Turn on the lights
Honda’s starter sedan stands out in a far from crowded segment
THE City lights are calling … but few people will notice the allure. That’s just the way it is for sedans in the light car class, where they fail to match the hatches and SUVs in attracting the interest of buyers.
In the case of the new Honda City there’s a lot to like. The upgraded infotainment comes to you via a seven-inch touchscreen, the boot is bigger than a Commodore’s and rear seats will comfortably cope with two adults. So it’s like a mini-SUV with better road manners.
A mid-pack price of $15,990 for the base VTi model with a fivespeed manual gives the City the sticker price to fight with the few sedan rivals remaining.
Standard gear on the City includes reversing camera, 15-inch steel wheels, cruise control and Bluetooth connectivity. Continuously variable transmission adds $2000, metallic paint bulks the bill by $495.
The range-topping VTi-L costs $21,390 with CVT and steering wheel-mounted paddle-shifters, adds four speakers for a total of eight and adds climate control aircon and 16-inch alloy wheels.
Competition includes the Holden Barina ($15,490$20,190), Toyota Yaris ($18,190$21,790), Hyundai Accent ($16,990-$20,990), Nissan Almera ($16,990-$20,990) and Kia Rio at $21,690.
The touchscreen will impress technophiles. It pairs with Android and Apple devices, though for now only iPhone 5 and newer Apple products can be physically connected to the display to “mirror” gesture commands.
The interface is easy to use and significantly de-clutters the dash. Another welcome feature is the reversing camera’s switchable image modes, so the driver switch between normal, wide and top-down views.
As in most modern vehicles, options extend to apps. The headliner in the City is the $49.95 Honda Satellite Navigation with three years of free updates.
Full marks for occupant and cargo space, though the boot’s gooseneck hinges intrude into the cargo space — but with such volume it won’t matter until you’re moving house.
The plastics are durable but there are no soft-touch patches where elbows tend to rest and the seats aren’t the most supportive in the class.
Ergonomics are first rate with easy-to-read dials and stalks and the view from the driver’s seat is expansive.
The exterior styling is characterised by the big “H” front grille and the scalloped character lines running under the door handles. It’s not groundbreaking but the little Honda is far from offensive.
ANCAP has yet to officially rate the new City. It’s safe to assume it will earn a five-star rating given Honda’s focus on protecting its customer base. Standard kit includes six airbags, stability and traction control with hill start assist.
Light steering and frugal fuel use make this a true city car. Honda’s 1.5-litre engine claims 5.7L/100km with the CVT. Carsguide got down to low sixes with slightly more enthusiastic driving, making the cited figure real-world credible. Even urban cycle thirst is officially 7.3L.
As a small sedan in a big city, the Honda is a smart choice. Exceptional carrying space is combined with a stylish and accommodating cabin, urban-tuned suspension and a betterthan-average CVT.
Steer clear of sustained, heavy accelerator applications and the CVT is a smooth operator. Go beyond moderate loads and the drivetrain feels stressed and front occupants must deal with a fair amount of engine noise.
The suspension is an allround compromise, meaning small irregularities are vaguely felt while big hits mid-corner will unsettle the torsion beam rear end and make the car twitch through the turn. Repeated shocks can cause the car to undulate and generic understeer pegs it at the safe rather than sporty end of the market.
The featherweight steering is still reasonably precise and the progressive brake pedal
means all stopping isn’t done in the first 5mm of travel. It takes a minute to readjust to the brake modulation but ultimately makes the City a very smooth car to bring to a halt.
The City’s all-round civility and smart pricing should build a following in the light sedan market. The only possible caveat will be its eventual ANCAP star rating.