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New Honda Jazz review, test drive

Photographer Yang has just driven the new Honda Jazz to our rendezvous point in downtown Singapore. But he doesn’t give me much of a chance to have a thorough look at the car. He’s expecting rain and wants to make the most of the even light we have this afternoon, and within no time I’m belted up and ready to drive. I’m told the route will take us through the heart of the city to emptier roads in the suburbs where I can ‘drive faster’. You see, most of Singapore is covered by a web of speed cameras, radars and perhaps even telepathic devices that would fine me if I so much as think of speeding.
But I don’t intend to really max out the Jazz I’m driving either. That’s because the Singaporean Jazz comes with 1.3-litre and 1.5-litre petrol engines, and it would be silly to put my license (and bank balance) in jeopardy for engines not destined for India. At this point, you should know that the Indian Jazz models will get the same 1.2-litre petrol and 1.5-litre diesel engines as the Honda Amaze. Remember, for a small car (read sub-four-metre in length) like the Jazz to qualify for excise benefits, it must use a petrol engine below 1200cc or a diesel engine below 1500cc. Let’s start with the diesel engine, which will see application in the Jazz for the first time. Given that the four-cylinder, fixed geometry turbo unit makes about 99bhp in the Amaze, City and Mobilio, it’s safe to assume Honda will not tinker with this engine’s power output on the Jazz. This would also make the Jazz the most powerful premium diesel hatchback this side of the Volkswagen Polo GT TDI. While Honda could pitch the Jazz as a performance diesel, its i-DTEC engine is actually more about excellent driveability than outright punch. Given our start-stop traffic conditions, I don’t think the bulk of buyers will mind the compromise. Perhaps of equal interest (and arguably its trump card) would be the Jazz diesel’s fuel economy. The Amaze and City diesels perform superbly on this front and the Jazz should be no different. Just how well the Jazz diesel does will, in part, be a function of the gearbox it will come with. In all likelihood, Honda will equip the Jazz with the Amaze’s five-speed manual. But let’s not forget, the City carries the same engine mated to a more efficiency-oriented six-speed manual.

As for the petrol version of the India-bound car, its 87bhp, four-cylinder, i-VTEC engine is no stranger to the Jazz and in fact was the sole engine on offer on the previous version sold in India. We know it to be a peppy performer that’s quite happy to rev hard, so it should suit the Jazz nicely. It will come with a five-speed manual and there could be an automatic as well. At present, Honda sells the Amaze and Brio with a five-speed torque converter unit in India, though the Jazz models abroad are available with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) too.  Speaking of which, the CVT on the 1.3 Jazz I’m driving works well enough through Singapore’s orderly traffic. Sure, on occasions when I do press the accelerator hard, the revs rise a lot before a corresponding rise in road speed but the paddle shifters allow me to select a ‘ratio’ on the seven-step CVT to drive it like a more conventional automatic. On its own, the system strives to keep revs low with the engine at its efficient and quietest best. So much so that good refinement is a key takeaway of the in-town drive. The Jazz cuts outside noise well and even the engine runs very quiet. Hopefully, these are traits that are part of the Indian Jazz as well. The coarse and industrial-sounding 1.5 diesel engine in particular will need all the sound deadening it can get.
As we drive on towards the periphery of the city state, the roads deteriorate by a bit. There aren’t any potholes (the term seems alien to Singaporeans) in sight, but some patches of road are, well, not perfect. It’s here that I can finally hear the suspension (front MacPherson struts and a torsion bar rear) at work and also notice the Jazz pitch a bit. Stability, though, is good and even at (whisper it) speeds above 100kph, the Jazz feels planted. Over fast and slow lane changes, the electric power steering seems adequately weighted too. However, at our main shoot location, far from the watchful eye of the Singapore police (at least I’m told so), I get a chance to drive the Jazz harder. At the first few bends alone, I realise this is not an engaging driver’s car. The steering, for one, feels a tad slow. You just don’t get that sense of connection you would in a Swift, Punto or even Polo. There’s also plenty of body roll which just hurts the driving experience further. All of which is a shame. With plenty of action shots out of the way, Yang finally allows me a chance to study the Jazz in more detail. But comfy on the large, if slightly flat, driver’s seat, I’m in no hurry to jump out. The cabin feels familiar largely due to the fact that there are a lot of bits in here that link the Jazz to the City sedan. The chunky steering, the instruments and the basic layout of the centre console are all very similar. There are a number of generous cubbys for storing small items too. Overall quality is also pretty much the same with hard but seemingly long-lasting plastics in use throughout the cabin.
However, with a photo of the City’s cabin in one hand, I’m able to note the differences. The Jazz’s asymmetrical dashboard extends further forwards towards the windscreen, the portion above the glovebox is more layered (there’s no secondary compartment like the old Jazz either), there’s a cupholder at the driver’s end of the dash (like the old Jazz) and there are generally fewer silver plastics all around. Jazz models in most international markets, like the one pictured here, also get a 7-inch touchscreen, but top-end variants of the Indian version will, in all probability, use the City’s 5-inch unit. Honda has learnt the hard way that Indian buyers like features and so is likely to sell the Jazz in fairly loaded form. That said, the Jazz will be different to the City in its use of manual controls for the air-con system. It’s not a negative really, because the knurled knobs are large and fall very easily to hand. Still, it’s a pity the recirculation control is of the outdated slider type. A more pertinent issue, though, is visibility past the thick A-pillar. The blind spot easily hides large vehicles and is bound to be a problem at crossroads.

Otherwise, visibility is good, be it out of the front or the rear windscreens. Even in the back, the large windows allow lots of light in and make the cabin look larger than it already is. Like before, Honda has really aced packaging here to come up with something that could humble many larger mid-size sedans on rear seat space. The new Jazz’s extra 30mm of wheelbase seem to have been completely used in creating even more space in the back. It’s a car you can easily sit cross-legged in, there’s that much legroom. Headroom is fantastic as well and there’s also sufficient width to seat three abreast. Unfortunately, the middle row seat is hard and not all that comfortable. The other two occupants might find their well-cushioned seats slightly short on thigh support, but will like the gentle upward slope of the floor that serves as a natural footrest. The last bit is on account of the Jazz placing its relatively small 40-litre fuel tank under the front seats rather than in the traditional position under the rear seats. The main positive of this setup is that it makes the Jazz as flexible as a seasoned yogi. Here’s how it does that.
Should the Jazz’s easy-to-access and very useable 363-litre boot (up 26 litres vis-à-vis the old Jazz) prove insufficient, you can split and fold the rear seats absolutely flat to create a massive loading bay. To store long items (the official brochure uses a surf board to illustrate this), you can further fold the front passenger seat down. Flip the rear seat base up, and you can even make space for tall items like potted plants. But, to me, the most impressive is what Honda calls ‘refresh mode’, which will be a real treat for the chauffeur-driven. Remove the front seat headrests, push the backrests fully till they meet the rear seat base and what you get is a proper recliner. And to think Audi charges extra (as much as an entire Jazz!) for this feature on an A8L. Having gone through the ‘magic seats’ entire repertoire of tricks, I finally study the Jazz’s exterior design. The older Jazz’s quasi-MPV, mono-volume (albeit space efficient) shape didn’t quite do it for everyone and I have a feeling that might be an issue with this one as well. Still, if the basic silhouette works for you, there’s plenty to like about the new Jazz’s design. The large, angular headlights that fuse into the grille, a la the City, look particularly neat, while the large air dam lower down on the bumper adds a good deal of aggression to the front. Look under the familiar glasshouse and you’ll also notice where Honda has made an effort to jazz up (pun intended) the rest of the car’s design. There’s a strong belt line that originates at the front doors and progressively widens towards the large 3D-effect tail lights. Sadly, the mass of metal above the rear wheels makes the Jazz look under-tyred despite it running on 15-inch rims. At the tail too, the reflectors that run up the windscreen seem like an unnecessary add-on while the faux air vents lower down on the bumper simply look out of place. Ignore these distractions and you’ll like the Jazz’s design for more practical reasons. Such as how its tailgate extends low on the bumper or how its doors open nice and wide.
 And that’s pretty much the essence of the Jazz. It’s a car that puts practicality and ease of use above all else. While not the most exciting car to drive, it is easy to live with and brilliantly versatile. A spacious cabin and good all-round comfort are other key elements of the package. Also expect it to be a lot better equipped this time around. The other big thing to expect is a more competitive price tag. Honda will launch the Jazz with a relatively high level of local content and correspondingly is expected to price it closer to rivals such as the VW Polo and Hyundai i20. If anything, a good price tag will only add more desirability to Honda’s substance-rich hatchback. The new Jazz comes in mid-2015 and if you can hold out on your premium hatchback purchase, it very certainly is worth the wait.


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