REVIEW: 2021 Honda City 1.5 V in Malaysia – RM87k

If you’re dipping your toes into the sub-RM100k brand new car market for the first time, the sheer amount of options can be somewhat daunting. Choice overload, they say.

It’s easy to be swayed by the Proton X50‘s value proposition, and for a lot of people, there’s really no need for anything more than a Perodua Myvi. Those eyeing for a bit of brand prestige, however, can seriously consider getting a non-national sedan, because now is really a good time to look around.

FURTHER READING: Looking for Honda City RS Hybrid review?

There’s the excellent Nissan Almera turbo which we have reviewed and loved, the hot new Toyota Vios GR-S, the Mazda 2 facelift, as well as the all-new, fifth-generation Honda City.

There are four variants on offer, with prices ranging from RM74k for the entry-level S, all the way to RM106k for the range-topping RS e:HEV hybrid.

The RS aside, the S, E and V models are actually cheaper than their previous-generation GM6 counterparts, each packing more features and performance than before. You’ll want to browse through our detailed spec-by-spec breakdown of the City here, or watch our walk-around video for a more presentational tour.

For this review, we’re taking a look at the City V, which has traditionally been the range-topping model. With SST exemptions, it’s now priced at RM86,561, making it nearly RM20,000 cheaper than the City RS. By comparison, the top-spec Almera VLT goes for RM91,310, the Vios G for RM87,584 (GR-S is RM95,284), and the Mazda 2 Sedan costs RM103,670.

So, what’s to like?

REVIEW: 2021 Honda City 1.5 V in Malaysia – RM87k

Judging by value alone, the City V is off to a good start. Honda doubled down on premium features for this generation, fitting the V with full LED headlights. Yeah, full LED. Everything up front is LED, and not a single halogen bulb is used. That’s already a clear advantage over all its B-segment sedan rivals. It has a likeable face – elegant, with no overbearing sporting pretensions.

However, some of us at the team prefer the more proportionate exterior shell of the older model. The new City looks a tad too bloated in the middle and soft towards the back, though the net effect of this is a much airier and spacious rear seating. Again, looks is entirely a subjective thing, but if you had to ask me, I much prefer the exterior design of the Almera.

Thankfully, the rear end makes for a pleasant sight. The LED combination tail lights are striking, never mind the fact that they look so similar to those on the G20 BMW 3 Series. The City’s bulbous midsection could have very well ruined the flow of sheet metal towards the back (like the Persona, or worse, the 207 Sedan), but it turned out to be a good look. It most certainly does not need the Modulo bodykit.

The V sits on 16-inch alloy wheels that is similar in design to the RS, minus the dual-tone finish. Factory tyres are Toyo Proxes R57 (185/55 profile), though a peek inside the front and rear wheel wells reveal a rather barren sight. There’s not much in the way of insulation or plastic mudguards, but unfortunately, that’s quite typical of cars in this segment and price range.

Several locally-assembled Honda models seem to be plagued with the occasional stiff door hinges and wacky catchment systems, the latter causing peculiar difficulties in closing the doors completely shut. These are either QC oversight or issues on the supply side, but have to be urgently looked into either way. Our test car (worn in with over 3,000 km on the clock) had stiff hinges, but thankfully the doors all shut properly without a hitch.

The keyless entry system is spot on, though. Both front doors feature touch capacitive sensors on the inside of the handles to unlock the vehicle, and a rubberised button on the outside to lock. Fairly foolproof, this.

Well-designed interior, spacious and modern

Inside, there’s a lot to love. The cockpit is completely revamped, featuring minimally-designed analogue gauges with crisp texts and subtle eco indicators in the corners, offering great legibility. There’s something intrinsically pleasant about the simplicity of the instrumentation, even though it looks painfully basic in pictures. It’s one of those things that look better in real life.

And then we have the steering wheel. It’s chunky, nicely contoured and the leather wrapping is top notch. The buttons also feel much more premium in feel and tactility compared to the Civic FC. There are shift paddles here, and even those are made from high quality plastic.

The reshaped seats are supportive in all the right areas, with key pressure points like the bum and lower back area getting perforated leather. The foams used are dense and not overly supple, which likely mean they could be less prone to deformation over years of seat time. In any case, the seats are a big upgrade from before, and easily among the best in class.

REVIEW: 2021 Honda City 1.5 V in Malaysia – RM87k

It goes without saying by now that Honda is a master of its “Man Maximum, Machine Minimum” design philosophy. It’s clear with this GN2 generation that the engineers prioritised development on features that its customers value the most, such as cabin spaciousness.

This is evident not just in terms of the sheer space the occupants get, but rather the design ingenuity that is hardly matched by its peers. For example, the dashboard appears as though it’s suspended in mid air, with little to nothing to obstruct the driver and front passenger’s legs from moving underneath.

The driver’s seating position, even at its lowest setting, feels unnaturally high. But it’s a city car (no pun intended), so a slightly elevated driving position is what City owners look for. Plus, visibility is great all around – the wing mirrors are now mounted lower on the doors, and the A-pillars surprisingly doesn’t get in the way of view as well. It’s all the little things, but it gets better.

The head unit is now much, much nicer than the previous model. It’s better integrated, and is larger as well, measuring eight inches diagonally. A 1080p display it is not, but touch response has vastly improved, plus it supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as well. Both systems require a wired connection, and during our testing, CarPlay worked flawlessly, and with minimal latency. The buttons on the right are nice to have, too.

One of the most unanticipated improvements is the speakers. The V and RS get eight in total (four for the S and E), and they sound amazing, even without fiddling with the equalisers. Honda cars haven’t really had good speakers for a long time (in Malaysia at least), but we’re really not kidding when we said they focus on things that matter to me and you. Big props to Honda for that.

Despite having the same 2,600-mm wheelbase as before, the rear quarters is actually more spacious this time, and feels more airy thanks to the reshaped front seats. All variants get rear centre air vents and two 12-volt power sockets as standard, and on the whole it’s just a really massive place. The foot area is cut deeper into the floor, so your legs can now rest fully on the bench. Having this much space really makes the Mazda 2 seem tiny in comparison, like a smart car, almost.

It’s not all a bed of roses, of course. See, the top of the dashboard is too flat. It is the result of a deliberate design decision to maximise forward visibility, but in doing so, it makes the top dash look cheap. The door panel design is uninspiringly utilitarian, and nearly every surface is made from hard plastic.

There’s still no auto up-down for all four windows, no lights for the vanity mirrors, and cabin lighting is halogen bulbs instead of LEDs. The infotainment display, as good of a unit it is, faces dead towards the back instead of being slightly angled towards the driver. Viewing angles are decent for the most part, but you won’t like it when it catches the sun.

Another area that feels cheap is the boot area, with nothing but a felt-lined plywood panel to cover the spare wheel well. It all screams super budget, but hey, at least you get 519 litres of boot space. That’s class leading, by the way, even if it’s 17 litres down from before.

Same underpinnings, but slightly better driving experience

REVIEW: 2021 Honda City 1.5 V in Malaysia – RM87k

Mechanically, the new City shares the same platform as the previous model. The engine is upgraded, though, now being a dual overhead cam unit instead of single. The 1.5 litre NA mill delivers 121 PS and 145 Nm of torque, so there’s a scant 1 PS gain. That’s right up there in the segment, mind you, and a full 20% more power compared to the Almera’s turbocharged three-potter.

The engine is definitely more refined while idling, possibly quieter at idle compared to the Vios. There’s not much in the way of vibrations that can be felt through the foot pedals and steering wheel, too. How uncharacteristic of the City, but boy do we welcome that.

Performance-wise, the engine feels a bit more eager and athletic than before. It requires a bit of coaxing when driving at lower speeds, something the Almera’s turbocharger makes light work of. However, at urban cruising speeds (that’s usually 80 km/h, you unruly speedsters), the City is in its best form.

“In-gear” acceleration is particularly strong at 60 km/h and above, providing ample power and pace for overtaking. At full pelt, the CVT consistently maintains engine revs between 4,000 to 6,000 rpm, building respectable pace all the way to 140 km/h. The Almera would have huffed a little, and it shows.

REVIEW: 2021 Honda City 1.5 V in Malaysia – RM87k

We managed a century sprint time of around 11.5 seconds with the Almera turbo, whereas the City gets there in about 10.2 seconds. It’s absolutely not underpowered at all, especially not for a B-segment sedan weighing under 1,200 kg. This is also good news for the upcoming BR-V.

Under load, the DOHC engine does get a bit loud, and at full whack you get both the engine noise and CVT drone in one fat undesirable serving. This isn’t a realistic driving scenario for most people, but something worth noting nonetheless. We dare say the City’s engine is among the most peppy in its class, perhaps second only to Mazda 2’s 1.5 SkyActiv-G.

Objectively, there’s nothing wrong with this CVT, but the 10-speed CVT in the Vios GR-S makes for a better driver’s car. It’s actually the better car to drive considering the added advantages of the suspension upgrades, plus the 10-speed CVT provides a more granular control over engine speeds.

REVIEW: 2021 Honda City 1.5 V in Malaysia – RM87k

That said, the City feels more modern and wieldable. Suspension tuning is firmer, too, despite using a similar MacPherson struts up front and torsion beam setup at the back. While it’s similarly sprung, there are revisions made to the geometric design of the suspension, taking into account the added width.

Because of that, the City feels a tad more stable in the corners and on the highways, but it’s still not quite as darty and chuckable as the Mazda 2. As it stands, the 2 is still the most engaging B-segment sedan to drive, by a mile, and the Almera is the most comfortable. The City remains a fairly capable all-rounder, and there’s nothing wrong with a spacious car that does it all.

Noise levels can get pretty rough when you’re driving over 80 km/h. That’s either from the tyres or the lack of insulation in the wheel wells, or both. There’s also a really unpleasant trickling noise in the B-pillars when it’s raining. How odd.

Is the safety kit adequate?

REVIEW: 2021 Honda City 1.5 V in Malaysia – RM87k

Well, for the safety features, the City V gets Honda LaneWatch for the first time. It’s nice to have, but not necessarily a feature that benefits everyone. For myself, I find the position of the centre screen to be way below eye level (the same applies for most other Honda cars), so I find the use of the good old defensive driving practices more comforting for most urban driving scenarios.

The LaneWatch camera itself isn’t the most high-resolution, but it’s completely usable during the day. At night, it’s next to useless in pitch black settings, so best refrain from being too reliant on it. Otherwise, the City V ships with the usual six airbags, reverse camera (with three viewing angles), as well as two Isofix child seat anchors with top mounts at the back.

This is one area the City falls short of its competitors. The City V doesn’t get Honda Sensing, so it’s missing crucial features such as autonomous emergency braking, which can now be found on the Vios E and G, as well as the entire Almera line-up. The Vios is better kitted in this regard, so if safety is your top concern, the only City worth your while is the top RS variant.

Closing thoughts

As you know, the City RS is the only one that’s exclusively offered with Honda Sensing. We’ll be reviewing that car in further detail soon, and we’re really curious to find out if the whole i-MMD hybrid tech, sporty looks and Honda Sensing is worth RM20k more.

But as it stands, the City V is proving to be the default top choice for most people, and we really think it is a good car. Let’s just hope they fix those small QC niggles, but we’re willing to bet those won’t be deal breakers to many people. If you like it, go for it. If you don’t, tell us why in the comments below.

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