Let's get to the point. The all-new 2014 Honda City is the best all-rounder model in its class. This was our conclusion after a recent ride-and-drive experience in Thailand with the all-new City.
Before that, let's recap on the all-new fourth generation Honda City, which will be launched in Malaysia within the next few weeks.
Prices have yet to be announced but we understand that buyers can expect a starting price of around RM75,000.
There will be four variants; S, S+, E and V. The lower range S and S+ models will spar with the budget oriented Nissan Almera and Toyota Vios 1.5J.
Highlights for the higher range E and V models are six airbags, vehicle stability assist (VSA), cruise control, 7-inch touch panel audio display with eight speakers, rear air-conditioning and Smart Entry for both front doors.
All four variants are powered by the same 1.5-litre SOHC i-VTEC engine paired to an all-new Earth Dream series continuously variable type automatic transmission (CVT). The model tested here is a Thailand specifications model that produces 117 hp of power at 6,000 rpm and 146 Nm of torque at 4,700 rpm. The performance figures will differ slightly with the forthcoming Malaysia market models as the Thailand market City is tuned to run on E85 fuel (85 percent ethanol blend petrol).
It also fits like nothing else in its class. Official dimensional data for the Malaysian market model is not yet available, but we understand that the wheelbase has been increased by 50 mm, with significant gains in leg and shoulder room as well.
Boot space is a class leading 536-litres (it differs from country to country depending on specifications for rear three-point seat belts and spare wheel size).
So does the City delivers on its promises? Read on.
Honda fan boys may disagree, but the City has never been an impressive car to drive enthusiastically. It may look youthful but its sporting potential stops there. This latest City is no different, and that's a reflection of the car's target market (maximising mass market appeal) rather than a lack of ability from Honda.
With four adults on board, acceleration is brisk but just like its other 1.5-litre peers, overtaking on dual carriageways needs a lot of forward planning. Ignore the steering wheel paddle shifters you see on the pictures as it will not be offered here. Considering how rarely the feature is used, we think it is quite acceptable to trade it for better safety features and more practical rear air-conditioning vents (not available in Thailand).
Buyers who have a negative impression on CVTs need to put aside their prejudice. This is a new Earth Dreams series transmission that delivers better fuel economy while providing a good linear acceleration but minus the shift-shock of a conventional stepped automatic transmission. Punch the throttle and the transmission seamlessly responds to deliver smooth acceleration without the irritating 'rubber-band effect' that was common in early generation CVTs.
Enthusiast drivers may bemoan the omission of rear disc brakes (it has uses drum brakes in the rear) but five times Malaysian Rally Champion Y.S Khong, who was with us during the drive said having drum brakes in the rear is not a concern at all for this class of cars, as weight is low and eighty percent of braking is done at the front.
In fact, we found the ABS kicking in rather early with the Bridgestone Turanza ER370 185/55 R16 tyres fitted on our test car.
Ride and Handling
If there is one obvious downside to the car, it will be the steering feel. While we acknowledge that the City is not a performance car, the steering is still tad too light for drivers to confidently take on a stretch of twisty roads.
The suspension is soft and supple, clearly biased for comfort. It is not as confidence inspiring as a Volkswagen Polo Sedan, still the most surefooted car in its class, but it is still a nice setup for long highway drives.
Generally, we don't talk about fuel economy when driving on winding dual-carriage roads that calls for a lot of hard acceleration to overtake slow moving trucks. Keeping up with a fast moving lead car eager to show us the City's driving abilities (which isn't much) also means that I was very hard on the throttle most of the time.
The trip computer shows that throughout the nearly 70 km duration I spent on the driver's seat, the City delivered 15.4 km/litre! I need to stress again that there were four adults and their bags on-board, with a lot of full throttle acceleration and the air-conditioning is set at 22 degress Celsius. No the ECON mode was not activated.
Interior Comfort and Convenience
Cabin noise remained relatively quiet even at speeds above 130 km/h but it should also be noted that the roads on our test route are also very smooth. Still, we have little reason to doubt that cabin noise level is as good, if not better than its peers.
The interior's highlights are the piano-black finished dashboard and touch-panel infotainment and air-conditioning controls. They do add a premium touch to the cabin but just like your smartphones, special care is needed to maintain them.
These fancy controls also tend to compromise practicality for aesthetics. Conventional control knobs/buttons provide a good tactile feedback and that makes them easy to operate while on the move. With a touch-panel, the driver needs to take his eyes off the road to operate it.
Sharp eyed readers will also notice that the gear-knob is also not as premium-looking as before.
The front seats could use a bit more support, feeling a bit too soft around key pressure point areas.
The need to accommodate a larger 7-inch infotainment display has also increased the dashboard height slightly.
Under the bright afternoon sun, there was a fair bit of reflection off the dashboard's surface on the windows and windscreen. The smooth piano-black finished section of the dashboard on the right side of the driver was reflecting off the front right-side window while the dashboard's upper surface was also reflecting off the windscreen. We suspect these could be partly due to the window tinting film used on our test car.
Fans of iOS and Waze will be pleased to know that the 7-inch touch-panel has a MirrorLink function that allows users to pair their Apple devices to display the same image from their mobile device on their vehicle's display panel (via a HDMI cable). It is not a full-fledged CarPlay function but it is good enough to do away with those mobile device holders, which are not safe to use (we've explained why here).
In Malaysia, the lower range S and S+ models are likely to get a single-DIN size audio unit with four speakers.
Saving the best for the last, the City's rear legroom allows your family members to be chauffeur driven in comfort.
Even with the front driver's seat adjusted to suit a 175 cm adult, there is still be enough space in the back for a similar size adult to sit with his legs stretched out. While the Nissan Almera boasts a similarly long legroom, the City stands out by offering wider shoulder room, something which is lacking in the Almera.
There are also two power points under the rear centre console for passengers to charge their mobile devices. Malaysian market models will also feature air-conditioning vents in the rear (not available in Thailand).
As mentioned earlier, this is just preview test drive with a Thailand market car so it is not a full representation of what Malaysian buyers will be getting, but it is close enough.
On the surface, the all-new City has a lot going for it. Enthusiast drivers may want to look elsewhere but for the average family looking for a practical, economical, comfortable, safe and reliable car for their daily use and the occasional long distance trip, the City stands heads and shoulders above its peers. If prices are as low as what we speculate it to be, it may well be the best non-national sedan under RM100,000.