A drive with the all-new Honda City

Published March 4, 2021, 9:45 AM

by Inigo Roces

To Marilaque and back

Text and photos by Eric Tipan

Tanay, Rizal is known for its many scenic locations for camping or hiking, and sights like Daranak and Batlag Falls. Ask auto enthusiasts and they go there for the drive.

Marilaque Highway carves across the Sierra Madre mountains making for a twisty route that climbs as high 2,500 feet, giving drivers a picturesque view of the mountain range and the rainforests around it. This was the setting for Honda Cars Philippines Inc.’s (HCPI) first drive in the new normal with the new City.

The 2021 City’s exterior enhancements are significant and shows that it can look upmarket without the heavy price tag. I prefer this new look. It doesn’t try to distinguish itself too much from the Civic and mirrors its façade with a thick, chrome bar (black in the RS variant) spanning the width of the grille. And just like its bigger sedan sibling, it also has chrome accents on top of the halogen projector (full LED in the RS) headlamps.

Just like before, the daytime running lamps are LEDs but the big improvement is the taillights and the high-mount stop lamp. Both are now LEDs across all trims. It’s also a big plus that a shark-fin antenna also comes standard.

The whole design works around the ‘Ambitious Sedan’ concept that aims to provide owners with a ‘sense of confidence to upgrade their lives.’ Seems like a lot to ask just from its aesthetics but the vehicles practices what it preaches.

The sharp and deep character line that runs along the side is inspired by the ‘Katana Blade In Motion’ and adds just a touch more style compared to its counterparts in the segment. It’s longer and wider than the previous generation but it doesn’t feel like it. It retains the same wheelbase length but it’s now lower in total height by 10mm.

All trims get the Push-to-Start button so you can click the unlock button without taking the key out of your pocket. You won’t have to, ever. The V and the RS use a Smart Entry system.

The cabin space is as generous as the previous generation and there are plenty of bottle/cup holders and cubby holes. I counted five in between the front seats alone.

S units have fabric seats while the V and RS use a combo of leather and suede. I like how it has great lumbar support, which is sorely lacking in most models regardless of price, but the adjustment increments of the seatback are too wide apart and it doesn’t go as straight as I would want. The headrest helps a little bit but one more notch forward would be great.

Another great cabin feature is the eight-inch touchscreen, bigger by an inch. It has Apple Carplay, Android Auto, and WebLink. All those are available on all models with CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission). I love how colorful and responsive the infotainment interface is, and despite being tilted back it didn’t reflect high-noon sunlight and was clear to view.

It has the same 1.5L i-VTEC engine but it’s been improved with double overhead camshafts. The result is 89 PS (up one from previous model) but the same torque at 145 Nm. Aside from additional power, the added camshaft should make it more fuel efficient. Our short 100-kilometer drive with an average speed of 55 km/h yielded 13.4 kilometers per liter.

While that initial reading is impressive, what it did along a wet Marilaque Highway was remarkable. With only 185mm wide tires, it handled extremely well in drizzling conditions and along numerous, consecutive curves, up- and downhill.

That may be partly due to its new feature, Agile Handling Assist (AHA), that is also standard for the nameplate. Working together with Vehicle Stability Assist, it uses active braking, typically on the front and rear wheels on the inside of a turn, to increase stability in sharp turns and bends. I initially mistook this for slight oversteer (and blamed the rain and road debris) as I felt a very slight ‘turning in’ motion when I took a curves hard. This corrective move by the AHA is palpable and will definitely save your life, or at the very least, a costly repair bill.

I was also expecting the brakes to struggle with all the hard stopping but it held up well. Granted the vehicle only had about 70 kilometers on it, how it dove into corners and stopped on a dime for close to 100 kilometers made it seem like it had bigger rotors.

The only thing it has less of is trunk space: 17 liters less to be exact. Other than that, it has more of everything. Extra features, bigger size, added amenities to keep you focused on a better drive, a better life.

From left: Masahiko Nakamura, President, HCPI; Louie Soriano, General Manager of Sales Division and Spokesman; and Ryohei Adachi, Executive Vice President.

HCPI has sold 131,000 units of this model since 1996 and it’s not its top-selling nameplate for nothing. The 2021 Honda City is its best version yet so check it out, or better yet, get one now before the safeguard duties kick in.

The City starts at P848,000 for the 1.5 S MT all the way to P1.058 million for the 1.5 RS CVT.