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Honda City review: Exceeding City limits

The cheapest four-door Honda pushes the compact sedan segment envelope with appeal that goes beyond basic motoring.

BT_20201009_HONDAB_4275727.jpg
Honda has also cribbed from itself for the interior, particularly the cockpit which has the same appealing, driver-centric sensibility as the Civic sedan.

BT_20201009_HONDAB_4275727.jpg
Honda has also cribbed from itself for the interior, particularly the cockpit which has the same appealing, driver-centric sensibility as the Civic sedan.

BT_20201009_HONDAB_4275727.jpg
Honda has also cribbed from itself for the interior, particularly the cockpit which has the same appealing, driver-centric sensibility as the Civic sedan.

Singapore

EVERYONE seems to think that disruption in the car business applies to a growing number of oddball electric vehicle startups, but the Honda City is one example of a more sensible way to disturb the status quo. It pushes the envelope for cheap compact sedans, and is the kind of car you can write a cheque for without worrying that you've just bought your kid or parent a hunk of junk. That's Hondas for you.

This particular Honda doesn't look like a car designed primarily by bean counters, even though it has a five-figure price tag (with certificate of entitlement). If anything, Honda seems to have gone out on a limb to make the City more attractive, with good results.

Compact sedans often look dumpy because they have a small footprint married to a relatively tall stance, but the City looks relatively sleek because it's been stretched and widened but lowered, and it has a sloping rear roofline.

This version is the RS, which is the sportier trim compared to the more conventional SV variant, so it has hexagon-grille patterns, gloss black mirror caps and trim elements, and larger 16-inch wheels. All fetching stuff, to be sure, and who's to say you can't have a bit of fun even if you're keeping the spending low? Mind you, if you do want to keep things plain, there's a version of the Honda that costs S$89,999 with COE, a good S$3,000 less than the City RS.

More generally, the City's front end now resembles those of its bigger brothers, the Civic and Accord more closely. It's a more mature design as well, purposeful without being overwrought, with the full LED headlamps and generally clean lines giving it an aggressive, ready-to-go look.

Honda's even found the room for design flourishes. There's a character line that runs from the headlights all the way to the taillights, something Honda says was inspired by a katana sword.

That last bit sounds like a touch of marketing hyperbole, even if it does make the car look lower than it really is, but what's undeniable is that the City does have traits commonly found on pricier cars, and hardly ever seen on compact sedans until now.

Honda has also cribbed from itself for the interior, particularly the cockpit which has the same appealing, driver-centric sensibility as the Civic sedan. That starts with a leather steering wheel (again, not always a given for this segment) with sporty red-stitching and lovely-feeling buttons.

There's still plenty of black plastic on show, but Honda has a way of making the mundane look and feel more premium, for example, in the high quality of all the switchgear, and the unifying theme of red and black on the instruments and controls.

Another upscale touch is the 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system, which is made by audio specialists Alpine and boasts surprisingly good sound quality from its eight-speaker setup. It also plays nice with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto - nice for the functionality those connectivity suites bring, but vital if the City's intended owner is a millennial.

"Compact" is a byword for "cramped" in some cases, but not with the City. The plunging roofline that gives the car its improved looks eats into rear passenger headroom, but the extremely generous legroom makes up for that, and ferrying around five adults can be done without outright strife.

The 519-litre boot is exceptional (considering a small European hatchback has typically three-quarters the space) with a wide-loading aperture, but don't count on any furniture runs here, since the rear seats don't fold down.

Given what's on display, it would have been forgivable if the City drove like every other compact sedan, that is, a fuss free and frugal experience and little else. Yet, as Honda fans have rightly come to expect, the City delivers a little extra from behind the wheel.

On paper, the modest 1.5-litre engine and continuously-variable transmission look to set up the City as yet another plodding, easy-to-drive small car. But while it's certainly not fast, it's ahead of other cars in the class, in that the acceleration feels more eager, and it has more zing at city speeds.

It also handles well, being responsive and stable at most speeds, and you can eke out a surprising amount of speed in corners if you remain committed. At the same time, it's relatively quiet, it's still not a large car and is blessedly easy to manage in carparks. It's also quite frugal, and if you can drive it with restraint it's easily capable of sipping less than six litres of petrol per 100km.

With sportier looks, good space, an above-par driving experience and fuel efficiency, there's not much more to ask for here.

If we did have a wish it would be for the inclusion of active safety features, the kind that keep you in lane or warn you of obstacles coming up, which are becoming more common in mainstream cars. Still, with six airbags and a new platform built to current crash test standards, the City should be otherwise solid in conventional safety terms.

Cars in this segment are supposed to be as bare-bones as possible, but the Honda City does shake things up without straying too far from its original brief.

If you've never considered one as a second family runabout, or a first car for junior so he'll stop asking to borrow the Porsche, now might be a good time to start.

It goes to show that there's plenty of mileage in solid improvement and evolution, with a little bit of risk taking thrown in. A City expands by construction, rather than disruption, after all.


Honda City 1.5 RS

Engine 1,498cc, in-line 4
Power 121hp at 6,600rpm
Torque 145Nm at 4,300rpm
Gearbox CVT automatic
0-100km/h 10.3 seconds
Top Speed 199km/h
Fuel Efficiency 5.6L/100km
Agent Kah Motor
Price S$92,999 with COE
Available Now

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