[still W.I.P, need to add pictures]
Honda City, for anybody this side of South East Asia, the City is most synonymous with Honda entry level sedan that caters to the masses. Based on the Fit/Jazz, the City is the logical step for achievers (Enneagram of Personality) as sedans are considered to be a luxury car no matter how big it is… Hey, we live in Asia. Before we plunge further, let me clarify first what is the City and the original car that bears the name.
If you go by the moniker “City”, then the car has reached its fifth generation. But, if you want to trace its true lineage in the South East Asia market, the current generation Honda City only reached its third generation, while the first two generation of Honda City is Japan exclusive.
Dawn of a new age
The first ever car that uses the City name is a spunky 1981 two door hatch. A tall roofline + a boxy design, this is certainly not Soichiro’s Civic. The car was designed with a crack team of young engineers, something that was unheard of back in the days… Seriously? The first City was a cult favorite  as its refreshed model features Honda first ever turbo engine with high power to weight ratio. The turbo City is an iconic car with its unique shape and powerful engine, even today, the dinky car is still raced by some odd groups here and there.
The car even featured on “You Are Under Arrest” anime series with its iconic Motocompo trunk bike… Ah the Motocompo, I’ve been wanting it since I was a kid, but thinking that it was anime magic for a bike that small exists (like the cute gals with big boobs on the police force). But it’s real, the 50cc foldable scooter is an accessory to the City and its smaller sibling, the Today… Unfortunately, cute gals with big boobs on the police force still is a dream though.
The second generation Honda City, a true successor of the 1981 City was unveiled 5 years later in 1986… But smell of problem is thick in the air. Honda now had two similar cars, the Civic hatch and the City. It’s no brainer which model should be outed no? With Civic strong brand equity, the City finally got the boot. And that’s that… The City is officially dead.
There’s a reboot in automotive world?
It’s not until some odd 10 years later in 1996, Honda City came back, but had no direct connection with the original Japanese City. The City we are talking now is South East Asia Pacific only model that is based on the EF Civic platform. Rather than a hatchback like two past generations, the City is now a sedan… A no frill entry level sedan.
The first roll out model features carburetor engine which according to Honda research gave the car great (easy) maintenance… Aw come on, we are talking Asians here… Back then fuel injection was all the rage, nobody this side of rice eaters wanted a sensible car, we want status. The City first outing was not met with much success, although it features great suspension setup derived from the Civic platform (double wishbone front and back).
However, it’s not until Honda bestow the legendary D series VTEC engine into the engine bay of the refreshed City and the City Type Z (in some countries) take one up in the history of sub compact sedans. Thanks to the EF Civic platform, the City Type Z features double wishbone suspension front and back which has been rendered useless before the VTEC engine was used. With the VTEC engine, the car came to life like madness itself. The 1.5L VTEC produces 115ps and some even manage to coax 130ps with some slight modification. The car also had great power to weight ratio. With a weight hovering around 950 Kilogram, the high strung engine moves the car effortlessly. Also, Great suspension + great engine = domination… Yup… Wherever there’s a subcompact touring racing back in the late 90’s and early 2000, you will see City Type Z at the top of the chart.
It’s good, let’s make some more
The SE Asia only City (at least the refresh) was very well accepted, and Honda decided to make a second generation out of it. However, Honda remove all traces of spirited driving of the first generation SE Asia City by basing it off the just introduced Honda Fit/Jazz. Gone are the multilink suspension and the high power engine, and in are… The tall cabin, torsion beam suspension and so so engine. The car has high roof line and enormous cabin space; it feels like you’re entering a compact MPV or some sort… It’s based on the Fit/Jazz… what do you expect? The rear seat was multi configurable to accommodate tall objects or protruding objects from the trunk. The initial engine derived from the Fit/Jazz 1.5L i-DSI engine producing a measly 90ps. It got great fuel efficiency, but combined with the increased weight from the past generation City, suffice to say, the City transforms from boy racer to mommy car.
This City addresses problems with smallish cabin space of the past generation City… But Honda did went a bit overboard with its approach. The addition of VTEC engine is a welcome healing patch for the enthusiast, but the car is just not balanced enough like the old City. It’s bad for the enthusiast who the first generation SE Asia City fans have grown accustomed to, but the car is great for the average commuters and family. City’s new tall cabin and multifunction seats made the car perfect for your average families. Got a lot of shopping bags? The huge cavernous trunk was the biggest in its class. Bought that tree from the flower stall across the street? Flip the rear seat and you can fit a tree or two inside. Perfect, perfectly bland.
On a side note, Honda did bring the fourth generation City back to Japan under the name of Fit-Aria, officially bringing the car as part of Fit heritage.
The second generation SE Asia City was great technically, but a lot of people dislike how it looks. The tall looking City is not attractive, especially compared to Toyota own SE Asia subcompact sedan, Vios (Yaris sedan).Technically the City was based off the Fit/Jazz, but slightly too much. Yes, you can look some difference, but the short nose Fit/Jazz also incorporated straight into the City, making the car looking short in the front and long in the rear… A no no for a sedan. To make matter worse, the interior of the City is the same with Fit/Jazz, only with different colors… Want to read an embarrassing story? Well you would because you’re reading this… I used to drive Honda Jazz a couple years back, and my former boss who happens to drive a City asked me to park his car. I almost rear ends the car as the sensation of driving the Jazz and the City is almost the same. Same interior, same seating position… It’s creepy I tell ya.
In Indonesia, Honda City sales were better by a bit compared to the Vios. But elsewhere in SE Asia, you won’t find that many City on the road. Honda even commissions the most expensive minor model change on the City… Making the nose of the car longer, making it look like a sedan, a big fat nosed sedan.
I hear you buddy
Honda though, noted the demand of the enthusiasts and in 2008, launched the third generation Honda City. Guess what, the car was above and beyond the dinky and lanky City it replaced. The new 2009 City is handsome… Simply gorgeous… Or whatever you want to call it. It still is based on the Fit/Jazz, but this time, the car was only based upon the platform, and not structurally. Back then, the City and Fit/Jazz shares almost everything, this time, not so much. Different door design, different side crease, different interior even… Well, you almost can’t tell if the car is even related. Also, thanks to advancement in engineering, Honda introduced class breaking most powerful engine in the segment and 5 gear automatic box on the new City. The City, like the Fit/Jazz now features a 1.5L i-VTEC engine producing a phenomenal 120ps. Like any VTEC engine, the higher the RPM goes, the more enjoyment you find in this car. Still though, the new City is still no match for the third generation VTEC City, as it still retains the best power to weight ratio in the history of City… Considering that the trend cars grows bigger over the time, third generation City is a keeper (the new City weighs in at approximately 1200 Kilogram).
The new City addresses all the perceived fault of the late generation City. Balancing form and function; gaining composure and power, however the new City lost some of its practicality charm, most notable is the exclusion of the multi configurable rear seat. Now, the rear seat doesn’t folds up, just folds down allowing long object to protrude from the trunk. In the defense, Honda claims that past generation Honda City usage research reveals that folding up seat feature was the least used feature. Therefore, the foldable rear seat was omitted to make way for comfier rear support (read: thicker padding).
Honda seems to be satisfied with the City, Honda even finally debut the City as a global car, making it available in parts of Europe, Brazil, China, India and even Australia. A far far far glorious story than the Japanese exclusive beginning and SE Asia specific model midlife.
So, is the City currently in its fifth generation or third generation? It’s up to you really, according to the name, the car is in its fifth generation. But discounting the two generation Japanese only Honda City and with its reboot as the SE Asia specific model, the car only reached its third generation. I guess for name sake we can say the car is in its fifth generation.
All in all, the City is a great car, a bit spotty here and there, but a great car nonetheless. For every generation there’s a fault somewhere, but Honda made it up in every successive generation. The third generation City is too small, but runs like hell. The fourth generation City is bloated but practical. The fifth generation City strikes it dead center. As the pinnacle of research and years of listening to the demand of the customer, it might just be the best Honda City to date, striking between balance, function and power.