Review: 2011 Honda City 1.3S AT – No-Frills Sporty Comfort With This Big Subcompact With an Aggressive Look

Let me begin this review of the Honda City 1.3S AT with the disclaimer that prior to picking up the review unit at Honda’s Ortigas office, I came fresh out of my weekend-long test drive of the Nissan Teana 250XV V6. Big car to small car. That’s just like my Honda Jazz experience, which came right after reviewing the Nissan Sentra 200 CVT.

With this in mind, I guess I should resist comparing the two review units, as these are on opposite sides of the size spectrum (not extreme, but still opposite). The 2011 Honda City sits smack at the bigger end of the subcompact class and almost nearing the compact class with its dimensions (it measures largest among its contemporaries). And while the City is meant to be a small, fuel-efficient car, it delivers just the right level of performance that you would expect from a car this size. With the City, you won’t be afraid to weave in and out of Metro Manila traffic. But you won’t feel out of place with bigger and more expensive cars on the street, either, with its sporty arrow-inspired look and clean lines.

First Impressions

This edition of the Honda City is nothing new, having been originally launched in late 2009. What comes as a surprise to me is that Honda is still willing to lend out the City for media scrutiny at this stage in its life cycle. Perhaps Honda wants to assure the public of Honda’s reliability in view of the recent voluntary recall of the City due to some minor parts that can go loose and cause noise. Still, the few-weeks old fleet unit I got to review had the sporty look and feel familiar to this edition of the City, and being the first time to drive this model, I did not hesitate to agree to the media review.

No curves here. While most of the City’s contemporaries are curvaceous and almost feminine in their styling, there’s something macho that comes with this City’s loks, from the big front grille, to the eagle eye front headlamps, to the almost boxy rear.

There’s nothing fancy, either. While my previous review had all the bells and whistles, the Honda City is still your no-frills compact car. The City’s key has lock/unlock buttons, although the car doesn’t come with an alarm system. The interior is spacious for its class, although — as expected of a subcompact — there’s hard plastic everywhere. Still, it’s not as spartan as other subcompacts, as you can find some refinements, like an AUX plug, an iPod interface, power locks and windows, and remote-controlled side mirrors.

Performance

As with previous reviews, we tried to focus our performance review on fuel efficiency in the city and ability to scale varied terrains. For the whole week we got the City 1.3S AT, we climbed up and down the hills of Antipolo, trying to gauge the City’s handling and finesse along the curves and banks along Sumulong highway, particularly those points that my wife considers scary but exciting–between the Valley Golf entrance and Alpadi areas.

The City doesn’t have trouble climbing on those uphill routes, although I had some difficulty with overtaking–something I think the automatic transmission is responsible for. The City’s specs say the AT has a grade-detection system, which keeps the car in proper gear when going uphill or downhill. The lack of a sport mode or O/D override to keep low gears longer might be the weak point here, though. With the 1.3S, you’ll just have to floor the pedal to force the AT to downshift, but there’s noticeable accelerator lag at times.

As an update, Honda Philippines told us that the 1.5E variant has a Sport mode, which lets the driver shift using the shift paddles behind the steering wheel. Just select “S” below the “D” position and you’re good to go with manu-matic paddle shifting.

This notwithstanding, I would tend to think performance should improve over time. The unit I reviewed only had about 800 Km on the odometer–almost fresh out of the casa. You would usually notice performance gains once the factory fluids have been replaced and once the engine, suspension and electricals have been checked and tuned. This is usually done at the first 1,000 Km PMS.

The upside with the City is the handling, as the car exhibits minimal roll when cornering. Credit that to the bigger 15-inch rims and wider tires relative to other cars of its class.

Comfort

Cars are getting bigger and bigger, and even though the City is classified as a subcompact car, you’ll be surprised to find it has adequate elbow and legroom up front and at the back. The rear seats have flat floors, so the middle passenger doesn’t need to place their legs at awkward positions, which can be very uncomfortable during long trips.

The front bucket seats are wide and comfortable, too, and not narrowed down like on other subcompact cars (say, the Vios). The downside here is that the space in between the front seats is narrower, and three cupholders are there in lieu of a console compartment or armrest. The seats are also stiffer than those on the Toyota Vios, which is either good or bad–good, if you’re into a sporty ride, but bad if you have family members who’d rather have the floaty feel of a cushioned ride.

I like the fact that the City’s steering wheel comes with tilt and telescoping adjustment, meaning you can set the wheel as close or as far from your body for comfortable driving. In contrast, even the midsize Nissan Teana I earlier reviewed did not have telescoping adjustment, but only a tilt option.

Utility

The City also has impressive trunk space, at 506 liters. When I first saw the City’s trunk at a showroom a few years back, I almost regretted buying another brand subcompact. True enough, the large trunk space can hold all sorts of mess your family can throw at it.

However, this comes with a disadvantage. First, I observed that the City’s trunk has a narrow opening, which means you might have some difficulty putting in long or wide objects. Case in point: I can more easily load and unload my kid’s folding MacLaren Techno XLR into the Vios than the City. Also, pre-2009 Honda City models had collapsible split rear seats, which lets you carry long items like skis, construction supplies, and the like. This is notably absent from this City variant.

Still, if it’s trunk space you need, you won’t lose out with the City, compared with other subcompacts. You would probably be buying an AUV or pickup truck if you need to haul bigger items on a daily basis. Or you can try the Honda Jazz, with its ULT seating configuration.

As for compartments and cubbyholes, don’t expect much in terms of glove compartment space, as it’s as big as your usual subcompact glovebox. You can still keep CDs, manuals, mobile phone chargers and a few small thinagmajigs, but no DLSR, Glock or regular-sized bible would fit in here. As a consolation, the seat configuration is somewhat like that of the Honda Jazz. The fuel tank is located at the bottom of the front seats, so the rear bench seat has an empty space underneath that can be used to store small items like books, shoes, bags and whatnot.

Verdict

The City shines in spaces it’s designed for: city roads. The compact size and nimble handling make it easy to weave through city traffic. Unlike other small cars, the City does command respect, given its styling and size relative to other pocket rockets. If you have the extra money, I suggest you go for the top-of-the-line 1.5E variant, which has extras like paddle shifters for semi-automatic shifting, steering wheel mounted audio controls, front foglamps, side-mirror signal lamp repeaters and the like. Do note that the City comes with a price premium, compared with other brands, which often give low downpayments or big cash discounts.

With the Honda City, you get adequate space, ample performance and great resale value.

Fuel consumption (as per onboard computer)

  • City: 8 to 10 Km/L
  • Highway: 12 to 14 Km/L

These highway figures were a mix of uphill and downhill driving through the highways of Antipolo, so the figure can be higher with flat terrain, such as the expressway.

Price

  • Honda City 1.3A MT – PhP 691,000
  • Honda City 1.3S MT – PhP 731,000
  • Honda City 1.3S AT – PhP 771,000
  • Honda City 1.5E AT – PhP 821,000

Pros

  • Biggest car in its class, so expect more space
  • Big trunk
  • Flat rear floor
  • Fuel economy
  • Aggressive styling. Your Honda City will be eating Vioses for breakfast.

Cons

  • A bit of accelerator lag when overtaking
  • No sport mode or overdrive off
  • No center armrest
  • No alarm system (only a keyless entry system)
  • Trunk entry is a bit narrow
  • The centralized lock can only be toggled using the driver’s side lock lever. There’s no independent lock & unlock button that can force lock or force unlock the doors. I find this a disadvantage, especially as I’m OC about making sure the doors are locked especially when cruising at high speeds or stopped at intersections. You never know when your toddler or child might be fiddling with his door’s own lock lever. On the City, the only way to make sure everything’s locked is to unlock and then lock again from the driver’s side lever.

Comments

  • The review unit we got was white-colored. I never realized before how difficult it is to keep a white car looking clean!
  • The review unit had an XXX-709 plate number, which I think is quite serendipitous, as my old Corolla’s plate number was also 709.
  • Honda cars have a common fuel gauge issue, in which you will need to fill it up to at least 8 liters when you’re nearing empty. Otherwise, the sensor won’t detect the added fuel, and the needle will not move upward. I also experienced this with the Jazz. Thus, you’d have to add at least PhP 450 of fuel (in today’s prices) or your gauge would not move up from Empty.

13 thoughts on “Review: 2011 Honda City 1.3S AT – No-Frills Sporty Comfort With This Big Subcompact With an Aggressive Look”

  1. Hmmm…my condolences to all those who purchased/booked a city before yesterday. It’s like honda saying “HAHA…IN YOUR FACE” to its existing customers. Manipulative corporations…. Who is to say if prices will not be reduced again after a month??

  2. (Re: Honda cars have a common fuel gauge issue, in which you will need to fill it up to at least 8 liters when you’re nearing empty. Otherwise, the sensor won’t detect the added fuel, and the needle will not move upward. I also experienced this with the Jazz. Thus, you’d have to add at least PhP 450 of fuel (in today’s prices) or your gauge would not move up from Empty.)

    I’m using my Honda City 2011 for almost two weeks now and this morning’s the first time I gassed up after consuming what my husband loaded when the car arrived from Cebu and I was a bit worried that the fuel gauge didn’t move although I loaded 10 liters… should I be worried and have it checked?

    1. The Honda mechanics I talked to tell me that the minimum is 8 liters. So that probably depends on how much was left in the tank’s reserve when you loaded 10 liters. How far did you drive with the needle near E? Was the orange fuel lamp lighting up already? Compact cars usually have about 5 Liters in reserve, so when your fuel gauge is on E, this usually means anywhere between 5 to 10 liters.

      1. the needle gauge is not yet actually on E but a little bit above it and the distance from my kids’ school to the gas station is more or less 3km so probably I still have more than 5 liters (on reserve) when I gassed up… and this worries me a bit more… anyway, I’ll try to load another php500 worth of gas when I go fetch my kids this afternoon and observe if the needle still wouldn’t move I guess I really have to consult with Honda Cebu where we bought the car?

  3. Very nice post and review.I do agree with this aspect, this car is a class apart,We cannot compare it with others.This is a very good choice if you try considering Honda City to be your car and ride with smooth performance for any kind of journey on the road.

  4. we are planning to buy city 1.3 before the year ends, but we are so dis appointed to hear from honda agents that they have no available unit and it will take at least minimum of three months to wait.. ( meaning earliest arrival of city is feb-march) next year.. due to what happened at Thailand. we are now considering to get vios instead.. any comment pls..

  5. me and my wife will buy this march a honda city 1.3 AT urban titanium infact we already made a downpayment. This is my first time to own a honda city and I think it has really more space compare to vios, plus you have a little bit or I say luxury. Can wait to drive our new honda city

  6. hi, im planning to buy brand new honda city. im stuck between the top of the line 1.5AT and the 1.3MT. my main concern is which one is the better choice? i want to pick the variant that is more fuel efficient. can you explain the difference between the 1.3 and 1.5 fuel consumption especially the 1.5 has a paddle shifter? or the 1.5 is wa y more gas eater than 1.3?

  7. Hello, bought last week my new 2013 Honda CIty 1.3 MT. This is my first car and I am still learning to drive. Is there is helpful site to learn about how to keep your car in good condition? like what maintenance need to and other stuff? thanks for all ur help

    1. I believe your car dealer/casa can help a lot regarding car maintenance. I also suggest that you make use of your car’s manual. It will help you a lot.

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