Long-term: Honda City
honda City VX+ Navi
THE CIVIC’S YOUNGER SIBLING IS ALL GROWN UP
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.
The Civic-inspired front-end makes a big difference
Hands down the most premium in its segment