My Funny Valentine: Honda City (2003)
I’ve never dared touch my dad’s Frank Sinatra CD collection. Call me a buffoon, but all it reminds me of is an afternoon at a neighborhood Starbucks café. However, when I accidentally plopped in Frank instead of t.A.T.u in the City’s CD player, to my surprise here’s a guy who knew his cars—or at least the new Honda City. Though he probably hasn’t even heard about the City, Ol’ Blue Eyes got it just about right, and to prove my point, Frankie’s going to do a duet with me. Hit it, Frank!
My funny valentine
Sweet comic valentine
You make me smile with my heart
Your looks are laughable
Yet you’re my favorite work of art
There’s no denying the fact that the City looks awkward. Its decisively short front and elongated rear make it just about the perfect prop for Star Trek. The sharply angular line that runs across the hood through the grille to the front bumper makes it appear as if Darth Vader has the right to materialize from its interior.
However, that’s just about the only criticism you can level at it. Let me explain. The reason for the City’s rather dopey appearance is the result of Honda’s DNA splicing technology. Through the use of advanced bio-mecha-technology, they’ve managed to use the award-winning Jazz / Fit hatchback as a basis and slap on a trunk for the ASEAN market. Wonderful, isn’t it?
Like the Jazz or the Fit, whichever you’d like to call it, it’s the styling details of the City that count. For instance, examine the windshield washers…they’re not on the hood. The twin nozzles, which give off a mist spray pattern, have been tucked inside the wiper system to give the City a slick front appearance. In addition, the side view mirrors have been moved to the door, making room for a smaller A-pillar window, which greatly improves the front three-quarters visibility. Likewise, the sharply angled roofline gives the illusion that the City is smaller than it seems, while increasing the headroom for both front and rear passengers—much better than any of its competitors. Lastly, notice carefully that the rear lamps are an evolution of the outgoing Type-Z’s, while adding the Jazz’s cylindrical lamp concept. Excellent!
Is your figure less than Greek
Is your mouth a little weak
When you open it to speak
Are you smart?
Inside is where the space-age City acts supreme over other small cars in the market, whether in terms of ergonomics, materials or downright solidity. Usually cars without lumber support would end up making me feel like C3PO, but on the City, because of the spot-on seating position, my less-than athletic self swears that if my bum could smile, it would, cheek to cheek. And that’s just for starters.
Mr. Sulu may be disappointed with the rather regular looking three-cluster instrumentation, but they are just about perfect for the driver, whether he's occupying the front or back seat. Employing the use of typical needles instead of calculator-inspired fluorescent displays, there’s no excuse for hitting warp speed accidentally or running out of juice. There’s even a shift-pattern indicator—something that’s not present in sedans one class higher.
The space is simply luxurious for a pint-sized car, as long as you keep the total passenger count to four, counting Jar Jar Binks. There’s an irritating tendency to hit the knee on the power window switches upfront, but at least you won’t end up brushing shoulders with your wookie companion. The rear bench can take three if pushed to the limit, but it will feel like a sardine can—though at least not a value pack. Ingress is excellent upfront, less so at the back where perfectly gelled hair can end up a bit ruffled with the City’s less than ample rear doorway opening angle.
Then there’s the ULT seat—a feature that works magic by increasing the City’s lugging capacity to near MPV levels. I won’t bore you with Mr. Spock’s version of how it works, but simply put, with the touch of a lever, the seats fold to accommodate the goat, the tiger and the grass all in one go, with none of the three eating up the others. I surely liked this feature when I had to transport take-out Chinese food and newly pressed clothes at the same time—the food in the trunk and the clothes at the back. Result? No wrinkles and no sweet-and-sour pork smell on the clothes.
But don’t change a hair for me
Not if you care for me
Stay little valentine stay
Each day is Valentine’s Day
There have been countless preconceptions on the less than ample power of the City’s 1.3-liter engine. Rubbish. Despite having just a single overhead cam and two valves per cylinder, it delivers the right goods, making the 82 bhp feel more like 112 bhp. Sparing you from needless techno-babble, the i-DSI (Intelligent Dual Sequential Ignition) simply uses an advanced computer brain to control the twin spark plug configuration of each cylinder from economy to sport depending on how much the driver suffers from the lead-foot syndrome. Unlike VTEC, the i-DSI engine can deliver its peak power and torque at low engine speeds. This, along with a characteristic rorty exhaust give a very sporty impression to the City’s driving.
Though Honda could have offered the 1.5-liter VTEC unit, it doesn’t give the same amount of returns per added displacement as the 1.3-liter i-DSI could. In fairness, the latter is more than enough to push the City to a level considerably beyond the legal speed limit without having to take a week to get there.
Our Type-S test unit carried the optional Continuously Variable Transmission or CVT. This push-type belt system, as opposed to the traditional tooth and mesh gear system, costs an additional 40,000 pesos—a worthy investment if you ask me, as it maximizes the City’s response while giving unparalleled smoothness with no shift shock whatsoever. If the lack of gearing unnerves you, this CVT system carries seven virtual gears accessible via the steering-wheel mounted controls. In addition, this can give a snappier response to the CVT by allowing it to kick through its virtual ratios. All in all, the Type-S CVT can offer five distinct driving modes: normal CVT, sport CVT, 7-speed automatic, 7-speed sport automatic and 7-speed semi-automatic. You can drive from infinity to beyond without getting bored just by fiddling endlessly with the transmission.
Thanks to the high-tech engine and innovative transmission, the City can go up to 400 kilometers with just a 45-liter tank, producing a mileage figure of 12.3 km/L in the process.
The City’s excellence isn’t just limited to the drive train either. The chassis people have given the City enough agility to out-maneuver a bunch of crazy Klingon drivers. The turn in is precise and the car just handles, producing excellent levels of mechanical grip while maintaining a comfortable ride. The Electric Power Steering (EPS) system also varies the effort involved, making the City as easy to swing into a parking slot as a shopping trolley and as stable on the highway as a Honda Accord.
There you have it. The space-age Honda City is all you want in a car and much, much more. It doesn’t exude the same amount of passion as a Ferrari or even a Porsche. However, with the most thoughtful packaging, hard-to-challenge pricing and long list of standard features, this is one car that can’t be ignored. Honda has pulled out all stops to produce the winner in its segment. I love this car so much, it makes me burst into song…
But don’t you change one hair for me
Not if you care for me
Stay little valentine stay
Each day is Valentine’s Day.
By Ulysses Ang | Photos By Ulysses Ang and Jason Ang