The Honda City is one of the good old go-to cars for folks who want a “point-a” to “point-b” car that looks good, feels good and drives good. It is one of those can’t go wrong machines that is almost timeless. The third-generation City which first began its rounds in 1996 is still very much alive today while the fourth-generation model is still in demand in the used car market. You simply cannot go wrong with a Honda City.

Not too long ago, Honda Malaysia introduced the first ever Honda City hybrid model which does not only have a battery underneath the car, but also has a twin-clutch gearbox. The very same kind of box you find in continental cars, but properly cared for and nurtured to perform in our climate. And because the current GM6 model is fast approaching an update, the hybrid model comes with all the bells and whistles you could want in a car like this.

What is it?
The green variant of the infamous Honda City. Not only eco-friendly but also incredibly economical, this Honda City hybrid is quite possibly the ultimate urban warrior for the Ringgit conscious.

At first glance the City Hybrid does not look that much different than the standard Honda City, but look closer and the differences are quite obvious. For starters this Hybrid variant mimics the E variant and comes with reflective halogen headlamps with LED daytime running lights with the trademark L-shaped design making it immediately recognisable as a Honda City.

At the rear, the taillights too are now LED while overall design remains about the same. There is also a third LED brake light integrated into the ducktail spoiler. The City Hybrid is also distinguishable by the chrome door handles, shark fin antenna, and the 16-inch alloy wheels.

Honda has always made good quality interiors. And they have a special way of making you feel welcome and comfortable immediately after sitting down in the fabric seats. Unfortunately only the 1.5L V gets leather seats, the Hybrid variant makes do with the usual fabric seats which are still comfortable and supportive over long distances, as I found out on the usual weekend drive to Ipoh and back.

Overall interior quality is good but the piano black finishing is once again a total letdown. I have a personal agenda against these gloss finishings because they do not only look cheap, but also highlight dust, grime and fingerprint. Perhaps I suffer from OCD, but the dashboard needs to look neat and clean and anything that makes the car look dirty should be a big no.

The entertainment system is the same 6.8-inch touchscreen system available in the 1.5L V and the 1.5L E, which is usually a simple straightforward system. But this time around I could not for the life of me connect my phone to it via bluetooth. Perhaps it had reached its limit with the number of devices connected to it, or perhaps it was some other issue, but it is the first time I faced such a problem with this system from Honda.

Driving it
The new Honda City Hybrid is a pleasant car to drive, just as all Honda City’s have been. But this is not just another City, it has a bunch of updates as compared to the standard, none-hybrid models. For starters, the car starts up in pure silence, a trait typical of hybrid cars. In fact there were moments where I had thumbed the start button twice, assuming that the car had not started, such is the level of silence.

Then there is the dual-clutch transmission, a gearbox which does not have a very good reputation in Malaysia because of all that happened with Volkswagen’s dry clutch DSG models. And Honda too was not without its problems. Back in 2014, Honda Japan had to recall the Fit (known as the Jazz) and the Vezel Hybrid (known as the HRV) back in Japan because the company faced problems with its dual clutch transmission. It recalled over 80,000 cars fitted with the transmission to either have a software update or a transmission change.

Well, Honda Malaysia was understandably cautious about introducing such a gearbox, so it undertook an extensive two-year testing program to ensure the dual-clutch transmission will not develop any problems during the course of ownership. The test eventually led to the strengthening of several components of the dry clutch gearbox, and today we are the only country outside of Japan to receive the City and Jazz hybrid.

The City Hybrid is nearly RM3,000 cheaper than the 1.5L V variant and is also more powerful, which makes this car the natural choice for top of the line City buyers. It is also a lot more economical than the standard cars as it uses a new 1.5-litre Atkinson-cycle DOHC engine, which is different from the 1.5-litre Otto-cycle SOHC powering the regular City.

On the move the City Hybrid gives decent power, there are steering mounted pedal shifters that let you summon lower gears in case you need more power. And in typical dual-clutch fashion, shifts are fast and precise. But you also get that typical judder when starting off from a standstill or when downshifting at low speed, this gives the car a clumsy feel and there are instances where you actually have to wait for the gearbox to make up its mind on which gear it actually wants to be in. But don’t get me wrong, this is a much better gearbox than the usual CVT transmission.

Overall the car is well refined and silent on the move, but because this hybrid variant is a full 69kg’s heavier than the petrol models, the car does sometimes feel a little lethargic, especially when you catch it napping at highway speed.

Handling is also better than the usual City models, and because the body is more rigid and the shocks changed to larger units to make up for the added weight of the car, the City Hybrid feels sharper and more compliant in corners. Just don’t expect the full on sports car like engagement levels, the steering wheel feel is close to nothing and top speed is limited to 180km/h, apparently to protect the battery from overheating.

But because the body is stiffer and the suspension firmer to handle the extra weight, the ride quality is also affected and the car does not ride as comfortably as the non-hybrid variant does.

The Honda City Hybrid offers plenty of features for the money, in fact some say that the price of the car should be well past the RM100,000 mark with the amount of features it offers. And the battery does not take up space in the trunk, giving you all the storage space you need. There is also no special service required for the hybrid powertrain, unlike the previous Honda IMA systems that needed special treatment at every 100,000km service.

But which should you opt for? The top of the line 1.5L V or the Hybrid variant? Well the former will give you peace of mind with tried and tested technology with all the features the Hybrid offers and more like LED headlights, a better audio system, more airbags. The latter however offers great fuel mileage (about four litres for every 100km) and in these days of volatile fuel prices, there is no arguing about that. And so, to answer the title of this story, yes it is very much worth the money.

[Keshy Dhillon]

Engine: 1.5-litre, 4-cylinders, 16-valve, DOHC, I-VTEC
Power: 137hp (Electric motor + engine)
Torque: 170Nm (Electric motor + engine)
Fuel economy: 3-litres/100km
Transmission: 7-speed Dual-Clutch Transmission

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