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Honda Malaysia has announced the price of its 3rd generation, all-new City. Available in two grades, the basic 1.5S goes for RM84,980 while the higher-spec 1.5E can be yours for RM89,980 (on-the-road prices with insurance).
Chief differences on the 'E' grade City are paddle shifters, on-steering remote audio controls, fog lamps, split-foldable rear seats with centre armrest plus adjustable headrests and upsized 16" alloy wheels, among other things. Both are however, only available with 5-speed automatic (5A/T) transmission paired to Honda's 1.5L i-VTEC (12ops/145Nm) engine.
The all-new City is more grown-up and mature looking, which is a natural progression of things, as each successor model adds on more bulk and extra dimensions. However, upon closer scrutiny, the 3rd gen City actually has a rather long snout and lengthy frontal overhang (much protuding front bumper), quite atypical for a compact Honda sedan. Remember that "Machine minimum, man maximum" saying? Not a "Terminator" flick movie script or catch phrase but something of Honda's successful formula in car design - and clever packaging - for decades.
Well, maybe Honda engineers were much bent on avoiding a repeat of the stunted profile that resulted much split public opinions over the 2nd gen City (pre-facelift model). For the negative record, it was much criticised to be looking much like a laundry steam-iron, a loaf of bread or even a toad! For historical record - make no mistake - the 2nd generation City 1.5 i-DSI when launched in 2003, created ripples in the local automotive industry. It ruffled up the non-national segment (also a leading national car manufacturer along the way) when it was announced by then Honda Malaysia's MD/CEO, Seiji Kuraishi to be RM78,888 OTR. Many Honda dealers gave a standing ovation, delightfully taken in by surprise. As such, this all-new City will no doubt be a very important product for Honda Malaysia, as affirmed by the current Managing Director and CEO of Honda Malaysia, Atsushi Fujimoto. It is expected to carry on the volume baton worth some 40% of total sales of Honda passenger cars officially sold locally. Honda Malaysia is aiming to deliver 1500 units monthly of the all-new City starting January 2009, out of a total manufacturing capacity of an estimated 35,000 units annually, from its Melaka's Pegoh assembly plant.
Pop the new City's hood and you could actually see the latest i-VTEC (L15) motor 'hanging' loose (as contrasted with the new Jazz) in the centre of the engine bay, sitting just fore of the front axle. There are ample empty spaces both anterior and posterior of the tranverse engine block, more so aft of it extending until the radiator and that 'Optimus Prime' grille. Somewhat wasted space for a B-segment sub-compact. Or was it because of the A-pillar not as forward biased as the new Jazz (and the previous Jazz/City)? Afterall, the 3rd gen City has a completely different bodyshell than its hatchback 'cousin'. Or perhaps some way of conforming to new pedestrian safety standards?
Admittedly, the all-new City is sleek, youthful and sporty ("arrowshot form" in Honda speak) on the outside. Interior wise, it even succeed in elevating its cabin ambience to something more seriously executive than the Jazz, except for maybe the A/C controls or section of the dashboard.
The common-parts bin steering (Civic, Stream, Jazz et al) still looks and feels great after 3 years of debuting in the 8th gen Civic. Interior space is very commendable for a B-segment sedan. Boot volume while class leading at 506 litres, has more wheel humps intrusion now, though still a capacious rump. Speedometer fonts and dials is typical Honda-legible while taking the latest Stream/Accord cues. Engine coolant temperature gauge is still deliberately omitted, not unlike the last City but there is a multifunction info display now, set within the speedometer. First in class for a Japanese 'budget' sedan is the tilt-and-telescopic adjustable steering wheel. Nice and practical additions indeed.
On the other hand, two things that I missed very much in the new City are the split-level, dual glove-boxes and get this: Honda's wonderful ULTRA-seat. I spoke to the Chief Engineer for the all-new City, Takeshi Nakamura and he mentioned that for the overall sleekness and space of boot(?) of the successor, it has been omitted. When I pressed on whether it can be re-introduced in say, the City facelift model after 2-3 years, Honda Malaysia's MD & CEO, Fujimoto-san chipped in to say there are no plans to swap the split-folding back rest (1.5E) with full ULTRA seat capability. I was impressed with their candid replies, pleasantly obliging, especially coming from the head honcho himself, unlike a particular prestige German car manufacturer which has dumb 'protocols', dementious-like persona and snooty attitudes. And I happen to be still driving around in one of their "famed" automobile.
Back to the new City, I feel that the repositioning of the fuel tank to the front (under the front seats) resulting in a usable capacious void under the rear seats aren't well utilised anymore, unlike the last City and the latest Jazz. Pity. Or course there are nice trays and compartments under these seats in the 1.5E model but upon closer inspection of the base 1.5S variant, the rear bench is actually still being supported by tubular frames that are permanently fixed to the floor by fastened slot-in sockets. Remember the ULTRA seats being junked for the 2nd generation City VTEC after its first facelift exercise? Honda Malaysia was quick to reinstate this feature for the VTEC during the subsequent 2nd or 3rd facelift exercise, after consumers of even the VTEC variant wouldn't mind having these useful feature, which will fold out or assemble upright, out of sight, not affecting its interior aesthetics.
During the press conference, many members of the media were quick to ask about the new 5 A/T box in place of the smooth, efficient and refined CVT. Towards this, Nakamura-san (pictured above, seated far right) was equally quick to justify that 5A/T is better suited to the taste and driving habits of fellow Malaysians preferring a "more balanced" performance. While I couldn't really catch what that meant exactly, I guessed Honda Malaysia probably wanted to a better balance between performance, durability and cost, both of manufacturing and maintenance (warranty).
Afterall, it's an open secret among City owners/Honda SCs that the 'old' CVT 'box had some juddering/vibration issues circa 70k - 80k kms of service life, more so with the 2003 batches. Not a big problem as some used car dealer would have you believe e.g. needing RM20k to replace the whole 'gearbox'. Just a starter set (clutch mechanism of some sort) replacement (for less than RM2k) but nevertheless still some monetary cost incurred and possibly, more so, the cost of reliability reputation somewhat dented. I happen to know because I am responsible for the maintenance aspect of my wife's other city runabout, a 2003/04 City i-DSI.
In a larger overview, I reckon that RM2k is worth it over the 5 years of ownership, with excellent fuel efficiency, space, versatility, practicality and flexibity of carting and hauling stuffs that even my last 7th gen Accord 2.0 VTi (or even my current Teutonic executive) can only dream of! Bring back those City moments-defining ULTRA-seats Honda Malaysia!!!
Additional premium features in the new City 1.5E- pictorial highlights:
For more details on the colour schemes, detailed specifications, brochure literature and videos...
go here: www.excitementinthecity.com.my :)