The updated 2018 Honda City gets a fresh look and mild equipment updates, but class-leading practicality can only get you so far.
Despite it only being mid-2017, the facelifted Honda City is being pitched as a 2018 model.
The company's smallest sedan is basically a twin-under-the-skin to the popular Jazz hatchback, though offers an arguably more attractive body than its mini van-like sibling.
For the 2018 model year, the City receives a mild refresh which sees it get a new look front and rear, while also scoring an upgraded infotainment system and the availability of satellite navigation for the first time.
On test we have the top-spec auto-only VTi-L, which starts at a relatively pricey $21,590 before on-road costs. The 'Modern Steel' metallic grey finish you see here adds a further $495, bringing the as-tested list price to $22,085 plus ORCs.
The City's only real competitor at this price point is the Mazda 2 GT sedan, which starts at $21,680 with a six-speed manual or $23,680 with the six-speed automatic.
In terms of standard equipment, all City models get LED-daytime running lights, a 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system, cruise control, air conditioning, power windows all round, Bluetooth, AUX and USB inputs, rear-view camera and rear parking sensors.
Stepping up to the VTi-L adds 16-inch alloy wheels (over the VTi's 15-inch steelies), electric folding mirrors, front fog lights, climate control, keyless entry with push-button start, leather-appointed seats, a leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and native satellite navigation.
All models get your standard safety gear like ABS, brake assist, electronic brakeforce distribution, hill-start assist and traction control, though no Honda City features active safety features like blind-spot monitoring, and autonomous emergency braking (AEB). The City does, however, wear a five-star ANCAP safety rating, though the stamp is from 2014.
The Mazda, on the other hand, gets city-speed forward AEB and also has the technology for reversing, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and a head-up display (HUD) as standard.
What the Thai-sourced City lacks in standard kit, however, it makes up in practicality. The Honda sports a massive 536-litre boot – larger than many mid-size SUVs – compared to the Mazda's still-respectable 440 litres, while also trumping the 2's rear seat space in just about every dimension.
Hopping in the driver's seat, the overall design of the City's cockpit is rather simplistic, yet attractive. On closer inspection, though, you'll find all the dash plastics are the hard, scratchy kind, and this carries over to the majority of the door trims.
There are padded leather-look inserts in the doors for your elbows, and a padded faux-leather centre armrest which conceals a storage cubby (the Mazda lacks the latter), so at least the major touch points are soft enough for resting limbs.
Compared to the model that preceded it, the 2018 City VTi-L now gets in-built satellite navigation as standard through the 7.0-inch touchscreen display. However, there's no sign of Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.
Despite the welcome addition of mapping technology, the system itself looks and feels a little aftermarket, and the navigation function can be a little clunky in its operation.
Several CarAdvice staff also had a bit of trouble pairing their phones via Bluetooth, with limited instructions and prompts coming from the screen when you want to connect.
Additionally, when taking a phone call over Bluetooth, one cannot view maps at the same time – which could prove quite annoying if nearing a destination to then receive a call.
In the back, though, is where the City really impresses. While most vehicles of this size and price bracket struggle to fit regular-sized people, the City offers acres of legroom – even behind taller drivers. There's even space for three abreast over short journeys, though the centre seat's base is raised and quite narrow.
One minor gripe is limited headroom for passengers over six-feet tall – this reviewer had to slouch to avoid resting their head on the ceiling – but for the most part it's surprisingly accommodating.
Rear passengers are also treated to two 12V outlets, which offsets the lack of a USB port and ventilation in the rear.
Out on the road, the City remains competent, but not outstanding.
Under the bonnet is a 1.5-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine, producing 88kW of power at 6600rpm and 145Nm of torque at 4600rpm. Drive is sent to the front wheels via a continuously-variable transmission (CVT).
While the outputs and corresponding peak revs may seem high, the City's engine and CVT does a good job of launching and getting up to speed at a reasonable pace. It cannot match the low-down urge of turbocharged units, but it does the job just fine.
The cabin is also well-suppressed from engine noise, while there is just about no hint of whining that is commonly-associated with CVTs, meaning that NVH (noise vibration harshness) is pretty good for this type of car and won't be a pain on longer journeys.
However, the City is pretty dull and numb behind the wheel. The steering is quite light – which is good for tight streets and carparks – though it feels vague and lacks any real feedback. At times you may feel like you underestimate how much you need to turn the wheel.
We found that the driver's seat can become a little uncomfortable over longer journeys, too. The base is quite flat, and it's almost over-padded in the lower back section, so it won't be for everyone. A couple of front passengers complained that their seat felt a little too high as well.
Fuel consumption was good, though. We managed a respectable 7.5L/100km over 460 kilometres of mixed driving, favouring urban conditions.
However, that's a fair bit higher than Honda's 5.9L/100km combined claim, not helped by the fact the City lacks idle stop/start technology which would really benefit around town – something higher versions of the Mazda 2 do have.
Additionally, the City's small 40-litre fuel tank means you can expect around 500km per fill.
In terms of ownership, the Honda City is covered by the company's five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty.
Maintenance is required every six months or 10,000km, whichever comes first. Each visit for the first 60 months or 100,000km commands a base price of between $259 and $297 depending on interval, plus consumables like fluids and filters.
It's definitely not as compelling as the programs offered by numerous brands like Hyundai and Kia – which feature 12 month/15,000km intervals and similar pricing per visit – though it's not ludicrously expensive. Plus, Honda has a long-standing reputation for reliability.
To conclude, the Honda City VTi-L is probably not our first choice when looking at a light sedan. Particularly in this spec, the top-spec version lacks the modern technologies and interior ambience offered by the Mazda 2 GT, while asking for the same amount of money.
However, the Honda's practicality cannot be ignored, and trumps the Mazda in all categories when it comes to interior space and luggage capacity.
With that in mind, if you're in the market for a light sedan and plan on carting passengers around regularly, go for the base VTi (from $15,990), which misses out on alloys, navigation and leather though is a far more sensible price – plus you can get it in manual.
Otherwise, if you only have yourself and one other person in the car most of the time, and prefer the sedan body type, go for the Mazda. It's better value, more stylish, more modern, better to drive and the better choice if you don't regularly use the back seats.