2009 Honda City 1.5EX | road test

Posted on Mar 8, 2009 by

Historically, buying a small car in this market was a sign that you had to watch the budget.

In a region where the bigger an SUV is, the better, a compact saloon was as far from a style statement as it was possible to make. Small cars were bereft of any kind of luxuries – they represented motoring at its most basic and gave you four wheels and some seats at a rock bottom price.

But maybe that’s changing. The global car world has seen a shift in consumer demand towards small cars over the past few years, driven by social attitudes to larger machines and environmental concerns. Those attitudes are taking longer to reach this region, but several manufacturers have launched small cars of late that include features normally associated with larger, more premium offerings.

The City is one such machine. Competing with the likes of the Nissan Tiida and the Toyota Yaris saloon, it’s a compact four-door saloon based on the platform of the highly capable Jazz hatchback.

But where the Tiida and Yaris are far from exciting to look at, the 2009 City has a definite dynamicism about it. It’s not that the rivals are ugly, they’re just, well, dull. But the City boasts a front end with sculpted, muscular lines and a face reminiscent of the European Civic Type-R and the much larger Accord. It looks good, strikingly so.

We tried the higher of two trim levels available – the EX. More about the lower-spec LX later. The EX sports 16-inch alloys, chrome door handles and front fog lights, and our test car came with an optional bootlid spoiler. In this form it looks sporty and handsome, despite being larger than the previous generation City.

Inside, the 2009 lacks the soft touch plastics found on more upmarket cars, but the design is an attractive one and the materials feel solid and well-screwed together, if sometimes a bit scratchy to feel. Standard features on the EX include a steering wheel that adjusts for both reach and rake and sports controls for the stereo – a system that includes both an auxiliary socket and a USB port for playing digital music or MP3 players. The driver’s seat features plenty of manual adjustability for height, but only on the EX version.

The centre console features an armrest with storage space within, and the rear seats – which fold down in a 60/40 split – also have an arm rest with cup holders in. In our test car, the rear seats also reclined independently of each other – something that until recently was a surprise in luxury cars.



Perhaps the most impressive thing about the 2009 Honda City, from a practical point of view, is the boot. Like in the Jazz, Honda has engineered the City so that the fuel tank is underneath the car rather than in the boot area, which allows a lot more space for rear storage. Consequently, the 506-litre boot is huge, far bigger than one would expect on a car of this size and bigger even than some larger vehicles.

The 2009 Honda City is powered by a bigger engine than its predecessor – a 1.5-litre iVTEC engine, cranking out 118bhp. It’s a solid unit, peppy underfoot, and combined with the car’s tight turning circle makes for very easy progress around town. The gearbox is a five-speed automatic, which on the EX model comes with paddle shifters – they look cool, but are generally not really needed. Despite its dynamic looks the City is not really sporty to drive, although it handles well. The automatic gearbox is fine for pootling around the urban jungle, and there’s little need to swap cogs manually.

The entry-level LX comes with 15-inch steel wheels, the same stereo, electric windows, trip computer and dual airbags.

Safety-wise, the City comes as standard with ABS with electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist, which helps apply the maximum brake force in the event of an emergency stop and keep the car stable while doing so. Dual front airbags are also included, along with new safety technology called G-CON, which help deflect energy away from a pedestrian in case of an impact with the car.

The 2009 Honda City represents a new high in the small saloon segment. At 57,000dhs for the LX and 62,000dhs for the EX, it’s slightly more expensive than rivals – the Yaris saloon, for example, costs from 55,000dhs to 60,500dhs with a 1.5-litre engine. But the City is a better looking and nicer feeling car to be in, and we say it’s worth the extra money.

* Prices are indicative and may vary at the time of purchase. All prices are ex-Dubai showrooms. Please check with your local dealer for current prices and offers.


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