Honda Malaysia is certainly not short on bravado. First, it made the bombshell announcement that Malaysia will be the first country in the world to offer the new City with the Intelligent Multi-Mode Drive (i-MMD) hybrid powertrain. The company has swiftly followed it up with a bold (or crass, depending on whether you’re a competitor) new advertisement for the car, which is being compared with some big names in the video.
Not only did Honda show the City off against its main rival, the Toyota Vios, but it also spent much of the running time pitting the hybrid model head-to-head against a car two segments up – the Camry. The City is seen effortlessly overtaking the D-segment sedan on both the highway and at low speeds, despite the Camry driver ejecting his passengers in a desperate attempt to make the car lighter and faster.
Later on, the City goes up Fraser’s Hill, making a mid-corner pass on a Perodua Bezza along the way. It arrives at a cafe at the top with time to spare, comfortably beating the Camry. So why is Honda making such obvious namechecks of its competition? Because, it says, the City has more torque than any of them, at 253 Nm.
By comparison, the Bezza has 121 Nm, the Vios has 140 Nm and even the Camry “only” has 235 Nm. In the comparison table below, it even made a mention (in all but name) of the forthcoming Nissan Almera, which makes 152 Nm from its 1.0 litre turbocharged three-cylinder engine.
So how does the City produce that figure? The i-MMD system relies on two electric motors, one of them being a starter/generator integrated with the 1.5 litre Atkinson-cycle i-VTEC engine. On its own, the latter produces 98 PS from 5,600 to 6,400 rpm and 127 Nm from 4,500 to 5,000 rpm.
But the engine is only there mainly as a generator, either charging a lithium-ion battery or juicing the second electric motor. Most of the time, it’s this second motor that drives the car – it makes 80 kW (109 PS) and the headline 253 Nm of torque. This gives the City one of the main benefits of a fully-electric vehicle, namely instant torque when accelerating from a standstill.
Removing the internal combustion engine from the equation of moving the car also means that acceleration is more linear, with a smoother transfer of torque – or at least, that’s what Honda claims. It also removes the need of a planetary gearset (an electronic continuously variable transmission, as most hybrid carmakers call it), making the whole system more compact and refined compared to other hybrid systems.
The engine is connected to the wheels, however – a single-speed transmission and a lock-up clutch allow it to provide motive power at higher speeds, where it is at its most efficient. Understanding how the i-MMD system works is key to understanding how the magic 253 Nm is derived from, and why it’s not the walkover victory over the Camry that Honda Malaysia makes it out to be.
Of course, the City will feel much more sprightly coming off the line because all that torque comes in from zero revs. However, the performance of an electric motor tapers significantly the faster you go, so that surge of torque won’t be quite so pronounced once you actually get going.
In any case, the Camry still has a significant 74 PS power advantage at 184 PS, so even with a lot less weight to carry, the City is not exactly going to run away from the Toyota in a drag race. Honda has yet to provide performance figures, but the Jazz e:HEV – which uses the same powertrain – has a claimed zero-to-100 km/h acceleration time of 9.4 seconds.
Toyota has also not given a sprint time for the latest Camry, but the previous-generation car – which used the same 2.5 litre Dual VVT-i engine and six-speed automatic gearbox – was quoted at 9.7 seconds from zero to 100 km/h. The new one has slightly torquier and more powerful but is also heavier, so it should even out. The City will probably still be quicker, yes, but perhaps not appreciably so.
This slim advantage fizzles out at higher speeds, where the City locks out the electric motor and runs only on the petrol engine, with less power and far lower torque. This deficit is most apparent when looking at the top speeds – the old Camry could run on to 210 km/h, whereas the new Jazz hybrid is out of puff at 174 km/h.
Before you come at us in the comments, yes, we know that looking at the bald figures isn’t the best way to assess performance, and that the electric motor will mean that the City will feel a little bit punchier in most driving conditions. And this article certainly takes nothing away from the incredibly clever i-MMD powertrain, which looks to deliver good performance and frugal fuel economy.
And yes, it’s commendable that the City can even be compared on the same page as a far more expensive car, and it should be much quicker than its similarly-priced rivals. But maybe you should think first the next time you say your City can “smoke” a D-segment car.