March 05, 2014 00:00 By Kingsley Wijayasinha
Honda's latest subcompact is a worthy all-rounder and will pose tough competition for its rivals
For the first time in history last year, Honda left Toyota sniffing the dust as it grabbed the passenger car sales crown from Toyota in Thailand.
While the phasing out of the Corolla Altis and the late introduction of the Yaris played an important part in Toyota’s loss, many attributed Honda’s success to the large number of new models on offer.
Many of Honda’s new models are a result of heavy marketing research that gave the carmaker an idea of what consumers want in this country.
Take the Honda City subcompact, for instance. Representing one of the most popular Honda models in Thailand, the City is affordable – both in retail pricing and running costs – and comes with features that delight customers.
I took the all-new City on a spin recently and I must say that it’s a pretty good all-rounder as it locks horns with its rivals in a highly competitive market.
The City is growing in importance for Honda as it is now a core model for the company across the Asia-Oceania region. Sales of the City were higher than other major Honda models such as the Accord, Civic and Jazz.
This is the fourth-generation City – the first one was launched back in 1996 and was sold only in the Asean region. But the second-gen City was also offered in China and by the time the third-gen model was launched, the City was marketed in more than 50 countries, with production reaching 300,000 units per year in 2010.
The new City features modern styling based on Honda’s “Exciting H Design” concept. I generally like the exterior design, although I haven’t exactly made up my mind on whether to love or hate that deep, gigantic sculpted waistline from the front door to the rear end.
The car’s interior design is also nice, with a good-looking steering wheel and lots of space. There’s a Blue Triple Meter that combines the speedometer, tachometer and the multi-information display.
The centre console houses the entertainment system with a 7-inch display screen and “Advanced Touch” controls. Apart from playing music files and offering Bluetooth connectivity, you can also connect it to SIRI through the HondaLink Application if you have an iPhone 4s or 5.
The trunk is huge for a subcompact, measuring 536 litres, and if that’s not enough you can also fold the rear-seat backrests (60-40) to increase storage space by just pulling on the tab inside the luggage compartment.
The City is powered by a 1.5-litre motor capable of pumping out 117ps and 146Nm, which is just about normal for this segment. However, the new engine now runs on E85 gasohol (85 per cent ethanol and 15 per cent gasoline) and there’s an “Econ” mode to help minimise fuel consumption further.
According to figures from Honda, the City has a fuel economy of 18.1km/litre while CO2 emissions are 130g/km.
The engine is mated to a CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) derived from Honda’s “Earth Dreams Technology” project that is well known for offering swift response as well as low fuel consumption. However, I must say it isn’t much fun to drive, so there are also shift paddles behind the steering wheel, which means you can play around with the seven sequential ratios provided.
The “Eco” mode displays how much fuel you use and offers coaching for a more economical drive.
The three-spoke steering, which is adjustable for both reach and rake, is sporty and feels great in your hands, but unfortunately it doesn’t perform as well as it looks. The City’s steering is super light, which will appeal to many female customers whose priority is comfort rather than thrills, and isn’t very involving either.
The suspension – struts up front and torsion beam at the rear – held on to Chiang Rai’s mountain roads with a good level of confidence. But if things get a little out of control, a VSA (Vehicle Stability Assistance) system, which is offered across the City range as standard along with HSA (Hill Start Assist), steps in to assist the driver by braking the wheels or reducing engine torque. And speaking about braking, you get vented discs only in front as the rear brakes are drums.
Nevertheless, the City SV+, which is the top model, comes with a total of six airbags – dual front SRS, i-Side and side curtain airbags. There’s also a rear camera that offers three zoom levels.
There are more in the equipment list for the City SV+ including cruise control, smart entry, automatic climate control, Isofix child-seat anchors and a fin-type antenna.
Indeed, Honda has loaded the new City subcompact with a large number of features that give the car good value. The engine/gearbox combo gives it excellent fuel economy and there are plenty of gimmicks to keep you entertained.