2009 Honda City - Test Drive Report

Honda finally sorted out their insurance and let me have a go in the new 2009 Honda City. The test drive run was a short one, less than 5 km, but long enough to get a feel for the car.

As always, this sort of test drive report is in no way a substitute for your own test drive experience. That said, here are my thoughts having driven the City, including a comparison to its closest rival..... The Vi.... I mean the Jazz.

Honda Competing with Honda

Yes, it's true. The biggest challenger to the City is the Jazz. In my opinion nothing else comes close for this kind of money.

The performance is virtually identical since the two cars share the same peppy-yet-frugal 1.5 litre SOHC 1.2 litre motor, and both cars offer the same choice of transmissions: 5-speed manual, 5-speed automatic, and the top spec 5-speed automatic with paddle-shift manual mode.

Practicality is much the same also. Although the hatchback has some advantages with the magic seats system, the City has a massive boot considering the size of the car, and with split folding rear seats (SV model only) the City can do the same sort of load-lugging work that the Jazz can. More on the City v Jazz later. On to the drive.

City driving!

The City is a tidy looking car. If you haven't read the first impressions report yet, perhaps that is a good place to start and - to avoid sounding like a broken record - I'll leave out comments on the quality of materials, and refrain from making subjective design-related comments in this report.

Comfortable driving environment

The Honda City (SV) was delivered to me for test drive, so the engine was still running when I climbed aboard. The air-conditioning was working quietly and the cabin was very comfortable. It took me a few minutes to adjust the drivers seat, and the steering column, and the mirrors to a suitable position. Joyfully, after that I was feeling very comfortable, and the ergonomics were virtually faultless. Everything felt nicely to hand, and foot, and visibility is very good.

A very strong factor in this setup is the that the steering wheel can be adjusted for reach (as with the Jazz) as well as height, and in the V and SV models the drivers-seat can be jacked up and down with a ratchet lever.

Cool and comfortable it was time to head out.


Within the first 30 meters, under slow acceleration, I felt 3 noticeable gear shifts, smooth enough, but noticeable. I have heard reports that 5-speed transmissions from Honda tend to be a bit swappy under certain driving conditions, always seeking the best gear. At slower speeds in traffic there was some evidence of this. At times when you would expect the car to maintain stay in 3rd, it might move to 2nd and back to 3rd.

The City SV I was driving does have the manual gear selection option, and although this does work nicely, the automatic selection will kick in seconds after you make a selection. Attempts to select an inappropriate ratio will have no effect. In operation this system is identical to that in the Jazz. The only possible use I can see for this is to jump down a few gears for a swift overtake, but kick-down is fast enough on this car anyway.

It is still an impressive feature considering the segment, and no other cars in the segment (apart from the Jazz) offer this yet.


Leaving the gearbox alone to do what it should do, I turned my attention to the steering. It's good, accurate and very light at low speeds. Being the electronically assisted variety, it is also able to beef up the steering at higher speeds to improve control, and then during slow speed maneuvering, the steering becomes super light. It works beautifully, and although this is down to personal preference, this is probably the ideal sort of set up for a city car.

Of course, due to the electronic power steering, there is virtually nothing in the way of feedback through the wheel, but somehow that doesn't seem to be a big deal in this car, and you still feel solidly in control.

Sharing the same underpinnings as the Jazz, I didn't expect the City to behave much differently on the road, and it doesn't, but there are some noticeable differences, not related to handling and driving manners. The first is road noise. Perhaps it's something to do with the shape of the car, the way the hatchback cargo area is lined in the Jazz, or other factors, but the Jazz seems just that bit quieter over rough surfaces that the City. The City exhibits a slightly boomy noise over the bumps, although nothing like as bad as the Nissan Tiida.

I drove the Jazz immediately following the City, and believe that the ride was also slightly softer in the Jazz. However, this could be due to the Jazz having more kilometres on the clock.


The brakes are typical "small car" brakes. There is very little feel to them at first, and then suddenly the bite hard. Eventually I got the hang of things, but even still, there isn't the gradual feel present in larger cars. Still, the City has discs all round, and the V and SV come with ABS, EBD and BA.


Despite the looks, and the F1-style gear selection, this is not a sports car. And although 120-hp is a significant boost over the previous generation car, the car has also grown larger and put on 60 kg!

That said, the acceleration feels better, partly due to the stepping effect of the transmission. This effect is not present in the previous generation which uses a CVT. The performance is more than adequate however, and there is a "Sport" mode for when you are in a hurry. This basically allows the engine to climb higher up the rev range before shifting cogs.

One thing that hasn't been improved is the engine refinement. It's by no means bad, but when you push the engine it likes to let you know it's working! The engine gets fussy and noisy when pushed, and it's not a fun sort of engine note either. Just loud. But under "normal" driving conditions this won't be much of an issue.


The City also gets the real-time fuel usage indication from the Jazz. The system has a horizontal meter ranging from 0-40 km/l. Below that is an odometer which can be switched to show the trip duration, average fuel usage in km/l, or range remaining in the tank.

If you're not used to having one of these in your car, you might find yourself getting addicted to looking at it. Its almost like a little game, trying to improve your fuel performance score, and in the City I was immediately rewarded. The car had just over 55-km on the clock prior to my trip, and the average km/l reading was 13.1! That's actually really good considering they way people test drive cars. But within 2 km of careful driving I had increased the average to 13.7 km/l and by the end of the trip it was reading 14.1 km/l.

Many times during the run, when moving along at 60 km/h in traffic I noticed the real-time meter showing 40 km/l, the end of the metre! The reading only dropped below 20 km/l under acceleration. Given my experience with this car, I believe that if you are careful with your right foot, you could experience much better than the 14-16 km/l that Honda are quoting.

This will be one of the cheaper cars to run, thanks in part to the fuel economy, but also owing to the super-low servicing costs. Honda estimate servicing to be approximately THB 20,000 for the first 100,000 km.


Okay, what about the iPod connector? Unfortunately I didn't have an iPod with me, and Honda didn't supply one, so I just have to take their word for it that this works flawlessly.

The radio works as you would expect, and although it has a cheap look to it (I said I wouldn't mention that), there is a quality feel to it in operation. The system does lack the CD player of the Jazz, but in this day and age, who uses CDs anymore.

In the City, you open a small door, plug your iPod cable into the USB port, put your iPod in there and close the lid, and supposedly control your iPod directly from the car's controls. Of course this sort of system isn't new, but this car is just THB 694,000. The Civic doesn't have this.

While the Jazz does have the iPod connectivity, and includes a CD slot, there is something more appealing about the why the City's system is implemented.

Other than that, the SV includes controls for the audio system on the steering wheel.

The competition

As I mentioned earlier in this article, I don't believe that the Toyota Vios is the closest competitor for the City. I would choose the City over the Vios without needing much time to consider. More room, better specification, better functionality, and a nicer design, an extra gear, reclining rear seats, larger boot, more power, nicer radio, etc.

Choosing between the 2009 Honda City and the Jazz might not such an easy decision, however. They are both very strong packages, and in the end it will probably come down to your feelings about the design, and whether you prefer the hatchback or the sedan body style.

But the good news is that shoppers with THB 550,000 to THB 705,000 to spend on their new car will only need to visit one showroom to compare the top two cars in that price range. My opinion is that the Jazz will be the loser more often than not.