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Car reviews - Honda - City - sedan range

Our Opinion

We like
Interior and boot space, engine willingness, dynamics, audio quality and features and cabin storage
Room for improvement
Price premium over competitors, no ESP available until late 2010, interior noise levels, lack of front seat fore-aft travel

9 Feb 2009

CAN you picture the prime minister arriving at Parliament House in his bespoke Commonwealth car with the C*1 plates – on a Honda City?

No, me neither, but Honda says that in southeast Asia and on the sub-continent, the City is often a chauffeur-driven car.

Honda might not lay claim to the aspiration of delivering a white City as the next prime ministerial car, but drawing journalists’ attention to the status of such a car in developing markets points to a glimmer of hope that the City might be more than just another sedan version of a popular light hatchback here.

Which is exactly where the light sedan category is today. The light sedan is to the light hatchback what chips are to fish: often consumed on their own but never really considered a stand-alone meal. Barely an appetiser, really.

But the City does look like it belongs above its light sedan station. Unlike competitors, it looks and feels like a bigger car than just a booted Jazz. Of course, there are no shared panels with Jazz, and the City could be mistaken for a Civic sedan.

Design aesthetics are subjective, but for many the City looks fantastic. While the BMW 3-Series-inspired taillights are an acquired taste, the rest of the car looks accomplished in a conservative way.

The front is pure Honda, and there is no apology for that. The side view – modelled on a bloke holding a bow and arrow, if you must know – is sharp and good-looking.

Inside, the appeal continues, but the conservative theme might dismay the youngest of the target group, with the black interior and silver highlights a middle-of-the-road approach. Then again, it is not offensive, and practical.

Numerous cupholders, storage trays and pockets hold anything you might want to drag along, and for the driver there is a neat array of clear, large and obvious switches and instruments to look down on.

The mirrors are not especially large, and the seat feels high and close to the ceiling rail (it is height adjustable, but even the lowest setting is quite high) but the view is quite good. Like many current cars, the high tail translates to a not-so-clear rear view for parking, but it is no worse than the many other such designs.

The front seats do not slide back particularly far, and with the passenger seat it is most noticeable. The passenger-side foot-well shape doesn’t allow you to sit with knees up, and even if you stretch out with the seat at the rearmost position, your feet will be on the footboard if you are more than 170cm tall.

The rear seat is a little too reclined for some, and underthigh support is lacking, but otherwise is a good shape and size for two adults. It is a little narrow for three, and as with most rear seats the centre occupant loses out on seat comfort due to the seat shape and padding. Foot room is good for three occupants and the floor is tilted up towards the front, which makes for a slightly more comfortable seating position.

The boot is tall and reasonable wide but not deep. The only minor complaint is that with the sloping rear window glass, the boot opening is limited if you are trying to fill the space with a particularly bulky item.

When just cruising or taking it easy, the 1.5-litre engine gives good throttle response and seems quite smooth.

When more performance is called for, the engine becomes a little noisier and harsher than you might expect from a more upmarket model. A booming noise enters the cabin about 3800rpm when holding a gear to maintain speed up, for example, a long highway hill.

At least the little petrol four doesn’t mind revving, and by doing so you can extract reasonable performance out of it. We achieved 7.6L/100km for the auto model we drove in the Sydney city and outer suburbs.

The City feels dull to steer at slower speeds, but the light steering doesn’t feel too bad when upping the ante. It points with precision you don’t expect when pottering about.

Ride is firm, but it doesn’t have the rattly MacPherson strut clunkiness of some similar-size cars. The tall tyres of the VTi we drove helped to absorb the worst road shocks.

The auto transmission model we tested had smooth shifts, but if you like to shift your auto manually, the City’s selector is pretty basic – an old-school T-bar with no manual mode as such.

If you don’t really need a lumbering two-tonne SUV to ferry the kids, and can cope with a reasonably leisurely drive fully loaded on holidays (and with double demerits and holiday traffic, is there any other way?), then the Honda City may just make more sense for a family of four than would appear at first glance.

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