March 10, 2021 By Kevin C. Limjoco Photos by Andréas N. Delos Reyes

2021 Honda City RS

The New Micro Road Warrior Standard

I expected the all-new 7th-generation Honda City to be a mild improvement from its predecessor, which was an understandably very popular subcompact in our market. But I have to say that after over a week of comprehensive testing, I am glad that I underestimated it which made me appreciate the myriad of new nuances so much more. The final results from the testing were profound.

The 2021 Honda City RS has emerged as the new standard in its class, wholly championing over the current segment C! award-winner, the Mazda 2, in every facet and every field. In all the years of testing that I’ve done, this is the first situation ever that the class-leader in the segment, which was already the clear best-in-class product against its direct competition, not just lost its position, it lost across the entire scale of testing by huge margins. This final result not only lifts the Honda City RS as the new benchmark of the segment of entry-level mini-compacts but it has also raised the standard by several rungs. What this means for the competition, which includes the Mazda 2, is that mere pricing and packaging readjustments will not be realistically enough. All the competitive players in this segment now have to accelerate their research and development programs to produce an all-new model.

When the Mazda 2 won the C! Award in 2020 for best-in-class, the competition was nipping at its heels, and that included the old 6th-generation Honda City. The Mazda 2’s exceptional build quality, refinement, nicely updated alloys combined with its dynamic handling, G-Vectoring Control Plus, and its driver-centric connection were the elements that ultimately secured its victory. Honda unfortunately does not have Mazda’s outstanding industry pioneering 5-year free service plan too which I hope will be addressed soon.

Honda HQ was certainly very focused and determined to produce a genuine winner for our market, and they have succeeded. The all-new Honda City RS addressed all its past weaknesses and concentrated on the opportunity to engineer them to conversely become new strengths while still improving on its assets.

For P63,000.00 more than the Mazda 2 Elite sedan without choosing the special colors that cost an additional P22,400.00 for the Soul Red Crystal or P16,800.00 for the Machine Gray which narrows the difference even further, you will be rewarded with these starting elements on the Honda City RS: 30 mm longer wheelbase, 213 mm longer body (sedan), slightly larger front disc brakes, 53 mm wider, a 18 mm lower roofline, 151-liters more trunk capacity, 14 bhp and 4 lb-ft more torque, 4 more airbags, it is quicker and faster, and has half an inch wider alloys with better model Dunlop tires.  On the negative side short list, the City RS is 52-kilos heavier than the Mazda 2 Elite sedan, it carries 4 liters less fuel, it uses rear drum brakes, it uses a pedestrian Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) with virtual gears instead of a 6-speed automatic, and the drag coefficient is less slippery by .02 cd.

Past the mechanicals we look further at what the Mazda 2 Elite does not have; no front fog lamps, no cruise control, no multi-speaker Bose® audio like its more expensive siblings (thankfully the standard 6-speaker Mazda Connect system does still sound good), no leather for the seats, no rear a/c vents, and no i-STOP / i-ELOOP either. The Honda City RS has full LED lighting (Mazda uses auto-leveling LED for the main headlight and DRL only), from the rear signature assemblies to the front fog lamps, front and mirror signal lights, DRL, and headlights.

The tangibly more spacious new Honda City RS cabin has a tasteful and comfortable combination of red-stitched leather and suede seats, 6 airbags, sport pedals, cruise control, rear climate control vents with additional power outlets, an inch larger 8-inch infotainment system with Android Auto and Apple Carplay connectivity, and multi-view rear camera backed up with a fabulous segment-first 8-speaker system. The all-new Honda City model range earned a 5-Star Top Safety rating by the ASEAN NCAP.

Our test unit came in Ignite Red. Of the four available exterior colors, I prefer the Platinum White Pearl which subtly accentuates all the neat design details like the carbon fiber-esque trim on the front and rear diffusers, honeycombed dual segment front grilles, shark fin antenna, and the rear deck spoiler. As an additional bonus, the white color would also help repel heat from the sun. The new black ceiling and pillars in the City RS cabin are excellent. The angular climate vents are elegant and tasteful. The generous red stitching on the steering wheel, center arm rest console, front and rear seats, gearshift boot, and door panels are all also well executed. Even the start/stop ignition button has a nice piano black finish that contrasts nicely with the red backlight! The instrumentation is also well done with crisp details with the additional Eco-Coaching ambient meter feature. The steering wheel remote buttons are very good. The paddleshifts work well when engaged though I think they help most with aesthetics rather than functionality.

I am very pleased that Honda installed the better dohc version of the 1.5-liter engine on the new City. Better late than never. The North American market used the same L15B1 engine for 8 years before Honda removed the Fit (Jazz) from the model lineup beginning in 2021. The North American market never had the City model. However, their engine tuning was rated at 130 bhp and 114 lb-ft so their hatchbacks always felt livelier than our market Jazz. The performance gains on paper may look very inconsequential but at this level of weight and size the results are real and immediately rewarding. For perspective, the older sohc 1.5-liter L15Z1 (118 bhp @ 6600 rpm / 107 lb-ft @ 4600 rpm) engine is still used in the multi-passenger Honda Mobilio and BR-V and they weigh as much as 130 kg. more (286 pounds) than the new City RS. So, to have that extra overachieving horse and peak torque arriving earlier by 300 rpm, the City RS feels sprightlier with a new level of maturity and refinement that is only assisted further with the more useful power arriving sooner.

Despite some compromises, yes, I would have wanted rear disc brakes, an independent multi-link rear suspension, a smartphone charge pad, and a bit more power or better, the alternative power using the Honda factory available Sport Hybrid i-MMD system, but as it stands now, the all-new Honda City RS is a great small car that is fairly priced, built exceptionally well, and a solid representative of the Honda brand. Oh yes, and it is now the new standard in its class by a huge margin.

Specifications

Engine

Engine Inline-4
Location Front, Transverse
Displacement 1498 cc
Cylinder Block Cast Aluminum
Cylinder Head Cast Aluminum, DOHC, 4 valves per cylinder, i-VTEC
Fuel Injector Direct Programmed Fuel Injection
Max Power (bhp @ rpm) 120 bhp @ 6600 rpm
Max Torque (lb/ft @ rpm) 107 lb-ft @ 4300 rpm
Drag Coefficient (cd) .30 cd
Transmission CVT, Front-Wheel-Drive

Engine

Suspension System Front suspension: Independent MacPherson Struts Rear suspension: Torsion-beam with Dampers & Coil Springs
Wheels 16” x 6J Multi-spoke Two-Tone RS-Spec Aluminum Alloys
Tires P185/55R16 87H Dunlop Enasave EC330

Weight and dimensions

Length 4553 mm
Width 1748 mm
Height 1467 mm
Wheelbase (mm) 2600 mm
Curb Weight 1120 1kg. (2464 lbs.)

Performance

Top Speed 198 km/h (124 mph)
0-100 km/h | 0-62 mph 9.4 seconds

Fuel consumption and CO2 emissions

Fuel Capacity 40 liters (10.6 gallons)
Fuel Milage (km/l) 31 mpg City / 36 mpg Highway (15.2 km/L Overall)

Ratings

Price as Tested (PHP) PhP 1,058,000.00
What's Great The very best in its class, attractive, very full-featured, best NVH in its class, thoughtful packaging.
What's Not So Rear Drum Brakes, wish it had more power combined with the Sport Hybrid “i-MMD” or at least the US-spec tuning (130 bhp /114 lb-ft). Does not have Mazda’s brilliant free 5-year service plan.
C! Editors Rating 10/10
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