When practical meets pretty

Published January 21, 2022, 9:57 AM

by Eric R. Tipan

2021 Honda City Hatchback 1.5 RS CVT

I was somewhat skeptical about the City Hatchback. Well, it was probably more bitterness really because it was replacing the Jazz. But it wasn’t long after the official Philippine reveal that I completely made a total 180° change of heart.

While it may look like the ordinary City, just in hatchback form, Honda says it uses a totally different concept, which is why it’s 21 mm taller but 204 mm shorter than the sedan version. Don’t worry though, both share the same wheelbase.

There’s only one variant of this model, the 1.5 RS CVT. So, it goes without saying that this gets decked out in pure RS goodness. On the exterior are the RS-design front and rear bumper, and the RS-design glossy front grille with the emblem. Plus, it comes with a diffuser and a tailgate spoiler.

All around is an LED lighting system from the headlamps, daytime running lamps, to the taillights. Perfectly filling up the wheel wells are 16-inch two-tone black aluminum alloy wheels that give it an aggressively energetic stance and an acceptable 134 mm of ground clearance.

It’s definitely not setup like WRC (World Rally Championship) hatchbacks and its Meteoroid Gray Metallic body color doesn’t even let the black trim or body lines pop out, but it oozes a different level of classy sportiness that wasn’t previously seen in a mass market, entry-level Honda. I especially like the rear package, from the angle of the rear glass, the petite tailgate, and the elaborate bumper. I never thought I’d say this of the City, but it is beautiful.

The smart key doesn’t require any buttons to be pushed. Simply reach for the door handle and the vehicle unlocks. Immediately, there’s a kind of youthful vibe in the cabin with its all-black theme and the minimal but strategically placed red accents as seen in the stitching and various other surfaces.

Getting in is easy because of the height and spacious cabin. The bucket-type seats feel great to slide into and the suede on the backrests and bolsters had more friction and held me in place much better. I do feel the manual adjustment needs one or two more clicks for a more snug driver-to-steering wheel connection.

Minus all the chrome, it has the same dashboard design as the City RS, like the polygonal air vents, horizontal glossy accent above the glove box and around the gear shifter, and the many smartly placed cubby holes, ledges, and pockets to store stuff. It’s not as sleek as I wanted it to be (based on the exterior look) but the uniformity and fit and finish are top quality.

Call me old-fashioned but I like these rotary aircon controllers better. I discovered that with just one swift motion, they’re just a lot quicker to adjust than the push-button types. Plus, they’re so much more straightforward and intuitive to use compared to some fancy modern interfaces.

While the eight-inch touchscreen seems to use a third-party OS now, it still looks as vibrant and maybe even more colorful versus the screen in the previous-gen City. It comes with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Weblink, Bluetooth, eight speakers (4 + 4 tweeters), and two USB ports. Sadly, there aren’t any of the latter in the second row; just a couple of aircon vents and a pop-down center armrest with cupholders.

Best part is, like all City’s, it offers the ULTR configuration — Utility for bulky cargo, Long for things like bikes, Tall for plantitos and titas, and Refresh when you want to kick back and relax for a little bit.

It has a Euro-4 rated 1.5L i-VTEC (Variable Valve Timing & Lift Electronic Control) engine mated to a CVT (continuously variable transmission) that puts out 121-PS and 145-Nm of torque.

Econ mode, as expected, holds back some of that power, changes transmission points, and even manipulates aircon settings to save more fuel. Sport doesn’t really live up to the name though, but how much can you really squeeze out of a small engine. Shift points get higher, feedback is faster, engine is just a tiny bit louder, but there’s very minimal effect in terms of overall speed that it isn’t worth the extra fuel burned.

That’s not to say it isn’t a great drive. It gets off the line smoothly and picks up the pace easily. Electric steering handles light for a 1.1-ton unit and that’s how it feels as well overtaking other vehicles. It can hit 100 km/h without much delay and can even go 10 or 20 clicks faster, but anything over feels like the engine is straining.

Comfort is very good and may even be better than the sedan version. NVH levels were very low, almost Civic-like and without a tail, it cornered better and offered higher rollover resistance.

At P1.115-million, you’re getting, arguably, the best version of the City yet. Gorgeous on the outside and stylishly versatile inside, it even delivered 14.8-km/l in mixed driving conditions without sacrificing comfort and fun. No wonder it has claimed 75-percent market share in just four months.