KUALA LUMPUR, March 10 — The 2014 Honda City will be launched very soon, perhaps within the week in Malaysia, and it comes with some new surprises — for one, Honda have decided to discard the 5-speed automatic transmission, opting instead for a CVT (Constantly Variable Transmission) with seven virtual ratios, ostensibly for the sake of fuel efficiency. Although the new Honda City is clad in a new body, it still carries the DNA of the City, with almost the same silhouette, and with similar dimensions too, as is usual with a model that has seen success, and thus the designers would not let the apple fall too far away from the tree, so to speak.
The Honda City is an important model to Honda Malaysia, and it is expected to contribute approximately 30,000 units to the Honda Malaysia sales figures for 2014. There will be four variants, with specifications to top Honda’s nearest competitors in the B-segment, and at prices designed to make each variant an excellent proposition to the buyer. It seems that war is about to be declared on the competition, and the new 2014 City will be at the forefront as the single biggest contributor to Honda’s sales numbers through 2014 and beyond.
Honda Malaysia probably also realises that in today’s ‘borderless’ internet age, there isn’t much point in keeping the model a secret, and to get more pre-launch orders, the new City is already making its appearance in selected locations even before the official launch. As part of the strategy to get more third party (media) feedback to the public, a pre-launch test drive was organized in Phuket Thailand for selected motoring media to get a sampling of the car.
From the visual point of view, the new City looks much the same as the previous model, but with certain refinements, such as the front bumper and grille designs, new accentuating lines along the sides, and a different rear array. Looks will affect different people in different ways, but off-hand, I would venture to say that it does look better. The front grille with its wide centre band is something you will either like or be indifferent to; this feature and the tail arrangement would be the main differences, with the overall shape being very similar.
Inside, some miracle has occurred in terms of space; by moving the dashboard forward closer to the front windscreen appears to have freed some space, the result of which is seemingly endless legroom at the rear. Some work has also been done to the suspension set-up and in the area of sound insulation; the result is a very quiet interior, a comfortable ride, and excellent handling characteristics. Depending on the variant, wheel sizes are 15-inch or 16-inch.
We drove for a total of more than 300 kilometres through a mix of highway (Thai style) and excellent ‘country-side’ roads, with a fair share of winding roads, and the Honda City did give a good account of itself. As mentioned, the ride quality is excellent for a B-segment car, and cabin insulation is excellent. There is no change in the engine horsepower, which remains the same as the previous model, although we were warned that the final figure may vary a horsepower or two, something to be reconfirmed when we get the final vehicle specifications at time of launch.
From a driver’s viewpoint, there doesn’t seem to be any difference in the power delivery; with seven virtual speeds, the engine torque is better used, and the new generation CVT used appears to have less of a ‘rubber-band’ effect. It is still there though.
The saving grace of the CVT would be the potential fuel economy over the ownership of the Honda City; the CVT allows a high final gearing (lower engine speed) at cruising speeds, which will save plenty of ringgit — with the imminent rise of fuel prices in the near future, the cost per kilometre in terms of fuel is something that people will appreciate.
Some of the Thailand City variants come with paddle-shifters, and I could get away from the rubber-band effect by invoking them; when in ‘S’ mode and using the paddle shifters, the CVT control system actually ‘locks’ the virtual ratios at a pre-determined ‘ratio’, allowing the City to ‘accelerate’ using the engine revs, providing a driving sensation that is similar to that of a normal transmission. Sadly we are told that according to surveys conducted by Honda with core groups, the finding was that the people who are likely to purchase the Honda City do not really care for the paddle shifters. Well I do, and I believe that there are enough other people who also do, and for the sake of these more ‘sporty-minded’ people, I hope to see them back on again soon. At a personal level, I find that using the paddle shifters on the winding B-road sections actually gives me better control over the car, and I am able to mete out the power better. I do agree than in a highway situation, I would not use the paddles as much, but then again, being able to ‘live’ a little every once in a while would be justification enough to have the paddle shifters, besides which, the ability to ‘lock top gear ratio whilst cruising would also be a means of saving fuel.
Overall, the new 2014 Honda City is a fantastic package, and there is a promised variant ‘package’ to suit different affordability levels. Insofar as the car is concerned, it is a no-brainer — how many Honda Malaysia will be able to sell would depend heavily on the pricing strategy – at this level, the consumers are extremely price sensitive.