Test drive: Honda City 1.5V

B-segment ruler upholds its saleability with updated looks and more kit at unchanged prices

Honda City 2017 cover

In 1985, Starship built a city on rock and roll. This synthesised recipe scaled the peak of the US Billboard Hot 100 that year, a feat replicated in Australia and Canada, such was the tune’s commercial appeal on a global scale. But even great cities fall, with many editorial powerhouses ranking the divisively catchy song among the very worst. Saleability and credibility don’t always go together it seems.

This certainly rings true in the automotive industry where the sort of cars that roll off the production lines in the thousands per day often leaves Alfa-revering purists and 911-worshipping enthusiasts cringing at their bug-eyed looks and scratchy plastics. As with any other industry, volume pays off best when costs are kept to a minimum. But not all populous cities are developed by scrooges.

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Take Honda, for example. While its endgame is probably just as profit driven as any multinational corporation in existence, its bread-and-butter product, aptly named the City, defies the basic rules of economics by offering its pennywise buyers a paradise of features, and tantalisingly so. RM78,300 buys you a family sedan with VSA (Vehicle Stability Assist) and keyless entry – the latter feature absent in most BMWs and Mercs costing thrice the price. A RM6,300 premium – barely the cost of two iPhones – adds on a 6.8-inch touchscreen, cruise control and paddleshifts, among other things.

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In living with the TopGear name, we like to experience things at full tilt. And since a City Turbo doesn’t exist (yet), the range-topping 1.5 V tested here should suffice. This one will set you back RM92,000, which isn’t exactly pocket change. But for something packed with LED lights, leather upholstery and more speakers than your Dolby 5.1 setup at home, the top-of-the-line City certainly elevates standards in the B-segment without inflation – the price tag was simply carried over from the less equipped, pre-facelift City 1.5 V.

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The first impressions are that these additional creature comforts certainly infuse the car with an air of luxury that rouses the senses the moment you step inside it. Fit and finish is top notch, as are ergonomics, with our sole complaint reserved for the new touchscreen head unit that lacks the vividness of the outgoing piece of kit. But the new one redeems itself with a multi-angle reverse camera display that makes parking in tight spaces a much less daunting task.

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There aren’t any extras to rave about in the drive department, with the 118bhp 1.5-litre four-banger soldiering on alongside a familiar Earth Dreams CVT. Even though 145Nm of naturally aspirated torque at 4,600rpm sounds a tad traditional, this powertrain remains the benchmark for 1.5-CVT combos for its blend of peppiness and overall refinement that works well both in and out of town. Just leave the Econ button alone and your VTEC Turbo expectations behind and you’ll not be disappointed by what the City can do for what it’s worth.

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Handling-wise, the City feels more planted than the Nissan Almera and Toyota Vios – two of its direct rivals – almost as though there’s more weight keeping its centre pivoted to the ground on the turn. True enough, it’s 2kg heavier than an equivalent-spec Vios, and a whopping 57kg more than an Almera. But the City doesn’t feel bogged down by any means, with its comfort-biased suspension backed by sufficient tautness to add to the car’s largely positive dynamics.

Honda’s comfort game is also on point in the City, especially for rear occupants who have plenty of legroom and dedicated air-con vents previously unheard of in sub-RM100k cars. The ride is pliant too in spite of the V variant’s choice of 16-inch footwear. Factor in a 536-litre boot and you’re looking at one of the best all-round sedans you can buy without breaking the bank. It’s completely unsurprising, therefore, 10,000 Malaysians deemed it necessary to book a new City within a month after its launch.

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But surely no car can be so perfect, can it?

If we’re completely honest, the City isn’t exactly extraordinary in any single respect – no car in the volume-driven B-segment is. A turbocharged Volkswagen Vento is more fun on the straights and a Mazda2 is marginally better around the bends. But few buyers base their signatures on these standout, rock-and-roll qualities. On the flipside, Honda’s City is built on the wants and needs of its audience, with generous but not overwhelming doses of each ingredient to make it one of the most universally approved cars in the market today.

We’d be singing along to ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now’ if we ran a Honda dealership…

Toyota Vios
Latest model also CVT-driven, but doesn’t feel as refined as the City

Engine: 1,497cc, 4-cylinder SOHC i-VTEC, 118bhp, 145Nm
Price: RM92,000
Economy: NA
Performance: NA
Weight: 1,112kg

Subtle but functional improvements applied to an already credible package strengthens the City’s position as the king of the B-segment.

Author: Daryl Loy