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Honda City tested here in BKK

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Cars just keep growing in size principally for safety reasons and
consumer demands. But the carmakers also have an appetite for bloating
their offerings in order to create new opportunities for themselves.

Take Honda as an example. When the Civic was launched three
years, it encroached into the Accord's territory. This has forced the
latest Accord _ introduced just late last year _ to grow bigger in
order to distance itself from the Civic.

And if it really mattered to Thais, the Accord now steps onto
the shoes of the Legend flagship saloon, which isn't for sale in

Rumours are now rife that the next-generation Legend will have
to become bigger to match luxury saloons like the BMW 7-series instead
of the 5-series.

So with the Accord and Civic now being the largest models in
their classes in Thailand in terms of size, it gives Honda the perfect
opportunity to do likewise with the City.

That third-generation City tested here this week can once again
lay claim for Honda to being the biggest car in the so-called
B-segment/sub-compact car in the country.

Because Honda's model range has shifted upmarket, there is now
room for a new entry-level saloon below the City. And you don't need to
think hard to reach the conclusion that this new member will be Honda's
Eco-car in 2010 (yes, we heard it's a four-door saloon).

So while the upward transition of the Civic and Accord has
resulted in slight price increases, the same has not happened with the
City which is certainly good news for Honda fans and other buyers who
don't want to spend too much on a run-of-the-mill car.

Like before, the City's price range tops out at just under
B700,000 making it still more attractive than the Toyota Vios, its
archrival, whose range-topper costs B699,000 _ B5,000 more than the
City SV.

And if you insist on the Chevrolet Aveo proposition, Honda
still has answer for its aggressively priced opposition:
B564,000-644,000 depending on equipment level. For unfussed buyers who
can live with a manual gearbox, there's a B524,000 City, too.

Given that the City is an all-new car with more metal, more
value added features and newer technology, it can be said that it is of
great value, especially when the entire price range hasn't erred
anywhere from the previous model's.

That's because the City is now entitled to the 5% excise tax
discount given on cars that can run on E20 gasohol, just like the Vios
and nearly-matching Nissan Tiida. The Aveo is still a pure

But such attractive prices also spell some bad news for buyers
cherishing safety features. The amount of active and passive safety
still remains exactly the same in the City, even in top-spec form.

Of course, additions like side or head airbags and stability
control system would definitely increase prices of the City. But there
has been no effort to raise the bar and that puts the City on par with
the Vios, as such.

Special thanks also go to the small number of B-segment saloon
players and the near-monopoly of Toyota and Honda in the passenger car
segment in Thailand. So much for competition.

At least, Honda hasn't remained totally idle during development
stages of the third-gen City. Take design for example.

Okay, we've had enough of associating the City's looks with
other in-house models and ones from other far-away brands in Europe.

But you've got to hand it to Honda: the City now looks bold,
distinctive and modern to arguably sit atop the class in design terms.
Gone are the quirky proportions of the outgoing model, especially with
that cockroach-shaped profile and rear three-quarter angle theme.

Plus, the 16-inch wheels of the SV range-topper help fill the
wheel arches effectively, but whether they will compromise on ride
quality is something we'll touch into later.

The interior of the City has also undergone a major overhaul.
Like the exterior, there is hardly any visual relation with the Jazz
hatchback which clearly shows that Honda's balance sheet has given
engineers more freedom in developing the City.

The most prominent design element of the City's cabin is the
centre console that houses a good-sounding audio system that now omits
a conventional CD player in favour of MP3 and USB connections.

Honda says buyers can still opt for CD player _ but for a cost.

The appearance and operation of the air-con controls don't
exude much quality to match the overall ambience that tends to feel
otherwise, especially with that sporty suede-like upholstery.

The rest is quite predictable like the three-spoke steering
that is now used extensively in other models like the Jazz and Civic.
The fully adjustable rack is unique in this class.

Also distinctive in this area are rear seats that can recline
for passenger comfort and fold for bigger cargo utility, which is
already cavernous in the boot alone.

Like before, there are useful trays under the rear chairs to store small stuff.

Legroom is basically on par with other players, while headroom
will only be cramped with tall persons over six feet. Overall, though,
the City is still a practical saloon that its rivals need to set as a

The City-Jazz differentiation ends here. When it comes to the
technical part, the two are basically the same, albeit slight tweaks to
suit the character of each car.

The 120hp 1.5-litre and five-speed automatic gearbox with
paddle shifters on the steering wheel (only available in SV) are hauled
over from the Jazz for class-leading performance.

However, the emphasis on power and torque outputs at high
engine revs apparently has drawn away some usable grunt in the
mid-ranges, although this has been made up with a 'box willing to shift
gears down when you want more oomph.

Honda engineers say the switch from the smooth-shifting CVT
'box of the old City to the conventional torque convertor type of this
new one is due to consumer demand wanting a more ''responsive'' drive _
which is certainly true on the move.

Honda says it still has to iron out this shortcoming in CVTs,
although it stressed that CVTs still offer quicker acceleration ''which
can't be felt subjectively while driving''. CVT is still offered in

Even so, overall driving performance in the City is still
spirited and ahead of its competition.

And even though its engine isn't as coarse or noisy when pushed
as in the Vios, there is room for improvement at Honda's game,
especially when the old 110hp unit is quieter.

Honda says the engine management system in the Jazz and City is
slightly different, with the latter getting a more relaxed drive _
which can hardly be felt _ and a 5% gain in economy.

That means Motoring's 10kpl city rate in the Jazz should
theoretically translate into 10.5kpl for the City.

Like in the Jazz, stopping power under hard braking has
improved, although pedal action isn't progressive; initial bite is
good, but unexpectedly more effort is needed when you want more of it.

The other similarity is the platform. The handling and ride
balance has improved _ better than in the rather compromised Vios _ but
it is a tad short of the Aveo's handling tautness and ride compliancy.

Honda says the suspension setting in the City is a touch softer
than in the Jazz, although there is still plenty of grip in the City
during highway-driving when you will also note a good level of external
noise suppression.

What slightly corrupt the performance are the 16-inch wheels
that made the ride frequently lumpy around Chiang Mai, the place where
the driving trials took place. The 15-inchers offered lower down the
range should work for drivers who exercise restrain.

The weakest link in the City's driving manners, perhaps, is the
steering. Yes, it's more direct than before but ultimately lacks the
Vios's sharper rack. As well, there is simply no sense of connection to
the car or road in the City.

But that shouldn't stop the City from being a more capable car
than its predecessor and a better one over its competition.

The City agreeably scores on bold looks, sufficient
practicality for a saloon, relaxed and easy driving manners and good
value. In fact, it combines these ingredients well enough to make it
the default choice in this class.

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