2006 Honda Jazz | road test

Posted on Oct 21, 2006 by

 

“By and large, jazz has always been like the kind of a man you wouldn’t want your daughter to associate with”, said Duke Ellington, American jazz composer, pianist and bandleader in the mid seventies. That was then, until decided to play a different note and change that!

A problem is a chance for you to do your best and when the likes of Toyota, Hyundai, and Chevrolet etc are your competitors, the chances to do your best become just a little more challenging. The Jazz might not look it but it plays a strong note in the mini car segment, partly due to Honda’s all new i-series super efficient ‘next generation’ 1.5-litre engine.  And just how strong a note is it? We find out.

Jazz is a part of the new crop of world cars from Japan’s second largest automaker. First was the City, which now has moved a notch higher with more space and a power boost with the addition of the 1.5-litre unit. Then came the Jazz. Just like the origins of jazz music, which is multicultural and not entirely “pure”, Honda’s Jazz supermini, for me will always be a pocket-sized minivan (no offence!) and who knows, perhaps best reflect the hybrid nature Honda is aiming at for their future small cars. The bug-eyed Jazz stormed into the B-segment with features that only Honda could think of or rather make it into production. That was Jazz for you in a gist!

The Jazz first arrived on our shores with a 1.3-litre 4-cylinder single overhead cam I-DSI unit making 89bhp and 127Nm of torque. The powerplant made it a cute little runabout round the traffic-laden stop and go urban traffic. I drove a friend’s 1.3-litre manual version last year and found it to snake through the urban jungle with remarkable ease. Not known to me at the time, Honda was orchestrating bigger plans for this baby – to take the challenge on the doorsteps of the likes of Toyota Yaris, Hyundai Getz, Chevrolet Aveo, Suzuki Swift and Volkswagen Polo. The baby had to grow up and flex some muscles. Honda roped in the new 1.5-litre i-VTEC (part of Honda’s ‘next generation’ i-series super efficient engines) powerplant, and that jazzed up this cutie.

For those in need of some education, the 1.5-litre i-VTEC is an all-alloy aluminium inline-4 unit making 121bhp. Why VTEC you might ask? Well, it’s a system that’s been around in high-performance Honda engines for some years; essentially, it uses only 12 of its 16 valves at low engine speeds but, as the revs climb, four more intake vales open to let the engine breath much deeper.

A 5-speed manual and a CVT automatic transmission are entrusted to propel this car. I got my hands on the later option, but if you really want to feel all the curves, nothing feels better than the stick in your hands. The automatic by itself is quite a nice tranny to play around with as well as I discovered. Slide it in the Sport mode and the Jazz comes to life at the shortest flick of the throttle. Perfect in start and stop traffic.

The i-VTEC power unit is not as dramatic as that of the Civic Type-R or NSX (gosh, wish could get my hands on one of ‘em!), but the little hatch’s gearbox ratios are superbly matched to its 1.5-litre’s torque curve, thus delivering surprisingly quick acceleration. There is also that distinctive and typical Honda metallic note from the exhaust when revs go up while in the Sport mode, or rather should I be saying music to my ears?

The speed-sensitive electric power steering is well weighted, if not a little heavy, and could do with a tad more natural feedback from the road. The ride is on the firm side. Well, not as firm as you get on a MINI, which is geared towards attitude and sporty handling, whilst the Jazz is all about a good all-round performer. Think of it as a MINI-on-a-budget (no pun intended!).

Choose your line and enter a corner at 80kph, and the Jazz traces the arc with perfect balance, with just the slightest hint of under steer. A quantum leap in the chassis and suspension rigidity takes the Honda into a league of its own in the handling department. You soon find yourself leaning into the next corner a little quicker! The car feels well planted on the road and inspires driver confidence. This baby certainly swings to any kind of tune no matter how you are dr(j)iving! Completing the Jazz’s underpinnings in a very un-minivan-like style are McPherson struts and coil springs up front, an H-pattern torsion beam set-up at the rear and side-force-cancelling springs – which work to counter body roll.

 

 

Honda’s European and Japanese design teams collaborated on the Jazz. The exterior proportions show a strong European influence. The wheels are set out at the extreme four corners, which lends the Jazz the balanced, athletic look associated with European styling studios. The steeply raked windshield also contributes to the mildly aggressive look. It’s only in the rear that the tall body of the Jazz fails to impress much. Unlike with the Toyota Yaris hatchback (its archrival in the sub-compact stakes), the design teams emphasis on functionality seems to have been at the expense of originality. The best that can be said about the rear fascia is it’s practical, but derivative and dull. Derivative, did I say? Yes, well, it could have been lifted from the Korean-made Chevy Aveo (pun definitely intended!).

Honda has restyled the interior, slightly. The upper lip of the dash now features a CD/MP3 player with centre air-conditioning louvres right on top of it. There is also a large digital display complete with a huge round knob with switches all around for audio controls. The display shows everything to do with the audio system plus a couple more. Honda should have employed a button for the air-circulation control on the dash rather than the outdated horizontal sliding level. Definitely a carbuncle by today’s standards.

The materials used are of high quality and the textures are rich. Knobs, as well as all other controls worked smoothly. The three-spoke steering wheel has a great feel to it with perforated rubberised texture, giving a perfect grip to the driver. One of the things that I liked best about the Jazz is its traditional, three-ring instrumental panel located right behind the steering wheel, unlike its main competitor Yaris, that has a centre-mounted instrument cluster, which I find distracting (gotten used to the conventional design!) because you have to take your eyes off the road to check the speedometer.

Remember me calling the Jazz my fav pocket-sized minivan earlier in the story? You might be thinking why so? Well, so many reasons I can tell you. But first, it’s quite handy. The seats are a big reason. The back seats fold forward to expand the cargo area, as you would expect in any hatchback. The front passenger seat also folds back level with the folded second row, providing 7 feet, 10 inches of clear space for whatever you may want to throw in. The front seats have release latches high on the sides to help slide them while you are still seated at the back. A very user-friendly feature if you ask me. Think other small car manufacturers should take a note of this.

How did Honda pack the little Jazz with so much? Dropped onto a newly developed “global small platform”, the technical highlight of this “big” small car is its centrally located fuel tank. Positioned right under the front seats and nestled between the side members, the tank’s unique configuration gave the designers the chance to pen an extremely flat floor, thus opening up substantial legroom and headroom in addition to a sizeable luggage area.

The fuel tank in the Jazz is located right under the driver’s seat. That shouldn’t be of much bother because Honda has taken care of that very well. Extra safety engineering with reinforced side members has been done to protect the tank from crash damage. FYI, fuel tanks typically are under the back seat anyway, so what’s the big deal about moving them forward a little?

Honda’s “entry-level” doesn’t come cheap. The top-of-the range version that I drove with all the bells and whistles retails at AED50,000. There is also a version, which is a spec lower with fewer options that retails at AED45,000.

Well, the Jazz will do everything most full-size cars will do – carry as many people and bags, and maybe a little more too, in similar comfort and at similar speeds with excellent fuel economy. The price does seem a bit steep for a sub-compact hatchback, but think of all that space in such a small car and the handling characteristics to go with it. Who else can offer a price/package that’s even close? Final words: A handy, dandy delight that’s a bit pricey. Now can we have all that Jazz again please?

 

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