Auto, Reviews

Auto Review: Touch Tomorrow with the 2014 Honda City VX

Even amid the rising concern for eco-friendliness and reduction of carbon footprints, cars seem to be outgrowing their respective classes in the recent years. Take for instance sub-compact sedans, which have started to overtake autos a class above in terms of space, trim and even price. The same goes for the sixth generation Honda City, which we have had the chance to review upon its launch in the Philippines domestic market. The City has certainly grown bigger in size and space, and the equipment easily outclasses even bigger sedans in the market.

Launched in November 2013, the sixth-generation Honda City had its ASEAN debut in January of this year, reaching markets like the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam and the like starting second half of the year. Based on the third-generation Honda Jazz (Honda Fit in Japan) platform, the City now sports the company’s new “Exciting H” design language, which is evident in almost everything, from the front grille, front profile, dashboard and more. Whereas the previous arrow-like design evoked maturity, this particular generation’s styling evokes excitement.

The Philippines market variant of the City comes in the base E, mid-range VX and top-spec VX+ trims. Philippine-spec models come with L15Z1 1.5 liter SOHC i-VTEC engines outputting 117 horsepower, although some international variants ship with a more advanced 99 hp 1.5L Earth Dreams engine. Manual transmission cars have been the norm in this country for so many years, although Honda has decided to go with the current trend of releasing most of its City variants with automatic transmission. Only one model in the E spec comes with stick-shift. The automatic variant E spec comes with 5-speed traditional (torque converter) AT, while VX and VX+ variants come with 7-speed continuously variable transmission (CVT), ensuring optimal power output and fuel economy throughout the rev range.

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Even with the rising obsession for lower-displacement engines, Honda chucked the 1.3-liter engine in the City retaining 1.5L configurations throughout all models, perhaps opting for the bigger engine configuration to ensure the car is not underpowered.

I got to take the VX variant for a spin through city, suburbs and mountain routes for a week, courtesy of Honda. I can say that, compared with the fifth-generation City which I reviewed a couple years back, this particular model has matured enough, in terms of features, driveability and comfort.

Design and First Looks

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The previous generation City was a world apart over its predecessor in terms of design language, but the same may not necessarily be said for this current iteration, as the sixth-gen Honda City does retain the wedged form of the model it replaces. However, it does get the benefit of character creases that extend from the front doors toward the rear fender and which continue through the brake lamps, perhaps geared toward improving aerodynamics. Also, instead of the usual mesh- or honeycomb-type front grille, the City’s front has more chrome wrapped around the “H” Honda logo, extending toward the headlamps.

The interior is where one would be surprised at a car in this class. Whereas the fifth-generation City came with plasticky interiors that evoke “cheap”, this generation City has more refinement in its interiors. Silver-trimmed soft-touch plastics wrap around the dashboard. The steering wheel has also been upgraded to a design similar to that found on the City’s bigger brethren, the Accord and CR-V.

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“Touch Tomorrow” is the focus of this generation City, and the dashboard does certainly conform to this standard. Replacing the usual 2-DIN stereo system is an integrated touch-screen that controls the car’s audio and accessories via a 7-inch capacitive touchscreen. The screen also converts to the rear-view camera when reversing. The same capacitive touch interface is also employed by the climate control below the main touchscreen, which reduces the visual and tactile clutter that traditional rotary dials or levers will usually result in. The touch-heavy interface comes standard in the VX and VX+ trims, which gives the City a more premium feel than even cars bigger than B segment.

The VX and VX+ also offer push-to-start, paddle shifters and bigger, 16-inch alloy wheels, compared with the base E class. Honda also offers Modulo utility and Mugen sports packages and body kits, for those inclined towards the after-market look without having to settle for non-Honda parts.

Comfort and Amenities

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Size-wise, the City has, indeed grown in terms of length and height. At 4,440 mm length and 1,497 mm in height, it is 25 mm longer and 7 mm higher, respectively. The wheelbase has also grown by 50 mm to 2,600 mm, which should improve ride quality in bumpy roads. Width remains the same at 1,695 mm. The City comes with class-leading trunk storage space at 510 liters — bigger than most cars in the B- and even some in the C-segment. At this size, the City is the biggest subcompact by far, relative to its class competitors like the Toyota Vios, Nissan Almera, Kia Rio, Hyundai Accent, Ford Fiesta and Mazda 2, among others.

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Ride is comfortable with adequate NVH reduction. Cabin is comfortable enough for four adults, and is spacious enough for five. You get two cupholders, four bottle holders and a bevy of outlets for gadgets, including three (three!) 12V power sockets, a USB outlet and even an HDMI outlet. Still, if you’re coming from a bigger car (like an SUV, midsize sedan or minivan), you will still feel it’s a subcompact sedan, though.

The touchscreen interface also comes with smartphone connectivity. You can interface your iPhone or Android device via Bluetooth. The car’s steering wheel has mobile phone controls for voice dial, “call” and “end”, as well as audio controls for the car stereo.

Performance and Driveability

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When it was originally launched in ASEAN, the City was meant as a city car, and the sixth-generation City certainly feels at home in the stop-and-go traffic of the city. The car has spacious interiors, but is still compact and maneuverable enough to  go about in city traffic and fit tight parking spots. The 1.5-liter engine is driveable in stop-and-go traffic, and you won’t find yourself lagging behind at the green light.

On a weekend, my family and I took the City for a spin via the South Luzon Expressway-Sta-Rosa-Tagaytay route, and found the city to handle well in the highway. On winding mountain passes, the suspension handles well — Honda tunes its suspension with adequate stiffness, after all, at least compared with other popular local subcompacts from Toyota and Nissan.

The only trouble is that with its smooth CVT acceleration and comfortable seats (for a compact sedan) is you might find yourself fighting sleep while cruising. Not that there is no excitement that comes with this zippy car, of course. You can do some spirited driving via the steering column-mounted paddle shifters. Pull the left lever to downshift, and the right to upshift. You can manually select “gears” in drive, but you can also switch to the “S” sport mode in the tranny selector to go manu-matic full-time.

Fuel consumption is 9-10 Km per liter in the city, 19-20 Kpl highway and about 14 Kpl mixed. And yes, it comes with the usual “ECON” mode found on the Civic, Accord and CR-V. Activate it and you will feel a little drag in accelerating, but it might be worth the fuel savings whilst in stop-and-go traffic.

Verdict

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The all-new 2014 City is more high-tech than the latest-generation Toyota Vios, which it competes squarely against. The City’s VX and VX+ variants come standard with a touch-screen interface, reverse camera, push-to-start, touch-sensitive door handles, CVT and paddle shifters — features that are commonly found in higher-spec and higher-priced cars. Those used to Honda’s sportier/firmer ride will not be disappointed, as the City can tackle curves and corners with ease. The 1.5 liter engine is adequate in city and highway driving, although CVT sometimes struggles in uphill drives — you might find yourself down-“shifting” using the paddle shifters during these instances.

At least in the Philippines, the City comes with a premium in terms of price and financing. Toyota, for example, has come up with ultra-low down payment schemes for its Vios (starting at PhP 19,000), likewise with attractive lease-to-own packages. To address the popularity of the ultra-compact sedan, even Honda has launched its A-segment Brio and Brio Amaze, which is smaller and cheaper than the City.

Even with this price and financing premium, the Honda City is great for a daily driver for commuting to work. Its size is adequate for city driving and will be a good first car for singles, young couples or starting families.

Prices and Specs (Philippine / ASEAN market)

  • City 1.5 E PhP 756,000 (MT) / PhP 796,000 (5 speed AT)
  • City 1.5 E Modulo Utility PhP 821,000 (5 speed AT)
  • City 1.5 VX PhP 880,000 (CVT)
  • City 1.5 VX Aero Sports PhP 935,000 (CVT)
  • City 1.5 VX+ PhP 970,000 (CVT)