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Review: All-New 2014 Honda City - Is It Better Than The Competition?

Hans June 15, 2014 11:36

Just a few years ago, we thought Honda had lost its mojo. It appeared to have become an aloft, large corporation that preferred to stay in the safe middle by producing bland cars, prioritizing share holders value over exceeding customers expectations. The all-new 2014 Honda City has proved us wrong.

It’s been quite awhile since we last saw a car that made so much of an impact to the entry-level segment, and move benchmarks so much higher than before. 

The model tested here is of the highest specifications V-grade variant.

Specifications for 2014 Honda City 1.5V:

  • Price: RM89,467.20
  • Engine: 1.5-litre SOHC i-VTEC
  • Power: 120 PS at 6,600 rpm
  • Torque: 145 Nm at 4,600 rpm
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT)
  • Safety: Six airbags, ABS with EBD and BA, VSA, hill start assist, ISOFIX (rear x2), ASEAN NCAP 5-star
  • Origin: Locally-assembled in Pegoh, Melaka

What is it?

The 1.5-litre City is a B-segment sedan that competes against the Toyota Vios, Nissan Almera and the Volkswagen Polo Sedan – the latter uses a larger 1.6-litre engine.

There are four variants to choose from:

  • City S: RM74,006.90
  • City S+: RM77,123.80
  • City E: RM82,268.90
  • City V: RM89,467.20

All prices indicated are on-the-road with insurance.

Compared against its peers, the all-new Honda City is a towers a class above its peers, offering a good combination of a spacious interior, good value, high level of safety features, proven record of reliability and good good resale value that’s not matched by any of its peers.

In fact, the City is so accomplished that we think it should be compared against higher-class C-segment models.

Do you really need a 1.8-litre or a 2.0-litre C-segment sedan when a City provides better value, better safety features, is just as spacious (hard to believe, but the City’s interior is actually more spacious than even a Civic), and meets your requirements just as well?

Honda is so confident with its all-new City that the company even provided us with a selection of competing models for us to sample on our day-long experience with the City, just to prove a point.

The cars were provided by Honda, so don’t consider any references to competitor models below as an independent comparison, but merely as a good-to-know guide.

How does it drive?

Honda assures us that the City’s 0-100 km/h acceleration time of 10.5 seconds (S and S+ model, 10.6 seconds and 10.8 seconds for E and V model respectively) is better than anything else in its class. The company even closed off a section of the road for us to do a simple drag race against the earlier mentioned competitor models, provided by Honda of course, but on the surface, the cars appeared to be standard, with original equipment and tyres.

Early money was on the Toyota Vios and the Volkswagen Polo Sedan. The 1.6-litre Volkswagen has a best-in-class torque of 153 Nm at just a lowly 3,800 rpm and a six-speed automatic transmission, but the Volkswagen turned out to be the slowest.

On a different mountainous stretch, the Polo Sedan was having trouble keeping up with the Honda. Despite keeping the throttle planted on the floor mat, it was still overtaken by the City on an uphill stretch, with little effort.

Although the Volkswagen has more ratios, it was the Honda’s CVT that performed better. Even with the Volkswagen’s transmission set in Sport mode, it was not selecting the correct ratio. I had to momentarily lift-off the throttle and mash it down again to force the transmission to knock down another ratio, but by then the City was long gone.

The Vios and the Almera were marginally faster than the Polo Sedan but none of their four-speed stepped automatic transmissions worked as well as the Honda’s CVT. So forget about any prejudice you hear about CVTs being boring to drive, because what Honda has achieved in its City is very impressive. It is just a matter of getting used to the different characteristics of this CVT. Gone is the dreary droning sound and ‘rubber-band effect’ of earlier generation CVTs.

As for concerns with regards to the reliability of this CVT, buyers would be pleased to know that this is an all-new design that incorporates a torque-converter, doing away with the earlier unit’s start-up clutch - an Achilles heal of earlier CVTs.

On the downside, the City’s steering felt a bit too light to confidently tackle a challenging stretch of roads. Even the Vios felt slightly better, but it was the Polo Sedan that had the best steering. What the Polo Sedan lacked in performance it made up with a very confidence inspiring chassis and steering setup.

Have a little bit of faith in the City however, and you will soon learn that the breath of its mechanical grip is actually rather high. You must be doing something very nasty to force the car into a spin. After all, the car is called Honda City, not the Honda Mountain Pass.

The previous model’s paddle shifters have been dropped in favour of more airbags and rear air-conditioning vents. Some may miss having the sporty feature, but personally, I hardly ever use it so I wasn’t too bothered about not having paddle shifts.

Another highlight of the City is its electronic stability control feature, or as Honda calls it VSA. The feature was demonstrated by simulating an emergency lane change, with cones marking the width of a three-lane highway.

To simulate an emergency double lane change, we were told to drive towards the cones at 60 km/h, resist the urge to brake and at the last moment, jerk the steering wheel to the left and to the right, and repeating the same again almost immediately after. The exercise left some of the City’s peers spinning out of control and slamming into the cardboard boxes, which in a real-life emergency situation, could’ve been real cars.

Amidst the carnage of flattened cones and flying cardboard boxes, the City avoided the obstacles with little drama. The City test cars were wearing standard Goodyear Excellence 185/55 R16 tyres.

VSA works in the background by continuously monitoring grip levels on each wheel to prevent a car from skidding. Of course, VSA is not idiot-proof and its life-saving potential is still limited by the available grip between the road and the tyres. Do remember however, that VSA is only available on the E and V grade models.

Of the trio of Honda’s competitors, the Almera felt the most nervous, probably due to its long but narrow body, while the Vios was slightly better. Interestingly, the Polo Sedan proved to be very stable throughout the exercise. Although it didn’t have an ESP system (as Volkswagen calls it), it was very difficult to lose control of the Polo Sedan, even when we tried to.

The Polo Sedan’s ability to maintain its composure without needing electronic aids was indeed surprising. It is a testament to the Volkswagen’s superb chassis, proving that it is important to have a good chassis before electronic driver’s aids can work its magic.

Read also: When NCAP’s Five-Star Rating Don’t Mean Much – And How Honda Is Moving Ahead

How comfortable is it?

With a tilt and telescopic adjustable steering wheel and height adjustable driver’s seat, it was very easy settle into a comfortable driving position in the City. The same cannot be said for the Vios and the Almera, which lacks telescopic adjustment, but the Polo Sedan’s telescopic adjustment range is longer than the City.

On the move, the City’s cabin is a very comfortable place to be in. It is quiet, with generous leg and shoulder room. The same cannot be said for the Almera, whose brochure boasts of 636mm long legroom in the rear but what it doesn’t tell you is that shoulder room is severely lacking in the Almera – fitting three adults behind is a tight squeeze. Overall, the City’s cabin is clearly the largest in its class, once you consider both length and width.

The rear seats are set a comfortable angle. The front seats are little bit too soft for my personal preference but it’s not very different from its peers.

The dashboard has a premium touch to it. On the V model, the front passenger section is even covered in soft-touch materials. The instrument cluster, with its ambient illuminated ring looks a lot better than the Vios’ instruments, which lacks an Optitron backlighting and makes do with a rather cheap looking, bright coloured stickers.

The Vios’ lack of cubby holes in front also quickly becomes apparent. That’s quite surprising for a Toyota. Storing Smart Tags and mobile devices will be quite a hassle.

Hustling the City along undulating roads, driving over minor gaps on the road, and ruts, there is nothing to fault with the City’s suspension.

If there are any negatives on the all-new City, it will be the controls for the seven-inch touch-screen display. With no physical controls to mute/on-off or adjust volume, drivers will have to rely on the switches on the steering wheel or taking their eyes off the road to operate the virtual buttons. The black piano finishing also needs special care to maintain their shine.

How economical is it?

Owners will appreciate the City’s excellent fuel economy. With three adults on board and having to keep up with a swift moving lead car driven by GRA National Autocross champion Kenneth Chiew, the City returned 16.4 km/litre (6.1-litre/100 km).

Two more driver swaps later, and being driven harder over a longer 88 km distance over flat lands and hilly areas, it still returned a very respectable 13.1 km/litre (7.6-litre/100km).

We reckoned that the claimed 17.56 km/litre (5.6-litre/100km) can be easily achieved in the real world by adopting a gentler, smoother driving habit.

According to Honda Malaysia, total servicing cost for the all-new City over a five-year/100,000 km period will amount to only RM3,322.48.


Apart from the lack of physical buttons on the V-grade’s 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system, the other downside is the lack of projector headlamps (available on the Vios G and TRD Sportivo Variant).

Overall, the City is clearly the best choice in the segment. For a majority of the buying public looking for an entry-level family sedan, there is no better model that even comes close to the City’s all-rounded talent – style, space, comfort, economy, safety, reliability – the City has it all covered.

Unless you have a genuine need for a second car, or a larger utility vehicle, we reckon that the City is the one car that will not only meet the expectations of an average urban family, but also exceed those expectations by a wide margin.

About Hans

As someone who appreciates cars not just for their horsepower value but also for their cultural significance, he is interested in the art of manufacturing and selling cars just as much as driving them. Prior to swapping spread sheets for a word processor, he spent his previous life in product planning and market research.


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