The launch of the Honda City MMC by Honda Malaysia in October was unusual in that it was the first launch where the event for media test-drive was conducted on the following day immediately after the launching event. It was actually very good timing as it allowed me to get an almost immediate overall impression of the City MMC including how it drives and rides, rather than just an impression of its looks as with the previous model launches. This then is my short report of that test-drive event.
Throughout this article, readers should bear in mind that this test-drive can at best only offer a brief initial impression of the MMC'ed City. A more complete test-drive can only be conducted after I have a chance to borrow the car for a longer period, typically over a weekend. Also, during the actual test-drive, I have not yet had the full knowledge of what the R&D engineers have done to the car. This coupled with the brevity of the test-drive means that only glaring differences were obvious. In addition, through interactions with City owners, I also had a small checklist of things, owners concerns if you will, about the original City and this checklist was my primary focus during the test-drive. So throughout this article, the most important point I must emphasize to the reader is that because of its short-duration nature and also the fact that the cars I test-drove were brand new (they are most definitely NOT run-in yet), whatever impressions I gathered, both positive and negative, are definitely subjected to change and/or confirmation when I have the chance to do the proper review in the future.
The test-drive event comprises two actual test-drive sessions. First was the drive from Kuala Lumpur to Kuantan, i.e. from the west coast to the east coast of peninsula Malaysia, via the newly completed 'East-West Expressway', a dual carriage expressway famous for its long straight roads (where many journalists love to indulge in top-speed tests). To get from the Saujana hotel to the East-West Expressway, I had to drive through a mixture of city roads and highways which circles around the outskirts of KL City. The whole journey is almost 300km with four journalists sharing a car, each one driving for approximately 70-75km. The starting point was the Saujana hotel at Subang, just on the outskirts of KL City and I was asked by the others to be the first one to drive. The car allocated to us was the City i-DSI. At the starting point, the accumulated mileage of the car was less than 100km, so the whole car, including tyres and brakes were not run-in yet.
The hotel's access road was being upgraded and under re-construction at the time of the event. Driving out of the hotel through rough unfinished roads, the City i-DSI was able to soak up the rough road well. Through a section of untarred road, the rumble was very muted from inside the cabin, the brand new tyres probably a large contributor to the quietness. Merging onto the main road which has a speed limit of 90kph and into traffic generally traveling at 100kph and above was a breeze. Honda's re-tune of the 'throttle response' of the CVT gearbox is such that even in D-mode, the car surges more to moderate prodes at the throttle pedal. So the car picks up speed faster to the same throttle pressure as compared to the pre-MMC version. The City i-DSI really felt quite 'gutsy' when accelerating from low to medium speeds.
Then we got onto the 'Middle Ring Road-2' (MRR2), a highway generally 3 lanes wide that circles the inner part of K.L. City before we get to the East-West Expressway. This part of the journey yield a rather memorable episode. One of the most glaring concerns when driving the City i-DSI was the rather 'dead' brake feel. When braking, the brakes doesn't feel like they bite, the feeling rather similar to overheated brake pads ! So the natural impulse is a little bit of panic as the brake doesn't feel like they were stopping the car. But they were. The actual effectiveness of the City i-DSI's brakes, as in its ability to stop the car was ably proven during this journey over the MRR2. Over a long section of the highway which was under construction, 3-lanes would suddenly narrow to 2 and then widen back to 3 again. This annoying narrowing and widening of the highway was actually causing danger to motorists. Our concerns were proven when suddenly the traffic slowed to a stop as 2 cars in front collided when one of them had to swerve into the path of the other at the last minute because 3 lanes had suddenly narrowed to 2 without prior warning. The 2 drivers actually had the silliness to stop right in the middle of the road to get out and check their damage and with that lane blocked, 2 lanes became 1 lane. Chaos reigned as everyone behind had to do emergency braking at the last minute. I am happy to say that the City i-DSI, despite being so new and despite the unsatisfactory brake feeling reported, braked to a stop with plenty of space to spare. But then, a brief moment of panic came over as in the rear view mirror, I could see that a pick-up that was tail-gating the car behind me went out of control as the driver jammed the brakes in panic. The rear-end came lose and then swung around, the pick-up eventually ramming into the concrete center divider. It was a piece of good fortune that no-one was injured and no damage sustained other than the pick-up which was tail-gating too close anyway. It was one of those newer pickups with large turbo intercooler badges all over the body. This quickly proved the effectiveness of the City's brakes, despite the rather bad pedal feel.
The next section of the journey was the twisty uphill roads leading to the 'East-West Expressway'. Here, there was no issues with power to go uphill, even with 4 adults and equivalent luggage on board. The roads here were also under repair and this time parts of it sometimes narrowed to only 1 lane. The worse condition would then be when we become stuck behind a tour-bus or a large lorry/truck. So we had to slow to a crawl, patiently following behind the heavy vehicle until the road opens up again. Once the road opens up, it was a breeze to cut out and overtake the heavy vehicle, picking speed easily, even in D-mode. I never had to give way to other cars behind me because of lack of power and in fact usually pulled a good gap over the car behind me every time. I also took some of the corners at rather high speeds and was surprised to note that the MMC City felt quite a bit more stable than the original one, with much less noticeable body-roll.
Once onto the East-West Expressway proper, it was time to do some high-speed light throttle cruising. Three areas will be very glaring here : ride quality, road noise and the major complaint of current City owner : wind noise. Subjectively, the MMC City did very well in all 3 areas. For one thing, the wind noise have really came down tremendously. In fact, right up to 160kph, the car had exceptionally low wind noise intrusion into the cabin, delivering better results than the outgoing ES Civic in this aspect ! The lack of road noise is dominated by the very quiet tyres but here I will have to reserve judgement since the tyres are so new. The ride quality took an especially big jump upwards in quality. It was very comfortable over the highway - in fact reminding me of the ride quality of the Rover 75 that I drove in the Rover-MG test-drive last year !
The test-drive of the MMC City i-DSI ended for me when I handed the keys over to the next journalist. However, there is still one last thing to report - the impression as a passenger. As there were 4 of us, I took the opportunity to change seating places each time we changed drivers again so I sat in both the front and rear passenger seats. The impression of comfort was maintained as a passenger, from both the front and back seats. However wind noise seemed to be a bit more from the back seats than from the drivers seat. There is a 'booming' resonation inside the cabin as the City MMC traveled at speed on the highway, caused it would seem by the body of the car resonating to the high speed air-flow over the car. This boominess intruded into the cabin interfering with the quietness of the ride. In this sense, the MMC City, lost out to the Rover 75 or the out-going ES-Civic on highway cruising from the rear passenger's point of view.
The second leg of the test-drive event took place the next day, after we have arrived in the Hyatt Hotel in Kuantan. We were given the opportunity to drive from the Hyatt Hotel to the Cherating Beach area and back, a trip worth around 30kms one way. Since we had driven the City i-DSI on the way to Kuantan, this round therefore we got to drive the City VTEC. Again 4 journalists shared the car, each of us taking turns. I drove part of the way back from Cherating Beach, clocking almost 20km of mileage over twisty trunk roads.
First, the journey from Hyatt to Cherating was spent being a passenger in the back seat. The guy who drove the car occasionally races a Proton in Class C of the MME. He also happens to know the roads very well. So he was driving very aggressively. We reached 160kph on occasions over the trunk roads, which generally had OK surfaces but are twisty and can be a little bit bumpy. The feeling from the rear seats however were never uncomfortable. It certainly doesn't have the bounciness that plagues the Civic 2.0 i-VTEC for e.g. and such is the car's composure that it doesn't feel like over-speeding, even when charging at 160kph on narrow trunk roads.
When it was my turn to drive, I took the slightly less aggressive approach. We had already taken the same roads on the way to Cherating and so being on the way back, I had a general idea of what to expect though of course I wouldn't be able to memorize the roads after only 1 trip. So it was 140-150kph on the same roads, this time from the driver's seat, controlling the car. The City VTEC generally felt stable from the driver's seat as well though its harder suspension compared to the City i-DSI was clearly felt. Over very bad bumpy roads however, the car on occasion felt like it was skidding around if taken at high speeds. The brake pedal on that car, which had just over 400km accumulated mileage was better than the i-DSI but still vague. As with the i-DSI, I put both problems down to new tyres and new brakes but again I will need to confirm this when I have a chance to borrow the car again for a proper review.
This 2nd session were interrupted twice when the test drive instructions had us detouring off the route into some pre-selected areas for photography (the anchor photo for this article was taken at one of those locations) so in terms of really testing the City VTEC, not much impressions can be gained because quite a part of trip was spent trying to decipher the instructions on where to turn off.
Both cars I tested in this media drive event are brand new. The City i-DSI has less than 100km on the odo when we were flagged off from Saujana Hotel in KL. The City VTEC has less than 500km on the odo when we took it from Hyatt to Cherating. So it is very important to mentally take the effects of engine, tyre and brake run in into account when accepting the test-drive impressions at face-value.
Nevertheless, both City i-DSI and VTEC still impressed me, especially the three main areas - driving feel/power, suspension balance, interior comfort. However, a more solid review can only be done after the cars have gone through my preferred 10,000km mileage. In fact, I am really looking forward to a proper review of both the i-DSI and VTEC in the near future.
I feel the MMC for the City has improved it quite significantly. The looks are now more acceptable to the general car buying public - the market segment which Honda is targeting. Yet Honda has also put in details to the VTEC to cater for the enthusiast crowd. My one major complaint here, which I also pointed out to Honda Malaysia is that if they are really targeting the enthusiasts, a manual gearbox option would be required ! Other than this, the mechanical changes, especially the improvements to engine cooling, gearbox and suspension tuning all made the car more comfortable yet deliver higher performance. Not all the changes are universally welcomed of course and certainly I myself am not sure of a few of the changes, especially the deletion of the Ultra-seats in the VTEC as well as the change to the front nose design. But in terms of purely objective impressions, of the car's ability as a whole, other than the loss of functionality due to the deletion of the Ultra-Seats in the City VTEC, I think this MMC City is a nice upgrade.
© Temple of VTEC Asia