Let's hear it for the Jazz! A new version of the Honda which put Japan back on the map as a world leader in the art of building small cars is set to hit the road – and we have driven it first and exclusively.
The newcomer, badged Fit in its homeland, has a lot to live up to. In only six years, its predecessor racked up two million sales in 115 countries. Not surprisingly, Honda has played safe with the design of the replacement. But it certainly looks sharper, and gets the family face that debuted with the new Accord at the Frankfurt Motor Show, as well as a sleeker profile.
Under the skin, the five-seat hatchback is based on a development of the chassis which underpins the current model, and it retains that car’s centrally located fuel tank. This helps to free up interior space.
What is new is the promise of an improved ride. Much of this is down to the fact that the new Jazz is bigger than before. The wheelbase is 50mm longer, up to 2,500mm, while the car gains 55mm in length, at 3,900mm. By bringing the windscreen forward 120mm, stylists have not only altered the Jazz’s profile, but created a roomier cabin that is a match for some family cars. Finally, clever triangular windows have been sculpted into the front doors, improving visibility – a sore point with many current owners.
The fit and finish of the cabin has been refined, too, with better quality plastics, more supportive seats and rake and reach-adjustable steering that gives a better driving position. A new dashboard is easier on the eye, while passengers in the back seats will appreciate the increased length, which gives 40mm more legroom.
However, in their quest for a larger interior and increased load capacity, Honda’s designers have decided to drop the spare tyre in favour of a repair kit. This frees up an extra 43 litres of boot space, up to 427 litres.
Under the bonnet, modifications are more dramatic. While the current Jazz has 1.2 or 1.4-litre petrol power, the newcomer will get a choice of a 1.3-litre unit generating 99bhp, or a 1.5-litre engine producing 118bhp.
Both engines feature Honda’s latest i-VTEC variable valve timing technology, and manual or CVT auto gearboxes are available with both. Honda claims that the 1.3-litre will return 68mpg, while the 1.5 will deliver 55mpg. The company refuses to confirm whether an oil-burner is in the pipeline, but our sources insist one will be added to the range.
Performance from our test car’s 1.5-litre powerplant was impressive, propelling the Jazz from 0-60mph in just under nine seconds. Push it hard, however, and the high-pitched whine above 5,000rpm becomes rather unpleasant, as the CVT gearbox fights to keep up with top-end revs.
On winding roads, the Honda feels more sure-footed than before, and it’s stable under heavy braking, too. At cruising speeds, a stiffer chassis means refinement is improved. That will please a lot of owners, who think the current car is a little lacking in this area. The only significant question mark we have over the new Jazz is with the steering. Honda has employed electric assistance and revised the rack to reduce the amount of effort required when trying to manoeuvre in tight spaces. But we found it too light and lacking feel, particularly around town.
However, this was really the only questionable ingredient of a superbly conceived supermini. From this early drive, it seems that Honda has hit the right notes all over again.
Rival: Nissan Note
With its spacious cabin and a supple chassis, the Note is a favourite with our test team. It’s competitively priced and a refined long-distance cruiser.