Fun, Sun and the Honda City
I’m twenty-four, single, and I’m glad that unlike others in my age group, I have picky criteria for the ideal woman. Besides being sexy, she must be smart, simple, sophisticated and, above all, a turn-on. And before anyone would start sending me solicitations, I have already found her in the 2004 Honda City.
Having endured peanuts for lunch and a rather rough flight, I thought nothing could make me laugh, let alone smile on landing. However, all negative thoughts melted away at sight of four brightly colored Honda Citys parked near Kalibo’s airport entrance gate, a piece of land, which, oddly enough, doubles as a basketball court.
As I was here on Honda Cars Philippines’ ‘City Power Drive’, I’m happy to report that I was genuinely impressed with the car’s power. The diminutive City gained muscle in the form of a 1.5-liter VTEC engine, an alternative to the fuel-sipping 1.3-liter i-DSI power plant. Mated to either a conventional 5-speed manual or the ultra high-tech CVT with seven virtual gears and steering-wheel mounted controls, the City delivers an even more spirited performance.
Being the youngest participant, I opted to exercise my hand and foot coordination with the 5-speed ‘box. Of course, since Aklan isn’t crowded compared to Manila, there’s no better way to feel the additional 26 horsepower (from 82 to 108).
Slotting the shifter to first, it’s apparent that the City has Honda’s remarkably slick gearbox: a good sign, I thought. As I roared off in the Purple Mica (an exclusive 1.5-liter color), the City quickly gained pace—90, 100, 120, soon I was doing 140 km/h. If a slow-moving truck or tricycle prevented progress, I would simple shift down, allowing the engine to exploit its power band before cutting off at 6,500 rpm. It’s more than raw power too, as the VTEC in full song is an aural delight.
Of course, as the product of an engineering-minded car company, the City 1.5V (yes, that’s the official designation) isn’t a ‘bolt-on bigger engine, go faster’ exercise. Without getting into the nitty-gritty, Honda told us that numerous changes were done to the shocks, springs and exhaust system to accommodate the extra weight, while delivering an even sportier experience from behind the wheel. The brakes too were beefed up, upgraded to four-wheel discs as standard.
That’s not to say that the City 1.5V is pure boy racer. Despite riding on V-rated 185/55 R 15 tires, the City exhibited a well-sorted ride that’s neither too soft nor too harsh. I purposely tried to hit road ruts at full-speed to see if the City would get unsettled—it didn’t. I had Manila Bulletin’s Aris Ilagan and Jason Ang do the same exercise, and not once did I feel nauseated in my role as a backseat lab rat.
Its behavior on the twisty stuff was nothing less than impressive with generous amounts of grip, coupled with a well-weighted steering courtesy of the Electric Power Steering system.
The VTEC engine, larger wheels, better brakes and low-profile tires may make the Jenson Button-wannabes out there happy. But they aren’t the only things changed with the City. As modern as it is, it received exterior re-touches, albeit minor, for this year. Across the line, it features a darker rear lamp cluster as well as a new rear bumper. On the 1.5V, it gets side protector mouldings and a roof-mounted antenna as well.
Honda has retained the two shade interior scheme: either beige or gray, depending on the exterior color. In the Purple Mica that I drove, it was a two-tone gray scheme. Though not as lively as the beige, I still found it an inviting and pleasant place to be. Plus it’s probably easier to clean and maintain in the long-run compared to the beige.
Everything is ergonomically right with all major controls within easy reach. The large three-cluster instrumentation also offered remarkable readability even if I had the tendency to keep one eye on my mobile phone; coupled with the shifter, which was only eight or so inches away from the steering wheel, the readouts were enough to conjure up fantasies of rocketing away ala The Fast and the Furious.
Equipment levels stay the same on the 1.3A and 1.3S, with the 1.5V getting a better CD-player with two more speakers (for a total of four). However, the safety package that included dual airbags and anti-lock brakes, which was previous available on the 1.3S will only be made available on the 1.5V. The trademark U.L.T. seats, a feature that gives the City SUV-like cargo flexibility, is standard on the 1.5V as well.
Though there were no discernible differences in the build-quality of the 2004 City compared with the previous model, we’re glad to report that assembly has once again commenced at Honda’s Sta. Rosa plant, a definite boost to our economy.
The 70-odd kilometers from Kalibo to Caticlan were a good test bed for the City 1.5V. The twisty, uphill / downhill environment coupled with the occasional road imperfection meant that it could pass with flying colors for any road here in the Philippines. With the City’s new found power and subtle improvements inside and out, it’s probably the best everyday car for those on a moderate budget.
As I boarded the small boat to what could be the best tropical beach in the world, I felt as if I’d left something behind. Amidst the crystalline water and powder-like sand, I finally realized it: all I wanted to do was to go back to the port of Caticlan, and drive the City once more.
By Ulysses Ang | Photos By Ulysses Ang