Buy it for its practicality, love it for the drive

Published August 27, 2021, 12:00 PM

by Eric R. Tipan

Honda City 1.5 RS CVT

Honda’s best-selling nameplate locally (only second to the Brio since 2019) is back for the seventh time and while it seems too good to be true, this is one model that continues to get better over time.

Every generation it gets bigger, literally, and it’s no different with this. As the roomiest City yet, it stretches all of 15 feet, which is longer than any Civic (save for the eleventh-generation), and continues to push the limit of subcompacts as we know it.

If one couldn’t differentiate between Honda models, they could be fooled into thinking this was a larger class of sedan. The flattened hood, plus the extra four plus inches (length) and two plus inches (width) totally changes the ‘first impressions’ that come with a City. The cabin is visibly much larger and while the height didn’t change, it appears taller than its predecessor as well. I kind of miss the old sleek form but this new, somewhat huskier body meets the demand of the market for bigger yet more affordable mass market sedans.

These new changes, especially its façade, align its looks with the rest of Honda’s sedan and hatchback lineup which is great because of three things, 1. it makes all their vehicles easily recognizable even without the badge, 2. helps bring down production costs, 3. which in turn reduces harmful emissions.

One of the things I like the most is the grille it adopts from its siblings. This version on the RS is black and comes exclusively with full LED headlamps, LED foglamps, and a black spoiler at the rear. What it does share with other City’s are LED daytime running lamps, taillights and high-mount stop lamp.

Now despite having semi aggressive bumpers with air ducts and fins, and even a rear diffuser, RS actually stands for Road Sailing, à la a boat. So think smooth and comfortable ride. Its sporty looks are just that and does not in any way suggest that you try your GTA moves with it. But that’s not to say you can’t drive it fast, but more on that later.

The interior is uber spacious, and that’s saying a lot for a vehicle known for having one of the roomiest cabins in the segment. Ingress is way easier compared to the previous model and even its competitors.

Black is the primary color here. The contrast comes only from the silver trims (which perfectly complements the sports pedals), the red stitching, the red suede surface on the seats, and two glossy panels (one across the dashboard and another along the center tunnel). There’s leather on the multi-function steering wheel, the seats, and even the shift knob, but no soft-touch dashboard surface.

Another thing that grew (by an inch) is the infotainment system (from seven  to eight inches). It’s more engaging to look at because it’s colored but seems to use a less intuitive and slower OS compared to the last system. The fonts are also slimmer and could be harder to read for the visually challenged.

The only thing it has less of is trunk space – 17 liters less to be exact.

Controls of the air-conditioning system have a very premium feel to them. The clicks of the switches are crisp and it has a smart simple interface, which is refreshing because so many brands today try to go fancy and just end up with complicated controls.

Its 1.5L i-VTEC engine has been improved with double overhead camshafts to up output to 121 PS (up one from previous model) but same torque at 145 Nm. As expected, it’s sedate on Eco mode but very efficienct at over 17 km/l at mostly highway speeds. The engine has enough spunk and pull in the city to keep the drive exciting but it will strain for some pulling power on SLEX, and that’s partly due to the CVT (continuously variable transmission) and the small displacement engine.

Sport mode is where it really thrives though and is able to take advantage of its new feature, Agile Handling Assist, that uses active braking on the front and rear wheels on the inside of turns, to increase stability and handling. I gave it the ultimate test on Marilaque Highway and it passed with flying colors. It stayed balanced and maintained traction even at higher speeds and together with ABS, Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, and Vehicle Stability Assist, provided a much higher sense of control that inspired confidence and made the drive fun.

What could improve is noise, vibration, and harshness dampening as it sometimes affects the comfort of the ride and eats up audio from the eight-speaker system, especially when it hits a rough patch, which is unavoidable in our roads.

That being said, this is still a steal at P1.058 million. The Honda City 1.5 RS CVT drives so much better than before and still brings so many creature comforts without losing any of its highly practical features.