Long-term: Honda City

honda City VX+ Navi

Top Gear (Philippines) - - Contents - Words by niky Ta­mayo


When the SX8-gen­er­a­tion City was launched back in 1996, it was a cheap, unas­sum­ing lit­tle car, but one based on the ex­cel­lent Civic EF plat­form. While lack­ing the Civic’s so­phis­ti­cated dou­ble-wish­bone sus­pen­sion (in­stead, it used cheaper MacPher­son struts), the SX8’s light weight and rorty 1.5-liter en­gine (also bor­rowed from the Civic) made it a sur­pris­ingly fun lit­tle car to drive. Its clas­sic three-box shape made it hand­some, too, al­beit in an un­der­stated and rather con­ser­va­tive kind of way. The model that fol­lowed in

2003, the GD City, was a mas­sive re­boot to the line. It fea­tured an in­no­va­tive mid-mounted fuel tank that gave it in­cred­i­ble cabin and cargo space, and an L-se­ries four­cylin­der en­gine that sipped fuel like a three-pot. It was an in­cred­i­bly so­phis­ti­cated ma­chine. It was also in­cred­i­bly unattrac­tive, earn­ing the mon­icker ‘ipis’ (cock­roach) from de­trac­tors. Yet de­spite this de­ri­sion, it was a smash­ing suc­cess.

Fif­teen years on, Honda’s de­sign woes are a thing of the past. The sharp creases and carved flanks of this GM6 model al­low it to stand out nicely in a

sea of com­peti­tors, while the Civicin­spired front-end facelift gives this

2018 it­er­a­tion a more ag­gres­sive look com­pared with the pre-facelift model with­out re­quir­ing any new sheet­metal. While I’m not en­tirely sold on the new

16in al­loy wheels, the over­all styling is still pretty good.

In­side, color ac­cents have been graded down from sil­ver to gun­metal, but ev­ery­thing else seems ex­actly the same. There’s sup­ple leatherette on the doors and the seats, and ev­ery­thing feels ad­e­quately well-made. Rear-seat ac­com­mo­da­tions are se­cond to none in this class, and even shame the cramped seat­ing of some cars in the next class up. Un­less you’re four feet wide, you’ll find the el­bow room ac­cept­able as well.

As with other midrange Hon­das, the City’s touch­screen now fea­tures Mira­Cast wire­less smart­phone mir­ror­ing—a neat gim­mick, though way too laggy to stream Waze or videos. For that pur­pose, the HDMI port is a more use­ful op­tion. The stan­dard sound sys­tem, while not au­dio­phile-crisp, boasts a pow­er­ful bass out­put that only fal­ters when play­ing old-school hip-hop at vol­umes that prove, uh, un­com­fort­able for back­seat pas­sen­gers.

The driver’s ques­tion­able mu­sic choices aside, those pas­sen­gers should be quite happy back there. The A/C is strong, even with­out the rear vents avail­able in other mar­kets. The ride is rea­son­ably sup­ple, though the low floor some­times catches on high humps and the sus­pen­sion runs out of travel if you hit a pot­hole too fast. These are is­sues in­her­ited from the pre­vi­ous model.

Han­dling is tight and se­cure, with light but pre­cise steer­ing. The 185/55 Bridge­stone Tu­ranza tires are fairly quiet over most sur­faces, but push them hard and they start squeal­ing long be­fore your pas­sen­gers do. While this new car isn’t as joy­ously nim­ble as the old SX8 was, given how big and re­fined the model has grown, that’s to be ex­pected.

This City is as big on the out­side as the Civic was 20 years ago—and even big­ger on the in­side. Peo­ple moan about how cars are get­ting more ex­pen­sive, but with the City, you can cer­tainly see where your money went. Aside from the in­te­rior lux­u­ries, there’s that 1.5-liter L-se­ries en­gine, which, de­spite be­ing over 15 years old, is still at the sharp end of the pack in terms of power and economy. With

118hp on tap, you wouldn’t ex­actly call the City slow, though the long ‘first gear’ takes its time to wind up, top­ping out at 70kph. Once you’re un­der­way, there’s more than enough power to merge or over­take, though you some­times have to slot into S mode to get the trans­mis­sion to kick down more quickly.

The CVT here is a true dual-pur­pose gear­box. In Drive, it slurs smoothly be­tween ra­tios, thanks to an in­te­grated

‘The City is a sure bet for a long-term own­er­ship propo­si­tion’

torque con­verter. In Sport, lock­ing clutches make for en­ter­tain­ingly pos­i­tive power de­liv­ery—more en­ter­tain­ing than the 0-100kph time of over 11.5sec would sug­gest. To be fair, an en­tire se­cond of that is spent wait­ing for the trans­mis­sion to slur off the line. This new CVT may per­form like a reg­u­lar au­to­matic dur­ing shifts, but it still feels slushy when com­ing from a stop.

The heavy torque con­verter also means fuel economy is not as good as that of the GD City, whose dry-clutch-pack CVT re­turned im­pres­sive in-city fuel-economy num­bers: The ipis could do over 8km/L in heavy traf­fic, while our GM6 tester man­aged 6-8km/L in the same con­di­tions. That said, the new car’s slip­pery shape and long ra­tios al­low it to hit over 22km/L on the high­way with lit­tle ef­fort, and up to 25km/L with con­sci­en­tious driv­ing and A/C use.

Other than that, is this the per­fect car? Well, we had a few con­cerns over the course of the month-long test drive. The key­less en­try and ig­ni­tion sys­tem are great, but the doors don’t au­to­mat­i­cally lock once you drive off. The cav­ernous trunk (I once crammed four­teen 20-liter wa­ter jugs in there for an on­line ar­ti­cle) proves a boon when pack­ing up for a long trip, but the par­ti­cle-board floor­ing tends to sag per­ilously un­der load. If I were buy­ing, I’d fab­ri­cate a stur­dier ply­wood floor, just in case. And the re­vers­ing cam­era’s res­o­lu­tion and con­trast aren’t up to snuff when you’re park­ing in the dark, but hey, it’s bet­ter than noth­ing.

For old-timers yearn­ing for the com­pacts of yes­ter­year, or for mil­len­ni­als up­grad­ing from en­try-level hatch­backs and hand-me-downs, the City pro­vides a pleas­antly premium but ap­proach­able ex­pe­ri­ence. While the ask­ing price for this Nav-equipped vari­ant al­ready eclipses the P1-mil­lion mark, the City now fills the same niche the Civic did many moons ago, and it fills this niche pretty well. True, there are more fru­gal, more pow­er­ful, and more ex­cit­ing com­peti­tors, but none of them come as close to be­ing an al­laround pack­age. As far as long-term own­er­ship propo­si­tions go, this one’s a sure bet.

Pho­tog­ra­phy by Chris­tian halili

The Civic-in­spired front-end makes a big dif­fer­ence

Hands down the most premium in its seg­ment

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