Car reviews - Honda - Jazz - 5-dr hatch range
Keen pricing, super flexible cabin, strong standard features list, exterior styling, cargo space, fuel efficiency
Room for improvement
Intrusive split A-pillar, front legroom hindered by seat roller, not as dynamic as some rivals
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14 Nov 2014
HONDA Australia is banking on the new Jazz to ensure the Japanese car-maker hits its 2014 sales target and remains a fixture in the top 10 best-selling brands in the country.
No pressure then on the third-generation version of the company’s popular light car contender that rolled into Honda showrooms this month.
With the company hoping for a minimum of 800 Jazz sales a month, the Jazz has its work cut out for it in a crowded segment that is about to get even more competitive in the coming months with a slew of new or updated arrivals, including the Mazda2, Toyota Yaris, Kia Rio and VW Polo, expected by the end of the year.
Thankfully, Honda has improved the Jazz in almost every area compared with its predecessor, ensuring it will hold its own against the imminent onslaught of refreshed rivals.
Honda engineers and designers focused on improving cabin quality, NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) levels, aerodynamics, fuel efficiency, interior space and drivability over the already likeable second-gen version that went on sale in late 2008.
Prices start at $14,990, plus on-road costs, for the base VTi manual (CVT is a $2000 option), while the mid-spec VTi-S is priced from $19,790 and the range tops out at $22,490 for the high-spec VTi-L.
The exterior styling might be merely evolutionary – it is still unmistakably a Honda Jazz – but the shift to the car-maker’s current design language brings a modern flavor to the car, and the corporate face suits the proportions well.
Dual character lines along the side, a swept-up rear window line, the stubby bonnet and stretched tail-lights all give the Jazz an individual look. It stands out from some of its peers that are a little more conservative. Think Hyundai i20, Toyota Yaris and VW Polo.
But as with the original Jazz that landed in Australia in 2002, it is the flexible cabin with the ingenious Magic Seats that is a real highlight.
The Magic Seats offer 18 possible configurations via a series of four modes Utility Mode is when the rear seats are folded down to boost cargo capacity, which increases to a massive 1492 litres.
While most of its rivals offer folding rear seats, few, if any have a completely flat floor when folded down. In the Mazda2, Toyota Yaris and Hyundai i20, the bottom of the backrest intrudes into the cargo space.
In Tall Mode, the rear seat bench is folded high against the backrest, allowing taller items to be stowed without fuss, while in Long Mode the front passenger seat and rear seats are folded flat for long items.
Refresh Mode keeps the rear seat backrest up but with the driver and passenger seats folded flat (after removing the headrests) for when you need to stretch your legs and relax. This could come in handy should you find a drive-in movie still operating, or if you forgot your tent when camping.
The Magic Seats are relatively easy to operate and are genuinely useful, giving the Jazz a major advantage over its rivals that offer less flexible cabins.
A low-profile fuel tank that sits under the front seats and a 30mm longer wheelbase (2530mm) have improved interior space that, for a car in this segment, is impressive.
Even the tallest of occupants will enjoy the acres of headroom in the front and rear, while rear legroom, which has increased by 36mm over the outgoing model, is ample.
The only complaint would be the short track for the front seats which does not allow them to be pushed back very far. While most people won’t consider this an issue, occupants with long legs may want a little more legroom up front.
Honda says cargo capacity is up from 337 litres to 350 litres with the rear seats up, which is significantly larger than the Mazda2 (250L) and Kia Rio (288L). With the seats folded, it increases to a roomy 906 litres, up from 848L.
Elsewhere in the cabin, Honda has updated the dash for a simpler, cleaner look replacing the multitude of buttons with the company’s Display Audio system with a seven-inch touchscreen which is standard across the range.
The system, which can be found on other recent Honda products including the Jazz’s City sedan twin and the Odyssey people-mover, features controls for the Bluetooth phone and audio, USB and HDMI ports, the reversing camera display and all other audio controls.
Display Audio is a cinch to use, and you can even access satellite navigation through it, although that is only if you have an Apple iPhone 5. If you use any other mobile phone platform you may need a paper map to find your way.
In base VTi guise the cabin features an appealing cloth trim that feels almost like velour, while black plastic dominates the dash and door inserts.
This variant also features manual air-conditioning, cruise control, four-speaker stereo, a 12-volt power outlet, height and reach adjustable steering and steering wheel controls for audio and vehicle information.
The mid-spec VTi-S, priced from $19,790, gains a storage compartment under the front arm rest that is large enough to stow a full-sized i-Pad tablet. It also gets cloth trim in place of hard plastic door inserts.
Both VTi-S and range-topping VTi-L also feature climate control, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear shift knob, a six-speaker stereo.
Further luxury touches in the $22,490 VTi-L include leather-appointed seats, heated front seats, keyless entry and start, a tailgate spoiler and rear parking sensors that can be optioned on other variants for $520.
The VTi-L’s cabin feels a little more premium than the base variant, thanks to the leather touches, chrome flourishes and stitching on the dash.
Seating across all grades offers good support and decent comfort levels, although the rear headrests are rock hard, and while visibility is generally great out the back, we found the tiny quarter window in the split A-pillar to be fairly useless and it created a blind spot.
The Jazz is yet to be tested for crash safety by ANCAP, but it features six airbags, hill start assist, an emergency stop signal, electronic brake-force distribution, whiplash mitigating front seats and Vehicle Stability Assist with traction control.
Active safety features such as blind spot monitoring and lane-keep assist, which are set to debut in the next-gen Mazda2 later this year, are not available for the Jazz.
Under the bonnet, Honda has carried over the 88kW/145Nm 1.5 litre four-cylinder i-VTEC petrol engine from the previous model, although it has been revised for greater fuel economy.
The VTi is the only variant available with the five-speed manual gearbox, but unfortunately this was not available to drive on the day. This left the VTi and VTi-L matched with the new Earth Dreams continuously variable transmission (CVT) on the mostly urban and semi urban drive route.
The only difference mechanically between the grades is the wheel size, with the VTi rolling on 15-inch steel wheels, while the VTi-S and VTi-L feature 16-inch alloys.
Acceleration in the Jazz is not brisk but it is also no slouch, and as it gathers pace we noticed that the new CVT seems to almost step through gears like a normal automatic transmission, which means there is a distinct lack of ‘CVT whine’.
Switching to manual mode – available across all grades – provides a bit more engagement and we felt a slight boost in performance as we clicked through the artificial gears.
Honda says it has made a number of improvements to the electric power steering, which we found to be direct and nicely weighted.
Dynamically, the Jazz can’t quite match the standard of key rivals the Mazda2 and Ford Fiesta, but it is far from embarrassed.
It might not be as confident at cornering and tackling windy roads as the soon-to-be-replaced Mazda2, and there was more than a hint of body roll, but it offers enough of an engaging ride to keep most drivers happy.
Official fuel economy for the CVT version is 5.8 litres per 100 kilometres, and on our brief stint in the Jazz, we managed 6.8L/100km, although it would take a longer stint behind the wheel to determine a real-world figure.
Overall, Jazz offers a smooth and compliant ride, with the revised suspension set-up helping to soak up all but the largest of corrugations on the Gold Coast drive route, while improvements to NVH levels, including better insulation and sealing, make for a quieter cabin.
Honda has high hopes for the third-generation Jazz and so it should. With improvements across the board, it is now a more convincing alternative.
The cabin flexibility is unmatched in this class, and probably the class above, and that alone will be enough to sway some buyers, but there is much more to the Jazz than just the Magic Seats.
This is a well packaged offering, with an attractive design, decent levels of standard specification and it is enjoyable to drive.
Mazda, Toyota and Hyundai had better watch out, because the Jazz is well and truly back.
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