definitely appreciate the (possibly class-leading) legroom available, which would certainly makes it a snug place to be in on long journeys.
The Thai spec cars have a curious storage space on the rear portion of the front center arm rest.
This however, will be taken up by rear air-conditioning vents on the Malaysian-spec car (again, on higher variants).
Boot space is a generous 536L, and seats can also fold down to offer a ridiculous amount of space.
The heart of the City is a re-tuned 1.5L i-VTEC engine from the previous generation, which gives 118hp and 145Nm of torque.
Its transmission however, is all-new.
Out goes the 5-speed automatic, and in comes the new Earth Dream seven-step CVT (continuously variable automatic tranmission), which is tuned for maximum fuel economy.The new City has easy-to-drive characteristics, as it is meant to be an urban or city runabout (pun intended).
Our test drive involved scenic seaside routes, winding roads and congested town streets, thus providing a real-world experience.
Power delivery is smooth and should be adequate for its target audience.
As long as you’re not planning a one-make race (like some of us media folk did), the City cruises rather effortlessly, and with brisk overtaking capabilties especially when we downshifted using the paddles.
However, the paddle shifters are not available for the local model, as Honda Malaysia concluded through studies that the average Malaysian would not use it much.
Pity really, as it proved handy during our test drive.
Engine note can be a little loud when pushed, but it hums a rather pleasing sporty tune.
Honda has done a great job on the CVT, which feels really natural to drive and lacks much of the infamous “rubber band” effect. Some might question the use of drums for the rear brakes, but we think they are more than sufficient for stopping power.
Overall, we think the new City certainly raises the stakes, as it has equipment that even rival cars a segment above.
The new City offers more space, equipment and style, and has a level of refinement that is rare in this segment, especially among Japanese makes.
The City will be launched today and available in four trim levels of S, S+, E and the range-topping V.