New Honda City Hybrid review: B-segment hybrid hero?

Nice price, but how does it drive? Find out our first impression, here

Honda City Hybrid cover

So hybrids are back in fashion?
Anything that claims to save fuel, should be, in today’s climate. This one is particularly interesting because the City Hybrid is the second model in just a few months (or is weeks?) that Honda Malaysia has launched a hybrid. The first, in case you've forgetten, is the Jazz Hybrid. Also, ours is the first market in ASEAN that sells this particular variant.

I bet they share the same hybrid system
They do. Output and torque are similar too. Luckily, Honda Malaysia also had the Jazz Hybrid ready for a quick test drive handy. We know what you want to know – yes, they both feel pretty much the same. Others may say that there are subtle differences, but I tried making the driving as flat (read: equal) as possible, but no. Differences are – if anything – marginal. Quick disclaimer: a comprehensive drive may prove otherwise. This is my opinion, now.

Can’t fault the power figures – a combined output of 137hp and 170Nm. Useful when darting through city traffic (pun intended).

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Let’s start with the exterior…
Take away the three ‘Hybrid’ emblems on the car and it becomes almost impossible to differentiate from the petrol-powered variants. Interestingly, this is probably the first Hybrid ever in Malaysia that doesn’t bother with ‘aero-efficient’ alloys. The 16-inch ones on the City is downright stylish, even.

Having said that, maybe a more unique look would be better appreciated.

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… Inside?
The biggest surprise is actually for what the City Hybrid does not have, which is a compromised boot. The 536 litre capacity is exactly the same as in the petrol variant, a huge welcome. This comes from a more compact yet powerful battery.

Another big change is the fancy gear lever. It connects to the new 7-speed dual-clutch transmission (DCT). So yes, other differences to the non-hybrid variants are only to accommodate the new powertrain, including the extra information by the display within the instrumentation panel.

Oh, the seats are wrapped with fabric instead of leather as in the City 1.5V.

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So is the Hybrid a downgrade?
No way, and certainly not because of upholstery. We just have to be careful as it all depends on the efficiency of Honda’s new hybrid system. If it does not save fuel – by extension, money – then any difference to other City variants, which is already quite a frugal B-segment sedan, is merely physical. Thus the critical question in my view is just how much fuel it burns. Honda claims 3.9L/100km, an undoubtedly very attractive number.

Which of course is something no one was able to find out, owing to the very short time given; and is understandable. Again, the usual longer test drive should reveal more. If it helps, the on-board computer shows a 872km expected range from an-almost tankful of petrol (see pic below).

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How’s the drive?
Honestly, the previous Honda hybrid technology was, to put it mildly, underwhelming. So to improve on that wouldn’t be too difficult (or, too surprising).

Positives from the drive first: the surge from the electric motor is very noticeable. At the traffic lights it will smoke its competitors, even if the City Hybrid, strictly speaking, has no peer. Thank you, electric motor.

Comfort level is high, perhaps the same as the regular car. So is the NVH, although it is best to drive the car lazily because there’s a fair bit of noise under heavy throttle.

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Also, a new fully electric compressor allows the air-conditioning system to work even when the engine idle stop is activated.

Brake feel is rather good, something which hybrids tend to underperform in. The top end of the throttle, however, is not as great – makes very slow speed travel a bit of a work.

My main concern, on the other hand, is that the car was not giving much of fully-electric travel. Sure, it’s a conservatively priced B-segment but a 100 metre of emission free driving is not too much to ask, right? Possibly, after being driven by a dozen or so journalists before me, the hybrid battery had very little electric assist left in it. I do hope the new City Hybrid is a proper Ringgit-saving, fuel-sipping vehicle – and true to its 3.9L/100km claim, without resorting to hypermiling – because that’s the car we need right now. Especially at that price.

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Ahmad Zulizwan
Author: Ahmad Zulizwan
Take it to the track, please.