Car reviews - Honda - Jazz - VTi-L
Sharp handling and dynamics, impressive interior packaging, good fuel economy, CVT geared well for driving around town
Room for improvement
Mediocre multimedia interface, poor aftermarket sat-nav, uninspired engine performance
The little Honda Jazz VTi-L makes for a sensible if slightly boring city car
25 Feb 2019
THE light-car segment is one of the most competitive in the car industry, with value for money being a more crucial factor than almost any other segment.
A stalwart of the segment, the Honda Jazz has been making its impression felt since 2002 and is still going strong into 2019.
Sitting atop the four-variant range is the VTi-L, the most luxurious version of the Japanese runabout.
We spent a week in the Jazz VTi-L to see how it stacks up against some hot competition.
Price and equipment
Sitting atop the Jazz range, the VTi-L is priced from $22,990 plus on-road costs, which is about the going rate for a top-spec, non-performance light hatch, such as the Suzuki Swift GLX Turbo ($22,990), Kia Rio GT-Line ($23,090), Mazda2 GT auto ($23,680), Renault Clio GT-Line ($23,490), Skoda Fabia 81TSI Monte Carlo ($23,990), Toyota Yaris ZR ($22,670) and the Volkswagen Polo 85TSI Beats auto ($24,990).
Only the segment-leading Hyundai Accent Sport auto ($17,490) is able to clearly undercut the competition.
Standard kit on the VTi-L includes 16-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, tail-lights and daytime running lights; front foglights, side skirts, a multi-information display, a 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Bluetooth compatibility and in-built sat-nav, a six-speaker audio system, auxiliary and USB ports, leather-appointed seats with front heating functionality, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear lever, cruise control, front power windows, two 12V outlets and climate control.
Safety equipment includes six airbags, brake assist, ABS, hill-start assist, an emergency stop signal, electronic brake-force distribution, traction control, a reversing camera and rear parking sensors.
The Jazz VTi-L has about the standard level of specification for a top-spec light hatch, although it could definitely do with more advanced active safety features.
As a member of the value-conscious light-car segment, we were not expecting a particularly luxurious interior from the Jazz (even though the VTi-L is the top-spec version), but we still came away a little disappointed with the little hatch’s fit and finish.
Despite having a clean dashboard layout, hard plastics abound through the interior and some other minor trim elements let it down, while the infotainment system could definitely be more intuitive to use.
Integrated well into the dash with a gloss-black surround, the 7.0-inch touchscreen uses an aftermarket N-Drive interface and sat-nav system that feels old and cheap, with a basic mapping layout and some minor bugs.
One such annoyance was the map screen would not dim or change to darker colours when the headlights were turned on, making it distracting and difficult to read at night.
Navigating the interface is done through a small number of buttons that are not particularly user-friendly, and the volume is adjustable only through +/- buttons and not a rotary dial – one of our pet peeves.
Underneath is a buttonless air-conditioning cluster that works well and helps give the Jazz’s interior a more upmarket feel.
The centre console features two cupholders, a storage nook with a 12V port, a budget-looking handbrake and gear shifter, a storage bin with another 12V port, and two-stage heated seat buttons –a nice touch on such an affordable car.
A black-and-white digital screen with readouts on fuel consumption, average speed and other information separates an analogue speedometer and tachometer on the instrument cluster, framed by a faux-leather steering wheel with the usual assortment of buttons and even paddle-shifters, which are slightly redundant with a continuously-variable transmission.
The leather-appointed seats in the VTi-L are actually quite luxurious for the light-car segment, and despite being quite flat, are generally comfortable.
Legroom for front passengers is only adequate, even with the seats moved all the way back, however, it is surprisingly a different story in the rear.
In most light hatches, rear legroom can only be described as mediocre, but Honda has somehow managed to give rear passengers tons of leg space, even with the front seats slid as far back as possible.
The smart packaging continues into the surprisingly deep boot (233L) with 60/40 split-fold seats that fold nearly flat for an impressive amount of storage – as good as any standard small SUV.
In the rear of the car, the budget fit and finish become more apparent with a cheap boot liner that extends all the way into the second row and onto the C-pillar, giving the look of an unfinished prototype.
Overall, we were impressed with the packaging of the Jazz’s interior and some premium touches helped make it feel more upmarket, however, its infotainment system and some fit and finish elements let it down.
Engine and transmission
All versions of the Jazz are powered by the same 1.5-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine producing 88kW at 6600rpm and 145Nm at 4500rpm, with the VTi-L driving the front wheels via a continuously variable transmission (CVT).
The Jazz’s little engine is typical for the light-car segment – one that is slightly underpowered but is able to get the job done while producing impressive fuel economy.
Performance is generally uninspired, with the difference between giving the engine modest throttle and full throttle not particularly noticeable, and while the engine makes more noise and the car goes a bit quicker, it feels a little bit like there is only one engine speed.
While the Jazz is fairly leisurely sprinting from standstill to 100km/h, it is actually fairly nimble reaching 50-60km/h thanks to its smartly geared CVT that allows for peppy acceleration off the line – a handy feature for a car that will spend most of its time in urban situations.
The short gearing down low makes up for its meagre power output and, combined with its free-breathing engine, makes throttle response sharp.
Many people dislike CVTs for their droning and sometimes unnatural driving characteristics, but in applications like the Jazz, they are useful for maximising power in engines that have less-than-astounding outputs.
For those wanting extra punch there is a sport mode, but switching modes fails to make a ton of difference. It increases engine noise and fuel use, and the droning CVT becomes more obvious, but we cannot say we noticed a significant change in performance.
As mentioned above, one of the benefits of a small, modestly powered engine is fuel economy, and in our week of mostly city driving we recorded a fuel use figure of 6.4 litres per 100km, not far off the official 5.8L/100km official figure.
Owning a car like the Jazz means you will never be fearing for your bank balance when approaching a petrol station the way you might in a sportscar or a large SUV with a big, heavy and thirsty engine.
Overall the powertrain in the Jazz is exactly what you would expect for other offerings in the light-car segment – power and performance is modest, but for its city applications, it is zippy enough around town and is not too thirsty, making for an easy car to drive and own.
Ride and handling
While we were not expecting much in the way of excitement or dynamic performance when first stepping into the Jazz, we came away pleasantly surprised with the way the little hatchback gets around town at both high and low speeds.
For a light car that rides on 16-inch alloy wheels, the Jazz’s ride is actually well settled, with bumps and road imperfections dealt with well and tyre roar kept to a minimum.
There is still plenty of general noise intrusion due to its lightweight build quality, but we are happy with how the Jazz keeps tyre noise out.
Steering is well weighted and helps make the Jazz a good city car, and while the steering is a tad vague, it still makes it easy to drive and, combined with its lightweight build (1130kg), makes tearing through corners easy.
We came away surprised with how tightly the Jazz handles, offering minimal body roll around corners and surprisingly pointed dynamics.
To be fair, it does not really feel like a car that is made to be pushed hard (and the engine’s performance ensures this rarely happens), but its handling prowess is generally quite sharp and nimble, which suits the Jazz well.
As expected, its turning circle is tight, and parking in tight spaces is a breeze with its small dimensions.
We did not get a chance to drive the Jazz at highway speeds, but we expect the average noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels to suffer in such conditions.
Overall, we came away happy with the dynamic abilities of the Jazz, adding to its credentials as a great car to drive in urban and crowded places.
Safety and servicing
Standard safety equipment on the Jazz VTi-L includes six airbags, brake assist, ABS brakes, hill-start assist, emergency stop signal, electronic brake-force distribution, traction control, a reversing camera and rear parking sensors.
Compared to some rivals, the Jazz falls short on active safety features such as automomous emergency braking, lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic assist and adaptive cruise control.
The Jazz range was tested by the Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) in 2014, scoring a five-star safety rating.
It performed strongly with an overall score of 36.58 out of 37, but without an update to its active safety kit, the Jazz would struggle to score five stars under today’s testing conditions.
All Jazz variants come with a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, with scheduled services occurring every 12 months or 10,000km, whichever comes first.
During our week in the Jazz, we came away impressed by how the Jazz can feel so small on the outside yet so roomy inside.
For those looking at a small SUV for its interior dimensions, the Jazz should also be considered with its smart interior packaging.
Its peppy and fun driving character also lends itself well to city driving and would also make a great car for an L- or P-plater.
It is let down by some poor interior touches and a mediocre multimedia interface, but these are not unique to the segment and certainly not a deal-breaker.
While not the most exciting option in the segment, the Jazz VTi-L still should be on the shopping list of anyone wanting an affordable city runabout.
Suzuki Swift GLX Turbo from $22,990 plus on-road costs
The unexpected firecracker of the light-car segment, the little Suzuki hatch comes with a rorty 1.0-litre turbo three-pot engine and nimble, lightweight handling. Its tinny build feel and cabin plastics let it down slightly.
Mazda2 GT auto from $23,680 plus on-road costs
Model release date: 1 August 2017
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