Honda's City is adept on the highway, but especially impressive in tight car spaces.
Honda's City is adept on the highway, but especially impressive in tight car spaces.

Metro machine advances

MY MOTHER has seven sisters. The second youngest, my favourite, is a teacher by trade and a rebel at heart.

It was she, at the ripe old age of 10, that declared she would not spend her weekends in the family's fruit and vegetable store as it was slave labour.

It was she at the head of university protests screaming the injustice of the lack of equality in a country where division was the norm.

It was she who, surrounded by a gaggle of girlfriends, would visit illegal township shebeens dancing into the night to the sound of the pennywhistle.

And of course it was she who scandalised the family living with her husband before marrying him, resulting in much tut tutting in my grandmother's sewing circle.

Years later it would be her choice in cars that ruffled the feathers. In the late 1980s in South Africa the types of cars on the road hardly varied, with some manufacturers taking a stand against apartheid.

Choice was largely limited to a Toyota or Mazda if you had a family, a souped-up Nissan Skyline if you were a hoon and of course a Mercedes if you had cash to splash.

Loyalty to those brands were strongly promoted through goodwill and government incentives.

In the midst of all this my aunt traded in her Toyota Cressida for a Honda Ballade.

The latter was new to the country and was making waves with its sloping design, rounded lines and cutting-edge inclusions.

Neighbours and family flocked to check out the usurper, some jealous at her nerve, others wondering aloud whether she should have parted with so much money for such an unknown quantity.

At my grandmother's sewing circle there was more tut-tutting.

But my aunt smiled, got in her car, sank back in the leather seats, pushed the button on her electric window and drove off with the state-of-the-art tape player blaring out the frowns.

The memory brought a smile to my face when we picked up the Honda City for a drive.

It has had an update, a facelift and a $500 price reduction as Honda hopes to rejuvenate interest.

 

Comfort

The interior upgrade includes an aluminium look decorative trim, new seat fabric and blue dashboard lights for the VTi base model with the VTi-L also adding blue stitching.

Dial and switch quality and placement is good but in reality the dash, which was cutting edge when the City arrived in this country in 2009, now looks a bit dated.

There are plenty of cup holders and hidey holes but oddly just the passenger seat gets a rear pocket.

The boot - all 506 litres of it - still manages to impress. Hardly surprising considering the Japanese manufacturer used a Coleman esky to determine the dimensions.

The opening is a bit on the small side but it still manages to carry more than you would persuade a Holden Commodore to accommodate.

Seats are comfortable all round and fairly supportive with generous rear leg room allowing for the transport of tall passengers in good fashion. A 60:40 back seat split means you can chuck in the surf board or bicycle.

On the road

There has been no change to the 1.5-litre that is paired with a five-speed auto or five-speed manual transmission.

It is a willing combination that will see you right in the confines of the city - for which it is after all designed - and on the open road when the need arises.

The suspension is geared for comfort so ride quality and handling is good but steering feeling a bit on the weak side.

It is assured around corners even when you let your mind drift and is pretty quiet unless you ask for much in a hurry.

New thicker windows and carpets also help keep noise intrusion to a minimum.

The City has an excellent turning circle making it an ideal companion in tight spaces.

What do you get?

The City carries its old inclusions list that numbers air-conditioning, cruise control, MP3 compatible CD player, power mirrors and windows and remote central locking as highlights while safety is covered by front, side and full-length curtain airbags, ABS, EBA and EBD.

Other contenders

Toyota Yaris (from $16,490), Kia Cerato (from $21,390), Nissan Tiida (from $19,990) Holden Barina (from $18,290) and Ford Fiesta (from $20,990) are just the tip of the iceberg.

Practicality

With that huge boot and spacious interior the City is a look-in for young professionals and young families.

Exterior updates will keep it in vogue for little while longer but tellingly it does miss reverse sensors and sat nav which hold some of its competitors in good stead.

The price reduction is likely to prove appealing.

Running costs

Official figures 6.6 litres/100km (6.4L for the manual) and while that was possible highway journeys, around town we were closer to the 7.5L/100km mark.

All new Honda vehicles come with a three-year/100,000km warranty.

Funky factor

Looks were certainly an advantage for the City even before this upgrade with sharp lines, sloping windscreen and strong wheel arches.

Now, restyled bumpers, new lights and of course a transformed grille have added new energy.

The low-down

Competition in this sector is tight and supply issues resulting from last year's floods in Thailand have hurt the brand.

Those have now eased however and this, together with the upgrade, should put the Honda City back on the radar.

 

Vital statistics

Model: Honda City

Details: Five-door frontwheel drive small sedan

Transmission: Five-speed auto or five-speed manual

Engine: 1.5-litre SOHC four-cylinder petrol generating maximum power of 88kW @ 6600rpm and peak torque of 145Nm @ 4800rpm

Consumption: 6.6 litres/100km (combined average)

Bottom line: From $18,490

 

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