The trend for compact load-carriers, such as the Skoda Fabia estate and Renault Clio Sport Tourer, is growing all the time, as families downsize from larger models. The Shuttle is perfectly placed to exploit this, thanks to the hatch’s reputation for reliability, practicality and ease of use. It drives nearly as well as its brother and is almost as efficient, even if it is not as good-looking. We’d go for the petrol model, unless Honda can reduce the hybrid’s emissions to below 100g/km by the time the car arrives in the UK.
The Shuttle has landed – but later than expected. Due to Japan’s earthquake, its debut has been knocked back by three months, after having its production relocated from the damaged Saitama plant near Tokyo to Honda’s Suzuka facility, some 250 miles to the west. However, the car is now ready, and Auto Express was first to drive it on Japanese roads.
Based on the platform of the current Jazz, with its practical central fuel tank layout and low, flat floor, the Shuttle is essentially a Jazz with a bigger body and the same powertrains – namely the 1.3-litre hybrid and 1.5 petrol units. In Japan, all models have a CVT, although a five-speed manual should be offered on UK cars.
Car group tests
Used car tests
Some 510mm longer than the current Jazz, 15mm taller and 70kg heavier, the compact estate uses a US-spec front end which gives it a bolder, more substantial nose. As you’d expect it offers more head and legroom all round, plus significantly more luggage space.
But the upgrades don’t stop there, as the Shuttle also delivers a better cabin with higher-quality materials and trim, especially the dash plastics. Honda had to up its game as its target customers are people downsizing from larger family cars, who are still looking for an impressive ride plus high comfort levels and interior specs. On those points the Shuttle delivers, and best of all is its new-found quietness. Specially developed synthetic carpet inserts in the wheelwells and underbody have significantly lowered the amount of noise and vibration reaching the cabin, making this a capable cruiser for a relatively small car. It also helps to shield the driver from the whine of the CVT gearbox.
And the Shuttle delivers on the road, too, thanks to its enthusiastic 1.5-litre petrol engine – the same unit teamed with the electric motor in Honda’s Insight and CR-Z. It lacks the torque of a diesel, but it has enough performance to haul you, your family and your luggage along at reasonable pace.
Also offered is the marginally less powerful, but cleaner, hybrid IMA powertrain, with an 86bhp 1.3-litre engine working in tandem with a 14bhp electric motor. Cleverly, Honda engineers have managed to achieve the same fuel economy as the car’s smaller, lighter Jazz brother by employing strategic aerodynamic revisions and friction-reduction measures.
In Japan, early sales figures for the Shuttle have seen 80 per cent of customers opting for the hybrid. This is not surprising considering the post-earthquake power cuts and a general mood in the country of trying to conserve resources.
In the UK, though, the petrol-electric model is likely to be less of a hit. With CO2 emissions of 104g/km, the Hybrid version of the hatch has narrowly missed the mark for road tax and congestion charge exemption – which has dented sales significantly. On the road, the Shuttle has the Jazz’s sporty feel and excellent road manners, combining good stability in corners and impressive ride comfort at the same time.
Its steering responses are not quite as direct as the hatch’s – a symptom of the extra weight – but it still provides adequate feedback for a car of this type. Our only real gripe is with the air-conditioning. The compressor is periodically turned off to save fuel, thus blowing hot air whenever the stop-start system kicks in at idle.
This more practical Jazz variant is on sale now in Japan, but its arrival date in the UK is unclear. However, insiders suggest that the Shuttle has been earmarked for export in mid-2012.