The introduction of the fourth-generation Honda City marks the arrival of the Japanese manufacturer’s new light car family in Australia.
Despite beating the popular (related) Jazz and reborn HR-V to showrooms, the Honda City will be the smallest seller of the trio, with light sedans largely overlooked by Australians in favour of hatchbacks and increasingly sub-compact SUVs.
Recent years have seen some of the City’s biggest baby-sedan rivals (Ford Fiesta, Kia Rio, Mazda 2, Suzuki SX4) disappear from the unloved segment, while those that have stayed the course (Holden Barina, Hyundai Accent, Nissan Almera, Toyota Yaris) are outsold many times over by their light hatch counterparts.
Demand for light cars overall has declined recently, with many buyers seemingly prepared to pay the minor premium for slightly larger, more powerful and more refined models in the next class up, such as the top-selling Mazda 3 and Toyota Corolla.
Honda’s answer to this, then, is a new City that is cheaper, more spacious, more fuel efficient and better equipped than both its predecessor and many of those bigger, ‘small segment’ rivals.
The entry-level Honda City VTi is $500 cheaper than before, priced at $15,990 for the five-speed manual and $17,990 for the automatic continuously variable transmission (CVT). The CVT-only City VTi-L tops the range at $21,390 (down $100).
The new model stretches 45mm to a length of 4455mm, though Honda has pushed the front and rear wheels another 50mm apart to create more space inside the cabin, including rear-seat legroom to rival family sedans like the Holden Commodore and Ford Falcon.
Honda’s effort to maximise interior space comes at the expense of comfort, however, with the City’s front and rear seats thin, flat and firm. Rear headroom is also cramped for those over 175cm tall.
The City’s headline feature is again its class-leading boot – now 30 litres bigger again at 536L. It’s remarkably 75L bigger than that of the mid-sized Accord, and just 20L shy of the CR-V, though it does feature intrusive gooseneck hinges. The rear seatback folds forward 60:40 to create more space for transporting large items.
Also among the best in its class is Honda’s new Display Audio infotainment system. First seen in the latest Odyssey people-mover released earlier in 2014, the system features Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, a reverse-view camera, and ‘mirroring’ technology that allows smartphone owners (only iPhone at this stage) to use selected applications as they would on their phones on the City’s standard 7.0-inch colour touchscreen.
Among the available apps is Honda Satellite Navigation, which costs $49.99 to download and purchase a three-year subscription to its mapping and navigation data.
Using the mirroring technology requires you to connect the phone to the car with USB and HDMI cables, however, leaving cords lying untidily at the base of the centre console.
The Honda City also features capacitive touch surfaces for volume control, accessing menus, and for all the functions of the VTi-L’s climate control system. The result is a slick-looking, piano black centre stack that is almost entirely free of buttons.
Different trim materials and colourful instrument cluster lighting inject extra personality into the City’s cabin, though hard plastics on the armrests, window sills and dashboard feel cheap in comparison.
Other features of the VTi include cruise control, a trip computer, and steering wheel controls for cruise, trip, audio, phone and voice control functions.
The $3400 premium for the VTi-L adds keyless entry and push-button start, leather-wrapped gear knob and steering wheel with paddle-shifters, and two 12-volt outlets for second-row passengers, as well as exterior enhancements including 16-inch alloy wheels (VTi gets 15-inch steel wheels), fog lights and other styling tweaks.
Carried over from the old model is the City’s 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine. Power and torque are unchanged at 88kW and 145Nm, though reduced engine weight and friction and other enhancements help make the City the most economical light sedan on the market based on official figures. The manual variant consumes 5.8 litres per 100km on the combined cycle, down eight per cent, while the CVT uses 5.7L/100km, making it 14 per cent more efficient than the old five-speed automatic.
The Honda City accelerates well off the line, with progress slower as you press on towards highway speeds – when you’ll notice the engine gets noisy as revs climb north of 4000rpm.
The engine settles nicely, though, particularly when equipped with the CVT as tested at the City’s Australian launch in Canberra. At 60km/h it sits barely above idle at 1200rpm, while at 100km/h it holds 2000rpm and is quiet. The CVT is quick to react to enthusiastic prods at the throttle, making it feel keen rather than slurry like some rival units.
Less settled is the City’s ride, which picks up little bumps and imperfections on seemingly smooth roads, shivers over coarse surfaces, and falls into potholes and road joins. The VTi’s smaller wheels and chubbier Michelin tyres provide a more comfortable ride than the VTi-L’s 16s and lower-profile Bridgestone rubber. Road and ambient noise becomes intrusive on rough surfaces and at higher speeds.
The City’s steering is slow likes its predecessor, keeping your hands busy when cornering and parking. Its light weighting and small vague patch around the straight-ahead position mean it lacks a confidence-inspiring solidity, though it is consistent and predictable when pointed through corners.
The Honda City is equipped with electronic stability control, six airbags, and host of other active and passive safety features. It will be crash-tested by ANCAP in the coming months, and Honda is hopeful the new model will match the previous model’s five-star rating.
The City is also covered by Honda’s capped-price servicing program. Servicing the City at six-month/10,000km intervals for the three years/60,000km costs $1645 for the manual and $1787 for the CVT, making it considerably more expensive to service than a Barina ($740) or a Yaris ($780).
A three-year warranty is also only the norm and doesn’t match the five years offered by the rival Hyundai Accent.
If comfort and refinement are priorities and the budget will stretch to about $20,000 before on-road costs, the likes of the one-size-bigger Mazda 3, Corolla, Ford Focus and Holden Cruze sedans may hold stronger appeal.
But if light is right then the City’s combination of sharp starting price, spaciousness, efficiency and infotainment technology make it a strong contender among a tiny group of pint-sized sedans.