– Good power and economy
– Great cabin space and features
– Bit more quiet than rivals
– Higher-than-average pricing
– Hard cabin plastics
– Rear drum brakes
Some cars have that one defining feature with which to identify them with. With the Bugatti Veyron, it’s speed. With the Toyota FJ Cruiser, it’s offroading. With the all-new 2014 Honda City? Space. Lots and lots of space.
To accommodate all that space, Honda has had to make some compromises with the exterior styling. Try as they might with an abundance of horizontal character lines, there is no hiding that the City is a tall car, although it’s a much more attractive proposition than, say, the Nissan Sunny. It looks a bit more expensive than most of its rivals, and that’s because it is.
Inside, there’s enough space to rival a midsize sedan, thanks to a longer wheelbase. While generally airy up front, in the back you can fold your legs and sit if you’re of average height. That’s more legroom than a BMW 5-Series, in a sub-compact sedan! And it comes with no penalty in boot volume, which is also very generous. We’re glad to see that Honda is back to innovative engineering rather than just churning out direct rivals to Toyota products like in the recent past.
The engineering doesn’t end there. The City has a 7-inch capacitive touchscreen in top-spec trim, so it’s responsive to light touches on the big icons, although not the fastest sometimes. There’s also touch buttons below that for the above-average auto a/c, although that just makes it more annoying to change the temperature while driving. There’s also rear a/c vents, smart keyless entry with starter button, cruise control, rear parking sensors, decent CD/MP3 stereo, power windows and mirrors, Bluetooth phone with streaming audio, cruise control and all sorts of ports – USB, AUX and even HDMI. Further features include lots of cup-holders and door pockets, split-folding rear seats, tilt/telescoping steering column, ABS with EBD, and two airbags.
But while the specs sheet is decidedly fancy, the cabin materials are firmly in the sub-compact class, with hard plastics all over, even down to the armrests, oddly enough. There are cloth door inserts though, and the general look of the intricate dash is somewhat interesting.
The engine remains a carryover 1.5-litre 4-cylinder, still making 118 hp at 6600 rpm and 146 Nm of torque at 4600 rpm. But now it comes with a CVT automatic, which is one of the better applications of the much-hated transmission. It is responsive and hardly lets the engine get too loud. It also helped us eke out a 0-100 kph time of 10.4 seconds in hot June weather, while managing an average fuel consumption of 7.8 litres/100 km, and also keeping revs at under 2500 rpm at highway speeds – all very impressive for a car in this class. Don’t bother with the paddle-shifters though. The gearless transmission’s fake “shifts” were barely perceptible in “manual” mode.
The ride is slightly on the firm side, even jittery in some cases, although that could be down to tyre pressures. Wind and road noise never go beyond moderate levels at speed, and it’s rather quiet if you stay closer to 100 kph, which is a great achievement for a sub-compact.
Unlike the Jazz, the Thai-built City is not the most dynamic of cars though, with well-controlled but noticeable body roll and overly-light electric steering with little feedback. The 185/55 tyres on 16-inch alloys offer decent grip, while the ABS-equipped brakes offer stopping power from high speeds. But, with discs up front and drum brakes in the back, the rear has a tendency to wiggle under hard braking, while the brake-pedal feel is poor at low speeds in traffic.
Still, we feel the Honda City’s above-average price for the sub-compact is sort of justified. In terms of power, space and features, it is miles ahead of its usual rivals. And in terms of pricing, it cleanly falls between the sub-compact and compact segments. Were it not for the hard-plastic cabin and those drum brakes, we would’ve called it a legitimate alternative to the Civic even.
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