Honda at home in the city

Honda's City VTi is well built, has smart design and has an engine that will offer pleasing fuel economy.
Honda's City VTi is well built, has smart design and has an engine that will offer pleasing fuel economy. Contributed

HONDA has an enviable reputation for having fiercely brand-loyal customers, and in my experience this is due to its cars being good all-rounders with bullet-proof reliability.

But is that enough these days? The Japanese manufacturer will seemingly always continue selling cars to its “I wouldn't drive anything else” market, but Honda faces huge challenges competing with its ever-increasing Japanese, Korean and even European rivals.

If you're seeking a small, four-door sedan, you are bombarded with choice and Honda's City VTi offering certainly isn't the most powerful, most stylistically exciting or cheapest out there.

But it is, after all, a Honda, and that means it feels very well built, has smart design and has an engine that will offer pleasing fuel economy.

I got the chance to sample an automatic City VTi version from Daddow's Honda in Cooroy.

My first impression was that this Honda has been named correctly – its natural stomping ground is the city.

It is deceptively roomy in terms of cabin and boot space, and its steering and visibility makes it an excellent proposition for scooting around town.

Manoeuvrability was excellent. Parking proved simple and all the while its 1.5-litre petrol engine sipped the fuel frugally enough.

Take the City out of the city, however, and it isn't a car to fill you with joy. With only 88kW to call upon and not the most sophisticated of automatic gearboxes, it always seemed to struggle to find the right gear with the right revs, especially along Cooroy's hills.

The drive train's limitations are a shame as the handling of the City is surprisingly good. It stayed impressively tight through the turns, and as is the case with most Hondas I've piloted, the feedback through the steering wheel was commendable.

During my drive I decided to stop treating the City as any sort of back road flier, which to be fair to Honda isn't the car's point, and assumed a more “retired gentleman” driving style.

In this mode its comfort levels came to the fore, with the driver's seat working in unison with the well-balanced suspension to absorb road imperfections.

My conclusion? The City is not one for the driving enthusiast, but if a leisurely tour or town driving is all you do, the Honda will no doubt prove its worth.

The City looks a small car from the outside, but as mentioned, it feels very roomy inside and will house four adults very well, proving it's a proper sedan.

Boot space is one of the car's true plus points.

As expected of any car in this price range, there's a mixture of good soft plastics and less appealing hard plastics.

Seats are comfortable, if a tad stiff, and the overall cabin feel is one of traditional Honda quality without anything fussy at all. Boring, but reassuringly no-nonsense. The stereo system packs a fair punch and, as expected, reads MP3s, WMA and ACC files, plus there's a USB jack for iPods and the like.

Safety wise you're well covered with six airbags.

The City's exterior design is much like the rest of the car: uncontroversial. Honda has hardly tried to break new ground with the design, but again, this will most likely be to the approval of regular Honda sedan customers.

Honda has covered its younger market with the likes of the Jazz and Civic hatchbacks, while the Accord Euro is a sporty and roomy option for young families. This makes me think the City's target market is the ageing/retired demographic, which is no bad thing as it's a very substantial group.

At $22,885 drive away for my City with its automatic gearbox and metallic paint, it isn't what you'd call cheap compared to similar-sized rivals, but you can't put a price on loyalty and Honda certainly has plenty of buyers falling into this group.

The City suggests sensible rather than sexiness to me, but if driving thrills and wow factor styling are not top on your shopping list, this roomy and refined Honda is a safe bet for loyal followers.

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