REVIEW: Honda City RS e:HEV first impressions drive

Unless you’ve gone completely off the grid in the past few months, you would have most certainly caught wind of the new kid in town. Meet the fifth-generation Honda City, one which will be making its official Malaysian debut sometime in October 2020.

UPDATE: We have extensively tested the City RS’ i-MMD hybrid system. You may read our latest in-depth account, here.

At least four variants are expected to be launched, including the most advanced City RS i-MMD Hybrid. Prospective buyers can expect two powertrain options, the first being a new twin-cam (DOHC) 1.5 litre naturally-aspirated i-VTEC mill, which in India makes 121 PS and 145 Nm and is paired to a CVT. This is likely the standard configuration for the non-hybrid S, E, and V variants.

For the first time, the hybrid is positioned as the range-topping e:HEV variant (the previous City Sport Hybrid i-DCD sat below the City V in the line-up), featuring Honda’s latest two-motor Intelligent Multi-Mode Drive (i-MMD) hybrid system. It even has nearly the full range of Honda Sensing, and is the sole variant to get the sportier “Road Sailing” RS treatment.

REVIEW: Honda City RS e:HEV first impressions drive

Looks aside, what really got people talking was its torque figure – a full 253 Nm to be exact, or just 2 Nm shy of the Proton X50’s 1.5L turbocharged, DI mill. Not quite apples-to-apples there, but we imagine many drawing comparisons between the two (not forgetting the Almera, of course) for obvious reasons.

Unlike our neighbours in Thailand, we won’t be getting the City’s new P10A2 1.0 litre turbocharged three-cylinder engine. Instead, the decision to introduce the i-MMD hybrid came straight from Honda Japan. If you haven’t read already, Honda Malaysia’s upgraded factories in Pegoh, Melaka is now at the same level of sophistication as Honda Japan, which means the automaker will very likely introduce more CKD i-MMD models in the future.

Now, the i-MMD hybrid system works slightly differently from the hybrid cars you and I are more accustomed with. Most of the time, it’s the larger of the two electric motors (called the Traction motor, which spins up to 13,300 rpm) that powers the car. The 98 PS/127 Nm 1.5 litre Atkinson-cycle i-VTEC four-cylinder port-injection unit, on the other hand, functions as a power unit to recharge the 48-cell lithium-ion battery (likely a 1.3 kWh pack, but this has yet to be confirmed) via the Generation Motor, which also acts as a starter.

It’s not classified as a full electric vehicle with a range extender, though, because the internal combustion engine (ICE) can provide direct drive (Engine Drive mode) via a single-speed transmission and a lock-up clutch. The ICE only assumes propulsion duties at cruising speeds, because it’s more efficient at higher speeds compared to the electric motor.

It’s called Multi-Mode Drive for the very reason that it offers three drive modes. The car will always boot up in EV Drive mode by default, and here, the electric motor does most of the heavy lifting. You’ll hear the engine spring to life once in a while to recharge the battery, ensuring that there’s constant supply of juice for the Traction motor. In our brief experience, this operation is executed fairly smoothly and quietly.

When full acceleration is required, the hybrid system switches to Hybrid Drive mode. The Traction motor is still the primary propulsion unit here, but the engine will rev higher to generate more electricity to recharge the battery. The i in i-MMD stands for intelligent, meaning it automatically alternates between the most efficient drive modes depending on the situation. Sounds complex at first, but not so much now, isn’t it?

REVIEW: Honda City RS e:HEV first impressions drive

Interestingly, at full pelt, the engine revs rise and fall to simulate actual gearshifts in a conventional slushbox, but does little else besides providing some sense of speed. There is still a fuel tank, obviously, but you can expect fewer trips to the gas station with this setup. Much like the outgoing i-DCD models, the air-conditioning compressor is an electrically-driven unit, so there are no belt-driven ancillaries.

The new Jazz i-MMD hybrid that’s sold in Europe shares the same powertrain, allowing for a century sprint time of 9.4 seconds and a combined fuel economy of 4.5 litres per 100 km (WLTP cycle). The City i-MMD shouldn’t stray too far off from these figures, plus a head-to-head drag race proves that the i-MMD is indeed quicker than the City Sport Hybrid i-DCD.

To put it simply, driving the City i-MMD is a lot like driving an electric car – you get the full 253 Nm of torque right out of the gate. Surprisingly, outright acceleration didn’t quite feel as brisk as we had expected, but we suspect the hybrid system could have been nearing its thermal limitations during the test session – we were just one out of nearly two dozen people who sampled the car at full whack, repetitively.

Maybe we’re wrong, but there’s only so much to be “felt” with just two-thirds of a lap around the Melaka International Motorsports Circuit. We’ll save the in-depth analysis for a proper, full review once the car is launched, but so far, the i-MMD system will have much to show for if it intends to deliver or exceed the level of engagement its Sport Hybrid i-DCD counterpart offered.

Still, having that much torque makes for effortless standstill acceleration, and power gets channeled to the wheels quicker when flooring the throttle pedal out of a corner, negating the input delay experienced in the already well-tuned City i-DCD. Traction levels are high, too, possibly a result of better suspension tuning and wider front and rear tracks.

Honda Malaysia is positioning this fifth-gen City as a family car, evidenced from its marketing emphasis on style and safety, rather than the blatant fun-to-drive messaging perpetuated at the launch of the City Sport Hybrid i-DCD. Is the new City more matured, less edgy around the bends, more comfortable on pockmarked roads, and more practical than it has ever been? Perhaps.

One thing is for sure – it is better equipped than ever before. For the first time, the automaker’s advanced Honda Sensing suite of safety and driver assist systems is deployed on the City, which is a first in its segment. There’s adaptive cruise control, collision mitigation braking system (AEB), lane keeping assist, road departure mitigation, lane departure warning (with steering vibration), and auto high-beam function.

There’s even forward collision warning with nighttime pedestrian and cyclist detection, whereas the monocular camera now provides a wider field of detection. It should also do a better job at recognising road markings, although the existing system in the Civic 1.5 TC-P facelift that we recently reviewed performed just fine.

The ACC (with distance control) is commendably polished, as is the steering correction for the lane keeping assist system. Short of Low Speed Follow, this is near Level 2 automation – pretty high tech for a B-segment sedan. The RS also gets Honda LaneWatch with a wide-angle camera, a feature that’s available for the V variant, too.

Size-wise, the new City is 111 mm longer (4,553 mm), 54 mm wider (1,748 mm), and 10 mm lower than its predecessor. There will be at least five colours on offer, starting with this Passion Red Pearl, Platinum White Pearl, Crystal Black Pearl, Lunar Silver Metallic, and Modern Steel Metallic. So, what do you think of the City i-MMD hybrid so far? Torque to us, below.