Ultra-Electromagnetic Car: Honda City (2009)
Admit it, as a kid you always dreamt of being in one of those superhero cartoons. Whether you had x-ray vision or donned an invincible suit of armor, living a life set in pure celluloid fantasy always preceded dreams of becoming a lawyer, an astronaut or the pope. In my case, I wasn’t truly fond of superheroes; it was more of super robots and nothing was cooler than Daimos. I couldn’t care less that the story revolved around the forbidden love between the protagonist and the sister of his nemesis. When I was just eight years young, the only thing that mattered was that the spiky-haired hero drove a fantastically cool car. And that’s not all: he showed he drove with such precision that he always jumped off a cliff into his moving truck/robot in every episode just to beat the crap out of the bad guy’s giant monster. Reflecting on it twenty years later, this made absolutely no sense since the hero could have just showed up riding the truck/robot in the first place. But even I had to admit, seeing the car shooting into the truck’s cargo bay looked cool.
This feeling of cool without necessarily needing to do so makes the new Honda City a delectable car. Honda could have easily brushed off the need to give it a sleek body since the City has always gotten the mechanical bits right. This time around, the City keeps its powertrain advantage but adds attention-grabbing looks in the process. Appearing in this shade of Habanero Red, the City certainly looks something straight out of Daimos or just about any Japanese anime that you can think of. The front-end may look a bit over styled with the dominant three-bar graphite-colored grille, squinted headlamps and wedge-like hood line but it does lend the impression that this car will transform into robot if you stare at it long enough. At the side, strategically placed creases and the movement of the side mirror from the door to the A-pillar give the illusion of size. The backside is no less dramatic with the irregularly angular trunk opening lending a sense of daring design.
Unfortunately, once you get past the City’s Mr. Roboto exterior, things get pretty muddled the moment you step inside. The exterior will have you believe that you’ll need sensors suction cupped to your body or a fighter pilot’s stick for control, but you get neither. You don’t get a square-shaped steering wheel or even the Jazz’s space-age cabin. What you end up with is a solid but uninteresting interior that’s too ordinary in its execution; well maybe except for the center console which is neither solid nor easy to use. The copious amounts of silver plastic is enough to give it the flavor of a cheap stereo, but add flimsy buttons and controls, and you’ll start to think you’re in a Hyundai instead of a Honda. Notice too how there is far less controls on the stereo’s face than most other cars. Apparently Honda has aped the Germans making buttons share different functions. Want to eject a CD? You’ll have to press ‘Menu’ then ‘Select’ then look for the ‘Eject’ function. FM station presets? Press the ‘Up’ or ‘Down’ arrow then push ‘Select’. What used to take a single step process now takes two or three. After this, you really wish you had those suction cup controls.
Though the City’s center console ends up on the ‘shame’ list, the rest of the car is still an ergonomic delight. The driving position is comfortable thanks to ample adjustment to both the driver’s seat and steering column. The three-spoke small diameter steering wheel (shared with both the Jazz and Civic) may block a chunk of the overly large speedometer, but it’s still nice to grip. The gear shifter is equally tiny and the movement between positions is small, but the engagement remains slick and accurate.
The City continues its winning ways the moment you twist the ignition and drive off. At first, the 1.5-liter displacement doesn’t seem drool worthy, especially for such a sleek-looking car; and at lower revs it certainly doesn’t sound like it. However, once it picks up the revs, it begins to stamp its authority. It still won’t give you the confidence to drive off cliffs into a speeding truck, but there’s noticeably better off-the-line acceleration compared to the previous City. After the initial burst of speed, the economically-biased five-speed automatic shifts conservatively. This translates to double-digit fuel mileage in traffic (12.5 km/L) at the expense of acceleration. Still, nail the throttle or engage the sport mode and the City will still have a lot to give. Paddle shifters are standard too, in case you want to exercise your fingers.
When you’re not pretending to be an anime hero, the City exhibits a very refined personality. Compared to the Jazz, the City is better suited to our rough roads with its comfort-oriented driving experience. The ride is good and composed through bumps thanks to softer shocks and taller tires. However, the softer suspension and skinny 175/65 R 15 tires limit the City’s high-speed stability and gives more noticeable body roll and understeer during cornering. The electric power steering has been numbed up too, which may be discontenting to some, though it does make parking effortless.
Beyond the space-age appearance, the City is a nicely packaged car with good space and an excellent list of features. Though confusing to use, the Flex Audio system incorporates direct Apple iPod control via a built-in USB plug. This means that tracks can be shuffled and playlists modified through the audio head unit. Sadly for the City, the audio system modernization has come at the expense of some space spacing features which was once a trademark of the City. For instance, though it still has enough space for five adults, the flat rear floor is now gone. Equally missed is the ULT rear seat which limits the luggage hauling capacity. Though Honda reckons that overall trunk volume has still increased, at least a 60/40 split-fold function can still come in handy when loading long items.
The Honda City is still the most modern sub-compact car out there and that should count for a premium when it comes to the asking price. But at P 806,000 it certainly isn’t affordable by anyone’s book. The only thing that’s not debatable with this car is its modern drivetrain. Everything else such as the radical redesign to the interior treatment is all subject to personal taste. This could make its rivals such as the Toyota Vios still a viable alternative. Honda should have dug deeper into its inspiration bin to keep the City way ahead of the curve. Unfortunately, the deletion of things like the ULT seats and the flat-rear floor send mixed signals. Charging a heck of a lot more for a car with less advanced features than its predecessor is like having your spiky-haired hero do his death-defying jump each and every time a monster comes to destroy planet earth. Only in the case of the Honda City, it doesn’t look cool.
By Ulysses Ang | Photos by Ulysses Ang