Hatches may rule in the light car market in Australia but now Honda has taken a leaf out of Toyota’s marketing book by launching a sedan version of its popular Jazz, called the City.
As well as tackling the Toyota Yaris head on the Honda City is also taking a tilt at sales currently going to the Holden Barina, the Hyundai Accent and the Nissan Tiida.
The City’s other major task, according to Honda Australia Senior Director Lindsay Smalley, is to take the brand down the age demographic, with the car being pitched very squarely at buyers in the 20 to 40 year-old age bracket.
Not shunning its traditional older buyers, Mr Smalley says the Honda City will also appeal to “empty-nesters” those married couple who have seen their children grow up and move out of home.
Under the attractive but angular bodywork, which we found a bit like a baby Accord Euro, the City is all Jazz, being built on the same platform, and utilising the same drive train and suspension.
The engine is Honda’s 88kW/146Nm, 1.5-litre, four-cylinder, I-VTEC unit that is already found in the latest Jazz and while it mimics the Jazz in many ways the City eschews the base model 1.3-litre engine, having instead just two models, the VTi and the VTi-L.
It comes with the same five-speed manual and five-speed automatic transmissions as found in the Jazz VTi and VTi-S.
There’s one major difference from the Jazz and that’s out back, the boot which at 506 litres is 10 litres bigger in capacity that that of a Holden Commodore, although given the origins of the City it doesn’t quite have the gapping mouth of a Holden boot!
It’s coupled with a 60/40 split fold rear seat and has a capacity that’s even larger than the Honda Accord – 450 litres – and the Accord Euro -467 litres.
The Honda City has been around in 39 markets worldwide since 1996 and more than one million have hit the roads.
This is the first time that Honda Australia has brought the car to our shores and while it is based on the Jazz hatch the designers have tried to make the City more grown-up looking both inside and out with a sporty and individual look.
At the front there’s a striking looking grille, slim-line headlights and a side profile treatment Honda calls `arrowshot form' while at the rear there are some obvious styling cues from the larger Honda sedan family.
Prices start at $20,490 for the VTi manual and $22,790 for the auto, with the L version adds $2500 and metallic paint is an extra $325.
The VTi gets power windows and mirrors, central locking and an iPod/MP3 compatible single in-dash CD stereo.
Safety equipment includes ABS brakes, brake assist, dual front, side and curtain airbags and front seatbelt pre-tensioners.
As with the Jazz one of the most glaring omissions to us is the lack of Electronic Stability Program (ESP) in what is a car that’s been aimed squarely at young drivers.
This life-saving safety equipment won’t be available in either the Jazz or the City until 2011 because of Honda Australia’s decision to use an automatic transmission rather than the Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) that is used in other markets and for which ESP has already been engineered.
Talking to some senior Honda executives at the launch it seems there is also a priority schism between Australia and Asia on ESP, with some executives professing; “ It you were sitting in a Bangkok traffic jam for an hour, which would you rather have, really good air-conditioning or ESP?”
Well, we believe we know what most Australians would prefer!
The VTi-L adds reach-and-rake adjustment on the steering, 16-inch alloys, chrome door handles, fog lights, upgraded trim and a leather steering wheel.
Fuel economy is pretty frugal, with a combined ADR figure of 6.3 litres per 100km for the manual and 6.6L/100km for the automatic, while C02 emissions are 148g/km for the manual and 156g/km for the auto.
As a sedan, the City has room for five, although the rear seat passengers would find three across a little “squeezy”, and it mimics the Jazz in everything except length while being slightly lower in overall height.
Not being short I was pleased to find there was ample room behind the steering wheel and with the driver’s seat in my preferred position I still had good legroom in the rear, although the head height was a little challenging for my 190cm tall frame.
Our driving experience of the City was confined pretty much to just that, the city, as Honda had devised a drive route that took us through a good deal of suburban Sydney and on to the up market beachside area of Palm Beach.
The drive was probably very reminiscent of just what most City owners would do with their car on an everyday basis. The only thing is it didn’t allow us to really challenge the driving dynamics of the car and that will have to wait until we do an extended test of the City in a couple of weeks time.
What we did find was that in the automatic VTi-L we drove during the day the car was a little challenged on significant hills, no doubt in some what due to the fact that it weighs 60kg more than the similarly powered Jazz.
Progress most of the time could best be described as adequate rather than lively, the City certainly isn't a fireball, but then the owner profile is such that the power of the stereo is probably more important than the power of the engine.
The City certainly feels soft when driven into corners and the suspension has more give and there seems to be more body roll, but then it is designed to offer affordable, practical transport.
The softer suspension tune will at least allow the City to smooth out the bumpy roads that it's certain to meet in Australia.
The steering is light and precise enough, without much feel, but is excellent in tight spaces just like that of the Jazz.
Except for when you are revving it hard to get up a major hill, the City is quiet and there didn't seem to be much wind noise or road noise.
One of the biggest problems the City will have to contend with at least immediately is its price relationship with its larger sibling the Honda Civic.
Currently there is only about $1000 between them, which doesn’t seem to make much sense, but Mr Smalley has already acknowledged that the Civic, which went up in price in January, is likely to rise again as the Australian dollar and the Yen continue to do battle.
That will mean a growing disparity between the two, as we suspect Honda has done its sums on the City price and will hold firm on it for the rest of the year.
Mr Smalley has also confidently predicted that the City’s major competitors will also all have to raise prices as the year progresses.
Just how much of a City slicker the new car will be for Honda remains to be seen but we have to say it’s certainly something to like.
Recommended Retail Pricing:
|CITY VTI MANUAL||$20,490|
|CITY VTI AUTO||$22,790|
|CITY VTI-L MANUAL||$22,990|
|CITY VTI-L AUTO||$25,290|