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Above and beyond

An out-of-town excursion proves that the updated Honda Brio and City are more than just urban runabouts

By Dylan Afuang

TO BE HONEST, if you were given the opportunity to hustle around a race track like the Batangas Racing Circuit (BRC), the Honda Brio and City probably won’t be the first cars you’d take — owing to these subcompact cars’ efficient engines and overtly more utilitarian inclinations.

However, a road test staged by Honda Cars Philippines, Inc. (HCPI) showed that the Brio and City are just as economical and exciting in the urban setting as they are on highways and even the track — thanks to the updates that complement their existing qualities.

For the Brio’s revamp, the most notable changes are found on its exterior. Features include an RS front grille in piano black, LED headlights for the RS, updated fog lights and a fog light garnish for the RS, and all-LED daytime running lights for the RS and V.

Inside, all models have a seven-inch capacitive touchscreen audio display as standard equipment, with the Brio RS Black Top, RS, and V models now receiving Android smartphone mirroring. Now standard across all Brio versions are rear parking sensors, too.

For the City’s part, aside from sharper styling here and there, the inclusion of Honda Sensing in all of its variations headlines the update. This is Honda’s suite of cutting-edge safety and convenience features for drivers, designed to help the company achieve its stated objective of “realizing zero traffic collision fatalities by 2050.”

In addition to other standard safety features, Honda Sensing includes the following capabilities: Lead Car Departure Notification System, Collision Mitigation Braking System, Lane Keeping Assist System, Road Departure Mitigation System with Lane Departure Warning, Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), and Auto-High Beam (AHB).

Now, back to the road test proper.

The Brio’s 1.2-liter, four-cylinder i-VTEC engine (outputting 90ps and 119Nm) shines on the highway. Compared to its contemporaries whose mills use one less cylinder, the Brio’s larger four-pot helps it reach triple-digit speed with slightly more ease and less revs. It’s still no powerhouse, but the Brio can maintain a brisk-enough pace — even with three occupants and heavy bags on board.

Speaking of the interior, the Brio offers an adequate amount of passenger and cargo room. Meanwhile, some outside noise still competes with the audio output, but the added orange accents on the seats and dashboard, and the good sightlines more than compensate.

All of these and the Brio’s handling all came together at BRC. Tackling its sweeping bends and a tight gymkhana course set up right there, the hatchback exhibited light yet responsive steering, controlled body lean, and good brakes. And if you coax the CVT to upshift ASAP, the car can return kpl (kilometers per liter) figures between the high teens and low 20s.

Similar impressions can be said for the City. In this sedan, a bigger 1.5-liter four-cylinder i-VTEC unit (121ps and 145Nm) is present, and this pays dividends in performance and fuel economy. Packing a larger mill over its sibling, the City gets up to speed quicker and maintains its speed easier. When driven smoothly even with a bit of pace, the returning figures will hardly go below 20kpl.

Lest we forget though, safety is the real deal of the City. The sedan’s Honda Sensing will keep the car within a safe distance from other vehicles and, in certain scenarios, grab the brakes when collision is imminent. Not only that; the City’s traction control systems can also keep the car in check during high-speed swerving maneuvers or when braking on slippery surfaces.

Elsewhere around the car, we may bemoan the exterior size increase of what’s otherwise a subcompact vehicle, but we can’t deny the allure of cabin and trunk space brought about by that growth spurt. On the highways and backroads back to the city the, well, City catered to the luggage and passengers with plenty of room to stretch complemented by a stable ride quality.

Didn’t we mention that the Brio and City can ably venture out of town on occasion?