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First drive: New Honda Jazz

2008-11-13 08:49
 It looks less of a bulbous van than its predecess

It looks less of a bulbous van than its predecessor, but the new Honda Jazz is even more user friendly inside, and now with i-VTEC engines, a keener drive too.

Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Honda
Model Jazz
Engine 1.4, 1.5, 4-cyl i-VTEC
Power 73kW @ 6 000r/min, 88kW @ 6 600r/min
Torque 127Nm @ 4 800r/min, 145Nm @ 4 800r/min
Transmission Five-speed (manual or auto)
Zero To Hundred 11.1-, 9.5-seconds (manual)
Top Speed 176km/h, 189km/h
Fuel Tank 42l
Fuel Consumption 5.8l/100km, 6.4l/400km (manual)
ABS Yes, with EBD
Airbags Dual front, side (full curtain EX-S)
Service Intervals 15 000km
Service Plan 4 year/60 000km
Warranty 3 year/100 000km
Rivals Ford Fiesta, Opel Corsa, Mazda2

Lance Branquinho

Honda’s new Jazz isn’t an Italian exotic, but it’s probably one of the most important "real world" cars to enter the market this year.

In outright numbers sold the Jazz has never been leader of the robustly competitive B segment, yet the ownership experience is of such a standard that finding a second hand one is nigh on impossible.

With its revolutionary interior packaging – blending C segment interior space in a B segment body – traditional Honda build quality and engineering logic, Jazz has been a resounding success since its introduction in 2001.

Sharper outside

For the second-generation car, Honda has retained the MPV-esque styling proportions, yet subtle styling details have sharpened up the appearance. 

As for its dimensions, the new car is as tall as its predecessor, yet 55mm longer and 20mm wider. Practically speaking this has rendered 44mm more shoulder width room inside, and with a 50mm longer wheelbase, the interior is even more capacious.

Jazz has eschewed its cutesy, bulbous, styling heritage for a look more familiar to the rest of the Honda family, with pronounced styling creases around the tailgate and rear wheel arch giving the design some "edge".

In an attempt to break the MPV silhouette, the roofline now tapers down in a pronounced fashion to the rear from behind the C-pillar. The styling still cues towards the MPV aesthetic – which many younger buyers may have found too suburban – yet it’s a lot sharper and better off for it.

Smart thinking inside

The trade off for Jazz’s MPV-esque styling - and Honda’s engineering heritage - is one of the best examples of interior space utilisation and packaging you’ll ever likely to come across.

Large glass surfaces ensure an abundance of ambient light, and with the fuel tank positioned beneath the front seats, you have real three-abreast adult carrying capability in the rear.

Interior materials are hard wearing plastics, biased more to durability than tactile delight. The instrument binnacle has a thoroughly contemporary Honda feel to it with the Civic-styled three-spoke steering wheel. Nestled behind the new steering wheel is a large central speedometer flanked by a recessed rev-counter to the left and auxiliary gauges clustered to the right.

Equipment is keen, with the entry level 1.4l LX models boasting dual front and side airbags, an MP3/WMA-enabled CD/player sound system and split-glovebox with one compartment serviced by an additional air-conditioning duct to chill drinks.

Further up the range 1.5l EX and EX-S (panorama roof sportkit models) feature climate control, steering wheel satellite controls, side airbags (full-curtain on the EX-S) and an iPod interface.

The Jazz interior piece de resistance though, are the rear seats. Honda calls them "Magic Seats" and though one cannot make them completely disappear, they’re still an ode to some spectacularly lateral late night engineering logic conceived in the Honda design studio.

Configured to fold into three different positions (utility-, long- and tall-mode) all you need to do is pull a single lever and the seats drop down to usher in a completely flat load space - without necessitating any headrest twisting and removal. This utility mode boosts loadability from 337- to 883-litres.

Tall mode enables the seat base to be locked onto the seat back, clearing space for 1.28m tall objects to be loaded in an upright position (think miniature wooden curio giraffe), and long mode renders a 2.4m long loadspace by means of sliding the front passenger seat forwards whilst reclining the seatback.  

The seating reconfigurations are very practical, flabbergastingly easy to use and typically Honda.

Revised mechanics

Better looking, comprehensively equipped and practical beyond even the most demanding suburban family demands, the Jazz features some technical improvements aimed at improved driving dynamics too.

The previous model was fun to drive – Honda’s default engineering imperative – for a city car, but at highway speeds and over badly surfaced roads the suspension would continuously remind you of its hardworking presence with some choice noises.

With the new car suspension, bushes have been changed both front and rear, operating in a longitudinal, instead of vertical, arrangement. Castor angle has been increased by 1.1 degrees up front, and trail from 5mm to 20mm.

Brakes are ABS and EBD-boosted on all models, though only EX-S derivatives sport discs at the rear, whilst all models ride on alloy wheels (15’ LX/EX, 16’ EX-S).

Drivetrain engineering has seen the most profound changes, with the CVT gearbox from the previous range being dropped in favour of a five-speed automatic locally; though in Europe they have a six-speed semi-automatic to choose from, too.

The entry level 1.4l engine (Honda likes to call it a 1.3 as it features the same 1339cc swept volume as the previous generation block) is now i-VTEC enabled and sports double the amount of valves (16) as the engine it replaces.

Power is up from 61 to 73kW, yet with the i-VTEC system able to idle one inlet valve at low speeds in favour of the primary valve – ensuring optimal combustion chamber swirl action - fuel economy and low speed torque characteristics are outstanding. Subsequently the strong 8-valve torque characteristics of the previous i-DSI engine have not been lost.

Producing 127Nm of torque at 4 800r/min and returning 5.8l/100km on the combined cycle the 1.4 LX engine is either mated to a five-speed manual for automatic transmission. The manual version should be good for a 0-100km/t time of 11.1 seconds and top speed of 176km/h.

EX and EX-S models also benefit from i-VTEC cylinder head technology on the 1.5l engine, with power up by 7kW from 81kW to 88kW and torque now peaks at 4 800r/min with a value of 145Nm.

If you’re handy with the five-speed manual gearbox (and with its typically slick and well-weighted Honda shift action there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be) a sub 10-second 0-100km/h sprint time (9.5 seconds) and 189km/h top speed should be achievable.

On the road

In the real world the changes were hard to gauge due to the driving evaluation being done in epic Western Cape storm conditions.

The steering has a more progressive feel, still smooth, but now with a better ratio of progressive feedback.

Interior is typical Honda, with logically grouped buttons arranged in terms order of size and usability - the more everyday controls are larger and chunky. Satellite steering wheel controls on the entry level 1.4l LX models would be nice though…

My only criticism – and this is a typical Oriental ergonomic design foible – are the front seats being too narrow for an average-sized South African male. The latest Accord has addressed this issue from its predecessor with awesomely comfy seats (wider, yet still well shaped) and we hope the mid-lifecycle Jazz facelift might usher in better front seats too.

The rest of the interior is simply huge, the magic seats stupefyingly easy to use, and thanks to the clever underfloor fuel tank you get flush loadbay characteristics.

Dynamically, the new suspension is quieter, and the Jazz tracks remarkably true for a small car even in substantial cross wind conditions.

Both the new i-VTEC equipped engines pay homage to the engine-building prowess of Honda, with the entry level 1.4l an absolute peach to drive, no doubt aided by the slick shifting five-speed manual gearbox. Both engines are long-stroke units profiled for torque in terms of cylinder dimensions, yet aided by the i-VTEC system to ensure a smooth build-up of engine speed.

The new auto will probably appease retired buyers or nervous urban commuters, though it does render an audibly strident driving experience when pushing on, a bane of most small capacity engine/auto gearbox marriages.

With the new models charging a premium of only R5 000 over their predecessors, the most endearing blend of utility and driving dynamics in the B segment is still a superb value proposition.

The latest Ford Fiesta might be a mite better from a handling perspective and it looks funkier, but if you have two kids and appreciate redoubtable quality and clever engineering the latest Jazz is a no-brainer.



LX manual R145 000
LX auto    R156 000


EX manual R162 000
EX auto    R173 000

EX-S manual R172 000
EX-S auto    R183 000

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