REVIEW: Honda City RS e:HEV in Malaysia – RM106k

REVIEW: Honda City RS e:HEV in Malaysia – RM106k

The Honda City Hybrid has a soft spot in my heart. Not because I own one, but it was actually my maiden assignment upon joining the crew a little over four years back. Full circle moment right here.

At the time, the City Sport Hybrid i-DCD was priced at RM89,200, which was big on value, especially considering the heightened performance and driver engagement it offered over the non-hybrid models. It also sat below the City V in the model range, so it wasn’t quite decked out, even though it should have been.

FURTHER READING: Looking for Honda City 1.5 V review?

Malaysia was the only market outside of Japan to get the Jazz and City i-DCD hybrids, so it stands to reason that Honda Malaysia was simply testing the waters back then. Just how eager are Malaysians to jump on the hybrid bandwagon? Do the majority of motorists care about fuel economy, or are they more obsessed with outright performance? Those must have been pressing concerns.

While the answer to those questions may never be public knowledge, the arrival of the i-MMD hybrid heralds the unequivocal – an electric future. Remember, the City RS e:HEV made its global debut here in Malaysia, and Honda has invested millions to upgrade its production facilities in Pegoh, Melaka. The plant, which apparently matches the same levels of sophistication as Honda’s Japanese factories, can now produce i-MMD vehicles, so you best bet there will be more of those to come.

You see, i-MMD is a completely different kind of hybrid. Its inherent design aligns much closer with a fully electric vehicle than a conventional series/parallel hybrid. But what on God’s green earth is Honda smoking to dare ask you for a six-figure cheque? For a B-segment sedan? Well, there’s plenty to unpack, so let’s talk.

i-MMD explained

Short for intelligent Multi-Mode Drive, i-MMD comprises the engine, an inverter, a small lithium-ion battery pack, and two electric motors. One is called the motor generator unit (MGU), and it’s directly connected to the engine. MGU acts as a starter and generates electrical energy to charge the battery. It can also provide additional juice to the larger electric motor when needed.

The larger motor, known as the Traction Motor, is the car’s primary propulsion unit. It is quite a bit bigger than the i-DCD motor, producing the headlining output of 109 PS and 253 Nm. This is the actual output of the Traction Motor, and not a combined figure of the hybrid system.

Like an electric car, a single-speed transmission regulates the Traction Motor, which is capable of spinning up to 13,300 rpm. There’s no transmission in the traditional sense, not even the belt and pulley CVT that is found on most Honda cars. The main byproduct of a typical multi-ratio gearbox is parasitic loss, something the i-MMD system aims to minimise. This means you don’t get to change gears, and the paddle shifters don’t work the way you expect them to.

A very cursory understanding of i-MMD goes something like this – it’s basically an electric car, but with a 1.5 litre engine that acts as a generator to recharge the battery. The system is similar to Nissan’s e-Power range extender system, but the key difference between e-Power and i-MMD is that the combustion engine in the latter configuration can provide direct mechanical drive to the front wheels. Whereas with e-Power, the electric motor powers the car 100% of the time, and the engine’s sole purpose is to charge the battery.

Still with us? Good. Here’s how it works

REVIEW: Honda City RS e:HEV in Malaysia – RM106k

Multi-Mode Drive refers to three drive modes – EV Drive, Hybrid Drive and Engine Drive. These are non driver selectable and are instead engaged automatically by the Power Control Unit (a computer, basically).

EV Drive is the dominant mode by default, handling the majority of uses cases up to 80 km/h. Here, the engine switches on and off fairly regularly, but its function during low to moderate speeds is primarily to charge the battery.

The battery itself is a fairly small unit, perhaps no more than 1 or 2 kWh in density. You’ll get between two to three kilometres of pure silent driving when it’s fully charged, but this is only achievable when you’re decelerating over a longer distance, such as when approaching a toll booth.

REVIEW: Honda City RS e:HEV in Malaysia – RM106k

At motorway speeds (between 80 km/h to 120 km/h), a clutch will completely disengage the electric part of the powertrain and run solely in Engine Drive mode. The engine – a lean burning 1.5 litre Atkinson-cycle with 98 PS and 127 Nm – also operates at a fixed ratio, much like the sixth gear of an automatic transmission. This keeps the engine running within its most efficient range, and the direct transfer of mechanical energy minimises frictional losses that would occur in a multi-ratio gearbox.

That leaves the third mode, Hybrid Drive. This occurs when the Traction Motor draws electrical power directly from the motor generator unit, providing a slight accelerative boost for climbing steep ascents or overtaking, as well as when driving above 120 km/h.

Honda claims i-MMD offers up to 40% better fuel efficiency in real world driving compared to conventionally-powered vehicles. It capitalises on the most efficient ranges of an electric powertrain and petrol engine, creating a seemingly complex package that gives owners the best of both worlds. And it works surprisingly seamlessly, too.

What is it like to drive in the real world?

REVIEW: Honda City RS e:HEV in Malaysia – RM106k

Based on our testing, we averaged about 3.8 litres per 100 km, or 26.3 km/l in mixed driving conditions. There’s probably some room for improvement, so long term owners can make it their mission to match or even beat Honda’s claimed average of 3.6 l/100 km.

As for performance, well, let’s just say i-MMD is not the performance hybrid that you’ve been led to believe. It will reportedly outpace the regular City in the century sprint (9.9 seconds vs 10.2 seconds), but they feel similarly powerful at the end of the day. The City’s upgraded twin-cam mill is excellent, if a bit boisterous, and actually feels just a bit more sprightly during “in-gear” acceleration.

You see, the i-MMD hybrid is a bigger tree hugger than the i-DCD Sport Hybrid, which had a seven-speed dry DCT and a “Sport” mode button. With the City RS, you get an eco switch, and the shift paddles lets you choose between three incrementally aggressive levels of regenerative braking. You won’t get the one pedal operation like on the Nissan Leaf and MINI Electric, but it’s pretty close.

Electric motors often make big torque numbers, giving automakers the convenience of marketing them as performance-oriented. Sure, 253 Nm sounds plenty healthy for a B-segment car, but you don’t get 253 Nm all the time. It’s situational (taking into account driving speed and battery charge levels), and remember, i-MMD is supposed to be an efficient system, so the PCU is obviously programmed to provide peak torque only when required.

The one caveat to this multi-mode drive is its unwavering duty to maximise propulsion efficiency. Let’s say you’re driving at 80 km/h and you want to overtake a dimwitted middle-lane hogger. You depress the throttle pedal, but the i-MMD system doesn’t give you the instantaneous response expected from a hybrid.

Instead, what the PCU has to do is release the clutch, switch from Engine Mode to Hybrid Mode, and signal the Traction Motor to get to work. This series of communication causes a near second-long delay before the powertrain begins to respond to your right foot, which is a lot like a bad turbo lag. This only happens when it’s in Engine Drive mode, though.

There’s also a bit of sensory adjustments needed to get used to i-MMD. It does away with the linearity of a conventional combustion engine, and when the engine switches on to charge the battery, it revs at a constant speed, which is audibly louder than the normal idling range. You’ll definitely hear the engine at lower speeds, but when you’re cruising, the switch is virtually imperceptible. Just smooth, refined and not intrusive.

The hybrid also handles quite competently despite weighing over 120 kg compared to the base City. It’s not quite as engaging to drive as the City Sport Hybrid i-DCD, but with a firmer suspension and wider tracks, it keeps its composure well, albeit with a slight propensity to understeer at the limit. Ride quality feels a bit more solid overall, and secondary ride feels more matured than before. Brake tuning remains impeccably calibrated for that natural feel. Shame about that tyre roar, though.

But is it worth nearly RM20k more than the City V?

Its six-figure asking price seems ridiculous for a CKD model, but whether or not it is justifiable can be debated. For RM20k more, you get i-MMD, exclusive RS exterior and interior styling, four disc brakes with electronic parking brake switch, and Honda Sensing.

It’s the closest experience you’ll get to driving a fully electric car for the money. For some people, the styling and tech alone are good enough to seal the deal, with the faultless Honda Sensing being an added bonus. But at this price range, it’s really not for everyone.

See, the City V is already a very complete B-segment sedan. For a bit more money, the Vios G and GR-S are strong contenders with slightly better kit, and every single variant of the Almera ships with autonomous emergency braking as standard. Those looking for the most engaging car to drive in this price range will likely pony up for the Mazda 2, or look past the sedans altogether and just wait in line for the Proton X50 Flagship.

Advanced though it may be, the City RS e:HEV is undeniably in a tough spot. i-MMD is a well-engineered, highly efficient hybrid system, offering benefits that few will even be wary of. But as you can clearly tell, the complexity of such a sophisticated system comes at a cost, and not one I would be willing to pay.

As we have alluded to earlier, the future will be an electric one, and all it takes for an i-MMD model to be fully electric is to put in a larger battery, install a more powerful inverter, downsize the engine and have it act solely as a range extender. Regardless of what the reception is for the City RS i-MMD in Malaysia, there’s a good chance this gamble will pay off in the coming years. So, what do you think?

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Matthew H Tong

An ardent believer that fun cars need not be fast and fast cars may not always be fun. Matt advocates the purity and simplicity of manually swapping cogs while coping in silence of its impending doom. Matt's not hot. Never hot.



  • (Like) Honda City RS hybrid RM106k.
    (Dislike) Proton X50 premium – RM105k

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 37 Thumb down 64
    • Wounded H on Oct 08, 2021 at 10:13 pm

      Oh it’s you again! out of ICU?
      enough with this doltish deficient comparovote.
      as if Dr Lee CR will crown you sort of P1 top socmed agent once your ‘dislike’ reach 100,000? Stop hijacking other brand posting as Honda currently has less sales than P1, no threat at all, go play with abang2 continental Bmw Merc & Landrover. Back in 2017 were laughing at you, well now sadly a different story.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 17 Thumb down 8
  • Congrats on coming full circle since the last-gen City Hybrid back in 2017.

    The current-gen City RS Hybrid had always caught my eye since it was first announced, both aesthetically (especially in that colour pictured here) as well as for what it’s packing. The hardest part to swallow is always going to be that price – kit and all, that RM100k psychological barrier is going to be really painful for any kind of mainstream B-segment sedan, especially if the next trim down is RM20k cheaper.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 1
  • Moving Forward on Oct 08, 2021 at 6:51 pm

    I love the concept mentioned being the closest experience driving a fully electric car for the money. But I totally couldn’t take the design language on this generation. Just imagine to replace the shell with the latest Almera or Yaris, that would be a whole different story. Again, that’s just me, opinions vary.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 17 Thumb down 0
  • Itll make more sense in the HRV

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1
  • nnazri on Oct 08, 2021 at 10:32 pm

    When we talk about design, to me the previous model is much more beautiful and have a better proportion between the from and the back of the car. The interior is also a little dull compared to Vios. City wins in terms of engine and tech.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1
  • Xervexc Zymycur on Oct 08, 2021 at 11:42 pm

    All other things being equal, did a rough calculation on the hybrid and estimate that the fuel saved is about RM 1,500 per year, assuming theilage is about 25,000 per year. For a 10 period, maybe about RM 15,000. So, upfront, we need to pay about RM 10,000 more for the car. And, likely, the battery needs to be replaced in 10 years. So, how much will the battery replacement cost? With the complicated hybrid arrangement, will repairs be more frequent and more expensive? So, to me, I think any hybrid is not really attractive unless someone can give a detailed breakdown of the long-term costs.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 18 Thumb down 4
    • Katie on Oct 09, 2021 at 12:04 pm

      RM 20k more than V spec.

      But with soft suspension only a RS sticker.
      For fuel saving purpose also doesn’t sound cool, top speed only 173km/h.

      RV drop abit more for Honda Hybrid also biasa.
      So many petrol car do near 20km/L.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 3
    • Sohai on Oct 09, 2021 at 12:36 pm

      If you include long term cost on the environment, in which the next generation and the polar bears will have to bear, perhaps the rm20k starts to make sense… and not to mention the objective calculation would also make sense if say, the fuel price has increased to rm 3.50 per little in the near future.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 2
    • nikazlan on Nov 09, 2021 at 6:01 pm

      Ya, hybrid in the end will cost more…higher purchase price and battery replacement (2nd hand value not very good too). Without govt incentives and special tax relief, buying a hybrid is costly. might as well get the normal petrol and save RM20k and future additional battery replacement cost.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0
  • Silthice on Oct 09, 2021 at 12:24 am

    Seems like the engine mode is only suitable for highway cruising and hybrid mode is the best at road which require a lot of overtaking. Unfortunately we cannot force the car to go on hybrid mode all the time ⌚ as it is chosen by the AI.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0
    • harry on Oct 09, 2021 at 12:28 pm

      ya, they should add an option to disable engine mode. then perfect!

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0
  • bangkok on Oct 09, 2021 at 7:35 am

    3 days ago bearing bangkok plate TC 1423 seen driving around in bangkok fully covered yes it’s the alll new hrv since it’s october now should be available by january

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
  • X50 Flagship is the best choice.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 9
    • Commonsense on Feb 05, 2022 at 5:53 pm

      Only a dumb lunatic would comment even before any research being done. Have you read the forum where owners are complaining about the maitainese cost of X70? And compared to the previous gen IDCD maintenance cost, there are only a fraction of people complained when comparing to the X70. So what makes you think that the X50 will be a much better choice anytime soon? When buying a car paying for installment is one thing but paying for maintenance is also a whole different thing. You might afford to pay RM4,000 monthly installment for a BMW but it doesn’t mean you can afford to pay for maintenance in the long run.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0
  • Scarecrow on Oct 11, 2021 at 8:17 am

    Care to disclose the maintenance cost ? or it’s a nightmare truth?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0
  • Boboy on Oct 12, 2021 at 9:31 am

    Hybrid? Run away…………….

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 4
  • Common Sense on Oct 27, 2021 at 8:30 am

    Honda Malaysia has priced a good product out of its marketplace. For that price, most people would opt for other C-segment cars like Civic or X70 or X50.

    This is a common mistake by most car distributors here. Another classic example could be Nissan Almera or Mazda 3

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0
  • Mathi on Oct 11, 2022 at 4:21 pm

    Is the graph wrong? above 120KMH should be Purely Engine Drive right? why does the graph indicate “100% Hybrid”?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

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