By on September 25, 2014


Cars do not exist in a vacuum. Besides all the regulations they must follow, there are market realities and competitors. Some makers are able to rise above the fray and charge more for their products as there is a perception that the cars are somehow superior to others, as is the case for many a German luxury maker. Others rely on their reputation of reliability and robustness to charge a bit more for their wares, such as most Japanese OEMs. In some markets though, it would seem makers overestimate their value and simply overcharge for what they deliver. Such is the case for Honda’s latest offering in Brazil: the Fit-based City sedan.

Costing from $22,000-$29,000, the Honda City has to compete with cars like the Ford Fiesta sedan and Fiat Linea, which costs thousands less. Sitting on the stretched version of the platform that underlies both it and the Fit, Honda stretched the 2015 City in all dimensions, too, except width. Therein lies this car’s problem. At just 66.5 inches in width due to Japanese regulations, the higher trim Cities are just not big enough to compete with larger Focuses, Sentras, Jettas, and various French models unknown in North America (and all are around 68 inches in width). Not only that, but content levels are lower, and dynamically speaking, it is also relatively inferior to the cheaper Linea and Fiesta. Cars like Renault Logan, Brazilian, Sonic-based, Chevy Cobalt or Nissan Versa come in cheaper, have similar driving dynamics and the same amount of interior space.

So how does Honda figure they can entice buyers to fork over more for less car? They added a CVT with seven virtual shift points and redid the exterior and interior design. The car has added chrome, and received more pronounced creases on the sides following its donor footsteps. Gazing at the car from the outside, I liked the new hood and the height of the car. The back now has elongated lights that help give the car an impression that it is wider, which would help in its quest to conquer higher prices. Not only that, the fact that those lights are mounted in a split fashion, helped Honda make the trunk opening wider and less of a hassle. It is now easier to make use of the 356L volume. Looking at the front though, I can’t help but feel overall this design is a step back; head on, it looks too much like Civics of old, though the three quarters look is quite dashing.

Stepping inside, the new improved dash is evident. Using the same shapes as those seen in the world Fit, the instrument cluster is different. It makes do without the deeply recessed binnacles the Fit uses, managing to look more refined. More expensive Cities light up in blue, while cheaper ones use red. Instrumentation, though still sparse, is more complete than on the outgoing model, giving the car an overall impression that it is now richer. On all but the basest Cities, air con buttons have been eliminated, giving way to digital controls that look good, but are harder to use. All Cities now also have a quite complete multimedia center, though it is smallish.

That positive impression does not last long. Even though everything is well assembled, plastics are nastier than in the Linea or the Brazil-only Chevrolet Cobalt (no relation to the North American car). The seats are a good size for its class (beating the Fiesta and Linea), but comparing to the larger cars it is still too hard and has excessive lumbar support. Longer than before, the two (ideally, since it’s a narrow bodied car) back passengers have more space for their legs and heads, though a fifth passenger would make life harder. The seating position for the driver is very good and everything has been perfectly aligned. Its relationship to the Fit is also felt here, as you sit high in this car, which is unusual for a Honda sedan.

Driving the car reinforces my suspicion that Honda is asking too much of the chassis, and the consumer’s wallet. It still uses the 1.5 engine, though output here is less than in other markets (115 horses). Honda skimped for Brazil and didn’t bump power up to the 130 ponies enjoyed elsewhere. However, it did increase the engine’s compression ratio, adding torque. Being lighter than the 1.8 and 2.0 cars it now competes with, top speed (around 190 km/h) and acceleration times (in the 12 second range) are very good and similar to the larger cars. One advantage it does have is economy, using less gasoline. Then again, a Brazilian Fiesta sedan uses even less.

A word must be said on the transmission. I drove the manual City as many changes have been made. Honda elongated fifth gear greatly aids this sedan. Now, higher speeds are reached at a more comfortable noise level. The engine is still a screamer with the manual, so much so that it becomes uncomfortable to try to explore its higher range, which is a shame. Honda claims it has added more sound insulation, but, in comparison to its rivals, tire roar and engine roar is still too much. The manual shifter is still a reference point for the competition to study. Very precise and light, it’s a joy to use. For aural comfort though, a buyer should choose the CVT equipped City. The driving experience is so much more refined that choosing the manual is only for hair shirt devotees of three pedals.

Using new bushings and hydraulic stops for the shock absorbers in the front, handling is comfortable, but precise. The back benefits from a more rigid, yet lighter, torsion beam, feeling more planted than before. Though it comes from the same family tree as the Fit, it behaves differently being softer and more comfortable. But the City likes perfect road surfaces. Over broken asphalt, it quickly becomes unsettled while even on good surfaces, that road is felt more than in competitors. The Fiesta is both more comfortable and takes curves better, while the Linea is more pliable (to say nothing of the bigger cars, more refined). Therefore, the City’s suspension setup limits make it a car that appeal more to a more conservative driving style and at a sedate pace it feels very relaxed and easy to live with.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a good car and will surely give owners many years of reliable service. Pressured from beneath by cars offering almost the same for less, and reaching up in price to compete with larger cars,, the Honda City is a tough sell. Being the pricing what it is, Honda should have endowed the car with more content and less noise. It would seem they are betting on its reputation of reliability. The market has accepted this proposition, but now Honda may be stretching it.  As cars from other makers have become more reliable than ever, trading solely on reliability is very one-dimensional. Buyers looking for more have plenty of reasons to look elsewhere and the market, thankfully, provides many options to choose from.

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33 Comments on “Capsule Review: 2015 Honda City (Brazilian Market)...”

  • avatar
    spreadsheet monkey

    I didn’t realise Honda even bothered competing in Brazil. Thought they left it to Fiat, VW and GM. Is the horsepower rating lower than in other markets because the car is detuned to run better on ethanol-based fuel?

    • 0 avatar

      Why wouldn’t they compete here? There was a moment we were the 4th largest world market, though it would seem the German market passed us in sales last year and this year, too. Not to mention the growth potential. So yes, Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Suzuki, Mitsubishi even Hyundai-Kia are here, making Mazda’s absence all the more conspicuous.

      The engine is not detuned, though the higher compression ration was done to better handle ethanol. The engine produces less hp because the peripherals Honda uses in other markets were deemed too expensive for us. Ford foes the same thing for its Fiesta engine, btw.

      • 0 avatar
        spreadsheet monkey

        Not questioning the size of the new car market in Brazil – what percentage share does Honda have? I haven’t been to Brazil for a couple of years now, but last time I was in Sao Paolo it seemed like Fiat, GM and VW had the market sewn up. Matt Gasnier’s best selling cars blog confirms that these three have almost 60% of the market between them.

        Also you mention the CVT is the best option (and as the owner of a deafeningly low-geared manual Honda CRV, I can believe that) – what’s the take up rate for automatic gearboxes in Brazil? I assumed you guys largely preferred manuals, similar to Europe.

        • 0 avatar

          From memory (a long time I haven’t done a sales recap for TTAC), Fiat has about 21-22%, GM and VW revolve close to 18-20, Ford has 6-8, Renault and Hyundai close to 6, Toyota 4-ish, Honda hovers around 3, Nissan, Peugeot and Citroen all have 2-3-ish.

          Honda needs a cheaper car to grow volume, some years ago there was talk of the Brio, but that never showed up. But you are right, local manufacture is key and the makers mentioned in my list above manufacture here. So does BMW which should inaugurate its factory next month. Could be the first time a lux maker here pushes above 1!!

      • 0 avatar

        I didn’t realize Mazda was absent from Brazil. I thought its new Mexican production facility was meant to target South America, with Brazil as the largest market.

        • 0 avatar

          Brazil put a stop to that when Mexico gained the upper hand in the trade balance between us and them. Now, Brazil imposes a qui pro quo on makers meaning they can draw more duty-free imports, the more they produce here and transfer technology here. So, the agreement between Brazil and Mexico revolves more around quotas than real free trade.

  • avatar

    speaking as a honda fanboi, and current owner of a Fit:

    “They added a CVT”
    “more pronounced creases on the sides”
    “air con buttons have been eliminated, giving way to digital controls”
    “you sit high in this car”
    “a screamer with the manual”


  • avatar

    thanks for writing.

    And yes, I bought a 2013 fit instead of new, specifically cause I hated that stupid touch screen.

  • avatar
    juicy sushi

    I like your even handed approach here Marcello. You looked at the positives, negatives, and the car’s position in the wider market to evaluate it, and I think made a fair conclusion. It’s odd Honda didn’t figure this out before it came to market though.

    • 0 avatar

      Strove hard to reach that point juicy sushi. My first tendency would’ve been to bash it, though that would be unfair as the car itself is not that bad. Like other cars, it beats some competitors in some areas, while it is left behind by such competitors in others. If the review had been just about the car, taken alone, it could have been more positive, but like you said, a wider market exists.

      BTW, I think Honda knows this very well. They are talking higher numbers for this car than before, and it would seem the capacity is for 140 thousand of this car a year. As is, I think they are using most of that, because besides Brazilian sales, it is sold all over Latin America. Unfortunately for us, though built here, it sells for less in the export markets, sometimes much less (the Mexican price is amazing), so much so that this car is the poster child for internal debate on car prices. Some defend margins here are better than anywhere else, others say taxes here are the culprit. Hyperbole aside, the truth is somewhere in the middle of both positions.

      As is, sales here are probably what Honda want, being the higher margin a good compensation of the added costs of selling more. Plus, they keep a nice portion of the production available to attend export markets, where this kind of car is also sought after.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    Hey Marcelo,
    Honda pricing in SE Asia is similar.

    Honda have made themselves into a ‘prestige’ brand there. Honda in SE Asia are the middle class status symbol of “look at me I’ve made it”.

    I don’t understand if Honda want replicate a similar situation in Brasil.

    The engine tuning is less and this amazes me. Don’t Honda realise that people will deduce that for the price of a Honda in Brasil they are getting less than elsewhere? I do think that is poor business on Honda’s behalf, a negative if Honda are demanding a premium.

    Toyota are similar in SE Asia, but less so viewed as a prestige vehicle. Toyota I think are using a similar tactic globally, that is the Toyota tax is applied.

    Mazda might view the Brasilian market as to competitive for them.

    • 0 avatar

      Hey Big Al! Just curious, you include Australia and New Zealand as SE Asia or is it still good form to call that area Oceania?

      Well Honda does try to sell that premium-ness. Part of the market accepts that, while part laughs that off with great ridicule. It doesn’t hold water and it’s easy to see. Step into a City, then a Linea. Easy to see the difference. Step into a Brazilian Cobalt and compare. Anyone who buys the Honda premium pitch is seeing what they want, not what is there.

      And the detuning is crazy. Though top speeds and acceleration times are competitive with larger cars (as are the Fiesta’s), it is in passing situations where the engine shows it can’t compete. Go from 60 to 100km/h, common speeds to pass a slow moving truck on the highway in a City, than do the same in a Fiat Linea. Witness the pretense of premium-ness wash away. The Linea afterall has a 1.8 16v with 136 hp. It does keep up with a Civic…

      Toyota here plays some of the same games as Honda. But at least they offer the Etios and “listen” to the market. That car’s prices have been slashed 3 times…

      As to Mazda, you have to build here to play. They tried pure importing but the market didn’t pay what they wanted. They left with their tail between their legs. Having said that, a Mazda2 or 3, and even some of the small crossovers would find favor here.

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al from Oz

        Oceania is the Pacific nations excluding Asia. Oceania is a relatively small population spread over a vast area from Tahiti to New Guinea, Melanesia, Microneasia, Australia, NZ, etc.

        As for Honda in Australia, it did attempt to sell at a premium, but I don’t think it’s viewed the same as in SE Asia (Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines, etc) as a premium.

        A Honda in Australia is slightly more expensive than the other Japanese manufacturers and they do offer a nice vehicle, but not for the price.

        Toyota tend to offer less and charge a premium. Great strategy from Toyota as they can profit more.

        Honda in SE Asia is viewed similarly as BMW, Audi is in the US.

        I’m no Honda fan, I do hold Honda in the same light as Toyota as Honda don’t offer much for what they charge for a vehicle.

        Where as Mazda in my mind does offer a vehicle as good a Honda and better than Toyota cheaper.

        • 0 avatar

          Ok, thanks Big Al! It’s because I remember when I went to school in the US. The I was told there are 6 continents: North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia. Later in Brazil and Colombia I was taught there were 5: America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Oceania. So some think Oceania is a continent and not a region in Asia. I asked because I know there is a great debate in your country as to whether Australia is an Asian country and this has real life extrapolations like the Australian football team disputing the elimination rounds for the World Cup in Asia and not Oceania, or voices to leave ANZUS and join ASEAN.

          Thankfully, we are not deluded enough to equate Honda with BMW. We don’t even equate Lexus with BMW, so there is that…Some however, do see Honda as slightly above VW, Fiat, GM, Ford and the French. Sort of pull a VW if you will. Luckily, the market here has largely knocked down that VW movement and I think Honda and Toyota will see that same fate here. Strong in some areas, weak in others. Just like the rest.

  • avatar

    The City is a brilliant product. They take a Fit, remove most of its practicality, add some chrome and sell it for Civic money.

    It is everything that is wrong about the brazilian market, in a nutshell.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    Marcelo, would this car sell well in the US just because of the Honda name?

    • 0 avatar

      Hey Volt, not only because of the Honda name, but because of the car itself. Main competitors there would be Fiesta sedan, Sonic sedan, Versa and Mirage. To me it rides worse than the Fiesta (though larger, especially internally and in the back), better than the Versa and Mirage, on par or, depending on what you value, better than Sonic. The wheelbase is long, there is room in it for 4. The wheelbase is as long as the previous Corolla for example. Where you might find fault is the width, it is narrower than the Corolla, but then again it is as wide as the Fit, so… Plus to me it rides better than the Fit, offering greater comfort. The trunk is huge easily besting even the Civic, Corolla and Focus sedan trunks that are on larger cars. As the Versa for example seems to be doing pretty well, plus the good Honda name, yes I definitely see a market for it in the US.

      Thanks for reading!

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    So it would go between the Fit and Civic?

    • 0 avatar

      Actually, in our market and many others, it slots below the Fit. That, however, depends on market and there are those where it is placed above the Fit, but under the Civic. I guess in the US it would probably slot under the Fit. Basically, Volt, it is a Fit with some more conservative design cues as the sedan buyer would be more conservative than the Fit buyer and a more comfortable (but still competent, though relatively easily upset) suspension system. If my opinion is worth anything, I prefer it to the Fit because I find the FIt too hard.

      • 0 avatar

        I’d like to see Honda make a coupe version for the US market. They could probably replace the Civic coupe with it — same functionality for lower cost.

        From what I can tell from Marcelo’s review, the key would be pricing the City coupe right for the US market. I respect Honda for keeping their prices high enough not to chase low margin volume (like FCA in the US) but I think it limits market share.

        • 0 avatar

          It would have to be close to the Versa and Fiesta to sell. Who knows if they could command slightly higher than Fiesta sedan prices, seems likely. The coupe idea is good, and I like coupes, but being that this is a world car and world markets reject two or three door cars (unless they are absolutely, resolutely base market models) and the Fit does not have that option, I think Honda would never go down that road.

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al from Oz

            I believe most everything is cyclic. What goes around comes around.

            The US manufacturers are now just realising the errors in their ways on the global market.

            They have been insulated from fair competition and when it was introduced and accelerated in the 80s the US manufacturers didn’t respond effectively.

            They attempted to maintain their regional divisions making what they thought were regional vehicles.

            Whereas the Japanese and Europeans (less France than other nations) restructured and offered truly global vehicles.

            The legacy of this in the US is their unwillingness to move to a more harmonious standard with the rest of the world.

            If anything this unwillingness will be the US manufacturers undoing in the future.

            To compete the US must be able to compete. There is more to this than just improving the quality of your vehicles.

            Just making vehicles that are of better build doesn’t provide success.

            The rest of the world also should want what you produce. Or you will end up insular and uncompetitive with tariffs and regulations like vehicle design, chicken tax, etc to maintain a false economy.

  • avatar

    Good review and observations, Marcelo.

    Honda is in a similar situation in Europe, as I detail in a comment on the new Civic, two posts back today.

    They have completely lost the plot there, and are steadily sinking towards nothingness. They seem to have it in their heads that people should appreciate the mechanicals and pay high prices, while disredarding horrible styling, cheap interiors with no soundproofing, only so-so ride and handling, etc.

    Honda needs to wake up and look around. But they won’t, of course. The hubris, misplaced pride, and inability to ever admit mistakes marks the company for ultimate oblivion. They are not flexible in the way they think or act, even in color choices in their biggest market, the US. 3% market share in Brazil is at least better than 1.2% in Europe.

    Nope, Honda needs a reboot and fresh start before they become totally irrelevant. And they are blind to the obvious. They believe they are premium but never show any product that corroborates that view. Acura RLX anyone?.

    • 0 avatar

      Yep, I read your comment and greatly appreciated it. I just did not know the situation was that dire. Like there, Honda is mostly bought by wealthier, older people here. While they enjoy the reliability, I see a lot, but a lot of people, not repeat their Honda purchase. I think the main complaints here have to do with the overall stiffness of the suspension, that however remains questionable over the rough pavement so prevalent here, and non existent fuel economy (used to be a Honda forte). In “better” garages, the buyer of a Civic, will make fun his building neighbor bought a Citroen C4 Pallas. However, he will take a stolen peak at the Citroen next to his Civic and will recognize, unless he is completely blind, the very visible shortcomings of his Honda. If he ever deigns to sit in the Citroen, he will (and should) be completely overwhelmed by regrets. If he asks the price the neighbor paid for the Citroen, well then, hara kiri becomes a possibility (lol!).

      In short, I see lots buying Hondas, few repeating. Quite the contraire for Toyota for example. I see those buyers repeating. Anecdotal as is, recently a site that keeps track of used cars and owners opinions on them, showed Civic owners are among the least satisfied…

      I agree, unless Honda or lowers price, or improves content, handling and so forth (not to mention cheaper car), the trend is for diminished growth. The internets forums have started picking up on the basic goodness and competitiveness of French models, Focus and Golf against Civic (not to mention Corolla), the launch of the City has made me see an outpouring of support for the Linea and Fiesta. These things take a while, but enthusiasts do point a way, more so here than there as Brazilians are a talkative bunch and will ask for opinions on cars much more readily than Americans. I have lost count of the number of Fiat or French cars I’ve “sold”. When asked of Honda and Toyota to a lesser degree, my response is pretty standard, “good car, but……………..”.

  • avatar

    ” , it looks too much like Civics of old”

    You say that as if its a bad thing. Hondas used to be attractive, if a bit bland, but it worked. Now, especially with the later model Civics, they look weird just for the sake of looking weird. This City looks decent to me, like a modern incarnation of the 88-91 Civic. All they need is a proper CRX version and Im sold.

    That being said, the City looks more “natural” as a sedan than does the Fiesta, for example. Id take a Fiesta hatch over a sedan anyday, but Id welcome the City into my driveway long before Id do so with the funky (in a bad way) Fit.

    • 0 avatar

      well you interpreted that right. Things move on. Unless you are doing a pure retro car… As is the car got deep, deep creases on its side, a nice profile that looks quite modern, then you look at the car head on and the general lines scream 90s. no, doesn’t work. Especially considering the previous car was better looking than this. The previous City was the best looking vehicle in the Brazilian Honda line. Yep, it looked like a small civic, but better. Nicer grill, nicer headlights, small, but creatively shaped back light. All in all step back, design-wise, at least to me.

  • avatar

    As usual, Great read Marcelo!

    Even though, as you mentioned, compared to Brazil pricing, the City is a bargain in Mexico, not many people have drunk the kool-aid. I rarely see them around here. They are never on any best seller lists either. Perhaps the higher maintenance costs, the Constant Velocity Trouble and parts availability have been its downfall.

    While we’re on the topic here is a list of the top Mexican sellers as of Aug 8.

    1. Aveo, perteneciente a General Motors, fue el auto más vendido con 29, 492 unidades.
    2. Versa de Nissan logro colocarse en el segundo lugar con 22,642 ventas.
    3. Tsuru también de Nissan, obtuvo 22,171 ventas.
    4. Nuevo Jetta de Volkswagen, vendió 16,475 unidades.
    5. Clásico 4 ptas tambien de VW logró 16,287 ventas.
    6. Spark de GM, se vendieron 16,208 unidades de este subcompacto.
    7. Vento de VW obtuvo un resultado de 16,192 ventas.
    8. March de Nissan se colocó en el octavo lugar de ventas con un total de 14,156 unidades.
    9. Sentra 2.0 de Nissan se vendieron 13,259 unidades.
    10. Chasis Largo en décimo lugar este auto también perteneciente a Nissan vendió 12,023 unidades.

    Hmmmmmm not one Honda. Not even the newer, monster-sized (compared to most cars here) CRV. The dealership is right in front of our bank and looks to be a nice place to go meditate in total silence.

    Yikes!!!! what about that Tsuru Widow-Maker still at number 3???

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks Jolgamazatlan. Maybe that’s why the price is so enticing in Mexico? Nissanland it is! i understand most Tsurus are sold as taxis? Picked up after 4 door requirements killed the Beetle?

      That being said, not a bad car the City. Beaten dynamically be some, content-wise by everybody, spaciousness by most everybody (sedans usually mean family man here), design a question of personal space, trading on the Honda reliability (over-hyped in my estimation), it does seem to be aimed mainly at the faithful.

  • avatar

    Very interesting Marcelo. In India as well, the City is priced at a slight premium to ‘C+ Segment’ sedans.. Verna (Hyundai), Fiesta (Ford), Linea (Fiat), Ciaz (Suzuki), Vento (VW), Rapid (Skoda), Scala (Renault), Sunny (Nissan).
    It is in the $13000-$22000 bracket.

    Honda was one of the few manufacturers since 1998 to make sure that their lineup in India was in sync with the rest of the world. This was much appreciated. The ’98-2002′ Honda city was like a brilliant little Civic and many still dot the landscape. Despite the typical ‘tinny’ Japanese build, it was bullet proof – superb reliability, great MPG, years and years of trouble-free ownership.

    The new one, while it looks grotesque and gimmicky in my eyes, is being lapped up eagerly again and is the segment topper – a ‘natural’ choice of a middle class, ‘I made it too’ crowd. Spaciousness is much appreciated, and good cars like Linea and Fiesta, which have smaller interiors (who can touch Honda in this area..) just don’t cut it. It also comes with a diesel mill for the first time ever – a 1.5 Earth Dreams diesel, which rejuvenated sales.

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