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Future models - Honda - City

First drive: Honda City makes good urban sense

Jazz in the City: Booted new Honda micro will be more expensive than the Jazz.

Honda hands us the keys to its new Thai-built, Jazz-based, light-sized City sedan

Honda logo2 Oct 2008

By JAMES STANFORD in THAILAND

HONDA'S ever-expanding Civic has left room for a slightly smaller and cheaper model to join the Honda Australia line-up.

As we reported earlier this week, that model is called the Honda City - a car that was originally designed just for Thailand but is now exported to other Asian countries. Australia will join the list from February.

It might have a sleek sedan body, but the City shares much of its underpinnings with the Jazz hatchback, including its 88kW 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine.

The City will compete against sedan versions of the Holden Barina, Toyota Yaris and Nissan Tiida. It will carry a slight price premium over the similarly-equipped Jazz, with City prices likely to range between $18,000 and $21,000.

We will have to wait until it arrives in Australia to get an idea of how it performs on our roads, but out initial impression after driving its in Thailand this week is that the City makes a lot of sense.

It is a convincing little four-door that appears to be the right kind of car at the right time, with Australians down-sizing like never before and some of them remaining keen to have a sedan.

The City won't be the only small sedan on sale in Australia but appears to be far better than the Holden Barina sedan, as well as being likely to surpass the Yaris and Tiida sedans.

Of course, a definitive conclusion can be made next February, but the first impression is a good one. That said, we only drove the City at a racetrack, which is never an ideal test bed.

But Honda had good reason for restricting our City drive to the Bira track near Pattaya in Thailand. The traffic in this country is so crazed with scooters, tourist taxis and pedestrians heading (quickly) in different directions that it thought we would be better off testing the car in a controlled environment.

Of course, the City feels out of place on a racetrack because it is a frugal and practical model and not a sporty special. For example, there will be no Type R version.

15 center imageThat said, the City made a good impression before we even left pitlane. It has enough space inside to cater for your average family and adult males can sit in the back without coming close to hitting their heads on the roof or having their knees touch the seats in front.

The amount of space in the back makes it easy to see why these cars are used as taxis and limos in Thailand.

Its boot is also quite cavernous, even with a full-size spare wheel beneath the floor. While some sedans have a very narrow boot opening that limits what you can carry (the Renault Megane sedan comes to mind), the City's boot aperture is wide and tall.

Its interior has a quality feel, although the centre console stack, which comprises the CD player and heater controls, looks quite plain in comparison to its Jazz sibling.

That's not such a bad thing though, as the centre console of the new Jazz might be a bit too funky for some customers.

The rest of the interior looks just like that of a Jazz. It is the same in that the plastic surfaces look good and the quality seems excellent, but the plastic itself is rock-hard.

Thai City models get a beige interior, but Honda Australia took mercy on its customers and decided a black interior was less challenging on the eye.

The steering wheel in the City is straight from the Jazz, as is the steering system. It offers little feedback and is very light, which is a big positive in low-speed and situations like parking.

Its seats are reasonably supportive and in the case of the test car, which was better specified than the two City models that will come to Australia, they were lined with a nice soft felt-like fabric with detail stitching.

When it comes to styling the City is mostly a hit with a little bit of a miss. Its front-end nails the bull's eye with a futuristic grille and slit-shaped headlights that really do make this an appealing car.

It looks good from the side profile as well, with a nice shoulder line and aggressive outline.

Unfortunately, the back-end is where the City looks a bit ordinary, thanks to too many contrasting lines. It is the only angle from which the City's design is not convincing, though even the higher-spec 16-inch alloys still don't look large enough to properly fill the guards from many other angles.

It is a shame that electronic stability control won't be available until 2010, but a least the City comes standard with front, side and curtain airbas, as well as anti-skid brakes.

When it comes to on-track action, the City seems to be an adequate performer.

Road cars always seem slow when shown a racetrack and it was no different with the City, our versions of which cars were fitted with automatics, which dulled the engines somewhat.

The 1.5-litre four should have enough punch to keep up with traffic, but you have to push it pretty hard to get up to a decent pace. It feels like the 50-odd kilos of extra steel blunts the performance further but, again, the racetrack tends to make cars feel slower than they really are.

Of course, low-down torque is far more important on the road than the ractrack, but the automatic transmission does return a quick response when you depress your right foot, unlike the previous CVT auto.

Another positive is that the gearing allows the City to do only a touch over 2000rpm when cruising at 100km/h in fifth gear, which is a refreshing change from some small cars that run at more than 3000rpm at highway speeds and can get tiresome on country runs.

At this speed, at least on a smoothly surfaced racetrack, the City is very quiet, with very little road or tyre noise entering the cabin, but when you get stuck in and rev the engine past 4000rpm it can get pretty raucous - all the way to the 6500rpm.

Of course, you can always drown it all out with the crackind audio unit Honda has fitted as standard. It is simply a great sound system, with a lot of base, which is rare at this level of the market. That might not sound important but it certainly is to most young people and music lovers of all ages.

No, we didn't test the fuel economy during our circuit test, but it is expected the City will use less fuel than an equivalent Jazz thanks to improved aerodynamics.

It is quite remarkable that a sedan such as the City can use such a small amount of fuel and yet have so much interior space.

The City's suspension is set up quite differently to the Jazz and feels generally softer. There is a fair amount of bodyroll and the tyre walls also have a fair amount of flex.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. The suspension seems to have been developed with pot-holed roads in mind and that could mean the car will handle the rutted streets of some of Australia's cities very well.

The Jazz hatch is quite a bit firmer and tends to bump and skip a bit on those lumpy tarmac country roads.

But it's not yet clear whether the City's softer suspension, different weight distribution and slightly longer wheelbase will have a positive impact on road-holding and ride comfort on choppy roads.

Final pricing will play a role in its success here, but it appears the City sedan is likely to become increasingly popular in Australia as people look for new ways to save money.

Even more so than the Barina, Tiida and Yaris, it should appeal to those looking to move down from either a small sedan, mid-sized sedan or even a compact SUV The City's impressive load capacity could even tempt some customers who thought that they had to drive a hatch when they really wanted a sedan.

Read more:

Honda's new City is just four months away

First look: Latest Jazz sedan crosses City limits


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