In the 1990s, when the first generation of Thai-built cars first arrived in Singapore, buyers greeted them with some degree of cynicism. Sure, it likely meant a cheaper, more affordable car but as quality-conscious locals know, everything has a cost.
And indeed, the first Thai cars were decidedly simple and utilitarian, in that they did the business of providing people with transport and not much else. Not a sin of course, and for most people that was enough, but there were also others who viewed Thai-built cars as an inferior cousin to their Japanese counterparts.
Nearly two decades on, almost a whole generation of drivers have gotten used to driving Toyotas and Hondas built in the Land of Smiles. If anything, their sheer numbers on our roads today have proven that Thai-made cars are just as well-built as those from Japan. Of course, there is still a handful of old school folks who insist that Thai-built cars aren’t quite the same, but for the majority of drivers here, it seems that where a car is assembled doesn’t really seem to matter so much anymore, so long as it serves its purpose as intended.
If you’re still of the former persuasion, then perhaps the new Honda City could, once and for all, change your mind about Thai-made cars. For one, it looks nothing like the utilitarian box that its predecessors were, and the new City boasts some pretty swoopy and dynamic styling, with curves and lines everywhere, and that chrome grille taking pride of place up front. It does look a touch more cohesive than its other major Thai-built rival, the Toyota Vios, and should certainly help boost its appeal towards younger drivers.
The interior is slightly simpler, and while it feels a tad plasticky in areas (it is still supposed to be an affordable car in Thailand after all), overall fit and finish does seem pretty good. There is a seven-inch high-definition touchscreen that controls all the relevant functions, like on its larger, Japanese-made model range sibling, the Odyssey MPV.
A big draw this time though, is that Honda’s infotainment system comes bristling with features and it can, in a pinch, do almost anything you’d expect a luxury car to do too. What no other car on the market can do right now is use your iPhone as an off-board processing device – it’s the future of infotainment for automobiles as we know it. Apple is busy signing up partners for its automotive collaboration, while Android/Google have nVidia and a number of carmakers on their side too.
Still, it bears pointing out that the City is the only car which has navigation integrated into its dashboard control system. In other cars you can skip music tracks and such, but nobody else does navigation like this right now, and it saves you the couple thousand dollars it costs for any sort of integrated unit too. Score one for the humble City then.
You hook up your iPhone via the HondaLink app that you can download, and it effectively turns the car into a giant version of your phone, allowing you to access features such as navigation, music, traffic information and so on. HondaLink’s app has integrated features, so its navigation app for example, is ’embedded’ into it. It’s easy to use, and snappy too since it utilises your phone’s 4G data connection (assuming you have one), although it is a little rough around the edges. Still, it’s a good step up from basic in-car GPS units, though not as slick as say, BMW iDrive or Audi MMI.
The City is also pretty well-equipped too for its price, with standard features including Bluetooth integration, multi-function steering wheel with paddle shifters, Hill Start Assist, reverse camera, cruise control, and keyless entry and engine push start button. There is plenty of room all round for five passengers, and boot space is also extremely generous at 536 litres.
So, in essence, the City is a pretty easy car to live with, and that translates to its drive too. As a whole, the City is pretty fuss-free to pilot, with its light steering making the car very manoeuvrable in the, erm, city. It also means that the car is easy to park, which should be a boon for most people. And yet, when you chuck it in a corner, the City holds its line fairly well, with only a slight hint of understeer. It’s no sports car of course, but there’s a remarkable sense of composure about the car that surprises you.
The 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine, with 120bhp and 145Nm of torque, offers a surprising amount of pull, and overtaking moves are executed with relative ease, with most of the torque coming in around the mid range, between speeds of 70 to 120km/h or so. Delivery is smooth too, helped by the Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT), and you also get the benefit of excellent fuel consumption (we averaged about 7.0 litres per 100km over a weekend test drive, not far off from Honda’s official figure of 5.7). The car’s overall ride quality and refinement is excellent as well, which should definitely satisfy most family men.
As a whole, the new City proves an excellent all-round package for those looking for motoring on a budget. And if anything, this all-new model has shown that even if you’re shopping at the lower end of the market, you don’t have to settle for cheap and nasty. Indeed, it’s heartening to know that even Thai-built budget sedans these days are as good as anything Japan can offer.
NEED TO KNOW
Engine 1,497cc, 16V, inline 4
Power 120bhp at 6600rpm
Torque 145Nm at 4600rpm
Top Speed 192km/h
0-100kmh 11.0 seconds
Fuel efficiency 5.7L/100km
Price $109,900 with COE
Also Consider: Nissan Almera, Toyota Vios