Road test: Honda Jazz VTi
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By Feann Torr
called a supermini or subcompact, the smallest class of car
sold in Australia also makes up one of the biggest markets,
and Honda's Jazz falls smack-bang in the middle of the lucrative
It was created jointly by Honda's Japanese and European designers,
in a bid to appeal to a wide range of markets, and the end
result scooped awards in both Japan and the UK, from Japanese
Research and Automotive Journalists and Auto Express magazine
It also won accolades in the Courier Mail as Queensland Car
of the Year, New Zealands National Business Review Small
Car of the Year, was a finalist in Wheels Magazine Car of
the Year and runner up in News Limited Star Car Awards.
It's also the most cost effective vehicle Honda's ever released
in Australia, but don't think that that equates to 'cheap'
- far from it. With a number of intriguing interior design
features and a clever engine/transmission combination, the
Jazz is off to a very smart start.
Model: Jazz VTi
Transmission: CVT (quasi 7-speed)
Engine: 1.5-litre, inline four-cylinder, electronically
fuel injected, SOHC with VTEC
Fuel Consumption: City cycle - 6.0-litres/100km,
Highway cycle - 5.2-litres/100km
Safety: Driver and passenger SRS airbags, ABS, seat-belt
Honda's new Jazz is a joy
Despite the Jazz falling firmly into the subcompact category
of cars, it's quite a tall-bodied car and shifting oneself
in and out of it was a lot easier than I expected.
The first thing most people will pick up on when settling
into the rather comfy sports-styled seats of the mid-range
Jazz VTi will be the buttons on the steering wheel, immediately
suggesting that this is no ordinary runabout.
Indeed, the VTi model's 1.5-litre engine is coupled to a
CVT, or continuously variable transmission, and you instantly
get the feeling that this is the new gearbox to own - it's
far smoother than a conventional auto transmission and the
performance is impressive, to boot.
This intriguing new technology is fast becoming the new catch-cry
of manufacturers everywhere, though at present only smaller
engined vehicles can be outfitted, due to the CVT's inability
to handle high torque at this stage.
The steering in the Jazz felt somewhat vague a few degrees
either way of centre, but in general, the electrically-assisted
power steering (also used on NSX and S2000) offers a very
linear and progressive feel, and coupled to what would best
be described as 'taut' suspension, it sets the Jazz apart
from other light cars by creating a much sportier feel.
While most subcompacts err on the side of a 'softer' setup,
the Jazz VTi's suspension rig (MacPherson struts up front,
and torsion beams at the rear) has been tuned to reduce body
roll, and hence a flatter ride while cornering. While not
all buyers will appreciate the short-travel suspension, it
works brilliantly with the crisp 1.5-litre VTEC engine, offering
Weighing 1050kg, the Jazz VTi is a little heavier than most
in the segment, yet driving around town and parking the Honda
proved all too easy, together with a righteous turning cirlce
(9.4 metres), short front overhangs, impressive visibility
front and rearward, plus a solid brake package (ventilated
discs up front, drums aft).
Driving the Jazz VTi on less-travelled roads was quite an
experience too, as the car's tiny dimensions belie its potential
on the twisty stuff. To be perfectly honest - and we'll look
at this in more detail on page 2 - the CVT gearbox offered
the best acceleration when left in 'low' gear on the column
While the seven-speed, steering-wheel mounted gearchanges
are fun, they don't exactly make for practical driving when
at the limit. Speaking of which, the VTi model would have
benefitted from from fatter, lower-profiled rubber, as the
14-inch 175/65 wheels would squeal all-too easily when carrying
too much forward momentum, and rolling onto their sidewalls.
At the same token, the Jazz VTi provided good levels of feedback
through the wheel, and when cruising along damp and windy
coastal roads, this communicative steering was very much appreciated
(as was the ABS). Driving in the wet posed no problems for
the Jazz and, in general, the car retains a fairly composed
posture in all situations, which is more than welcome when
you want to drive, as opposed to commute.
Euro-Nihon styling is hard
In one word, the gearbox is effective. And while it does
take a little getting used to, the benefits in terms of both
power delivery and fuel efficiency are impressive, and it
comes as no surprise to see the likes of Audi and others forging
ahead with the technology.
If there are any negatives in terms of the way the Jazz drives,
one could cite the suspension as being a tad harsh when rolling
over deep pot holes, but as most subcompacts opt for ultra-plush
settings (read: soft and soggy), it's a nice change at the
The Honda Jazz is very easy on the eyes and in my book, is
easily the best-looking subcompact car on the Australian market.
With input from both European and Japanese design studios,
Honda has gone for the tall-bodied look, which also helps
liberate head and shoulder room inside.
The bonnet is short and sharp, punctuated by what can only
be described as 'happy' headlights: It's almost as if Honda
wanted to add a little human personality with them. The overall
proportions of the Jazz are quite European, with a fairly
tall, elegant body, wheels pushed out to the corners and a
massive, steeply raked windscreen offering excellent visibility,
but also giving the car a slightly more agressive and angular
All Jazz models offered in Australia (GLi, VTi and VTi-S)
are only available as five door hatches, and from the rear
things look pretty good. The package is rounded off nicely,
or should that be chiseled? The tail lights are very Honda;
farily angular and orthodox in their design, but without being
too generic and boring.
The VTi model we tested doesn't get all the eye-candy addons
of the VTi-S model, which includes alloy wheels, roof spoiler
and ground effects, such as skirts and lower front and rear
aprons. But still, the ground effects add another 15kg of
weight to the VTi-S, and its aerodynamic advantage isn't likely
to overcome it's larger mass.
Even so, the standard-issue Jazz does look pretty good -
a big step above the likes of Hyundai's Getz and Peugeot's
ageing 206 - with modern styling cues and a good dose of Honda
DNA. While the Jazz isn't likely to turn heads like an Italian
thoroughbred, nor have the kind of road presence of a bigger
Aussie sedan, it is still one of the better looking light
cars doing the rounds at present.
While on the outside, the Jazz is neither too brash nor too
dull, it's the interior that most drivers will find hard not
to like. To start with, let me say that even on longer drives,
the Jazz VTi's height adjustable front seats were always comfortable,
and together with fancy head rests and a tilt-adjustable steering
wheel, finding a comfortable driving position was easy.
The 'Magic seats' are a
very nifty feature
While driver and front passenger get impressive levels of
leg and head room and supportive seat cushions, I did find
that my right elbow would hit the door during some steering
movements, but in general it's a comfortable place to be.
In the rear there are three lap-sash belts (two headrests)
with room for three, and it was surprising to see how much
room there was in the back - most subcompacts have minimal
space, but the Jazz seats four adults fairly neatly.
Bootspace isn't massive, but that's to be expected in this
type of vehicle: It has a lot of vertical space - enough for
a couple of tall eskies - and a cargo cover comes in handy
when you don't want to attract attention to your luggage.
The general feel inside the car is one of high quality, and
it just goes to show that buying a small car today does not
mean being forever stuck with tacky, low-rent cockpits.
The gear lever is your standard column shift, with low, second
and drive ratios, and the steering wheel-mounted gear shifters
are a nice to touch, even if their usefulness is questionable.
Sports mode button and tip-tronic
The smartly-trimmed interior, finished with high-quality
and well-fitting plastics, has a range of features including
air/con, an accessory socket for mobile phones, central locking,
two cup holders up front and one in the rear, adjustable head
rests, power windows and mirrors and a brilliant modular seating
system, or 'Magic seats' in Honda speak.
These Magic seats aren't really magic, but they are
extremely useful in their customisation, and this feature
alone elevates the Jazz to the upper echelons of the small
You can raise, lower, flip and basically change the configuration
of the rear seats entirely, from a fully-flat, cargo-friendly
setup, to a 60/40 split. It is even possible to fold the front
passenger seat flat for extra long objects and loads - up
to 2.4 metres in length.
The centre console is dominated by the over-sized single-CD
stereo, while controls for the air/con and heater sit below
this. All the controls are well within reach and, in general,
everything is laid out in a logical, straightforward manner,
and the tacho and speedo look really tasty with chrome borders.
There's also a gear ratio indicator to let you know which
gear you're in (handy when there's seven of them) and the
three-spoke steering wheel in the VTi is really comfortable,
integrating a rubber/vinyl mix with a dimpled surface for
>> Page 2: Comfort
& Handling, Engine, Extras, Overall