July 02, 2014 00:00 By Kingsley Wijayasinha
Honda's latest 5-door subcompact may have a drawback or two, but the vehicle's impressive space, user-friendly elements and great visibility make it such a good car to own
When Honda’s Jazz subcompact hit Thai streets for the first time more than a decade ago, it helped catapult the 5-door hatchback market to new levels.
While sedan-type passenger cars were all the rage here with the general public being concerned with safety during a rear-end collision, people were clearly missing out on the versatility that hatchbacks had to offer. “Don’t use hatchbacks,” elders would preach, “there’s hardly any room between the rear bumper of the car and the rear passengers. If a ten-wheeler hits you from behind, that’s it.”
But made by a highly respected brand like Honda, which is practically seen as a Japanese Mercedes-Benz, the Jazz quickly accelerated to popularity and went on to become one of the best-selling models the company had to offer. You could call it “Jazz fever”, and it did usher in a new trend in the Thai automobile market. Yes, people then began dumping old beliefs and going in for what the vehicles were really designed for.
Since the first generation Jazz was launched in 2003, Honda has sold as many as 205,000 of this model (first and second generations) in Thailand alone, and a whopping 5.2 million across the globe.
And now comes the third-generation Jazz. With its symbolic yellow promotion colour, the 5-door subcompact was launched on May 22, the day our Royal Thai Army ousted the caretaker government by staging a coup.
The all-new Jazz starts at Bt555,000 for the entry-level S variant with 5-speed manual transmission and increases to Bt754,000 for the range-topping SV+ that I have been driving this past week.
What I enjoyed most about the Jazz isn’t how it handles or how it accelerates. On the contrary, it’s the user-friendly elements that make it such a good car to own. Step inside for the first time and you wonder where all this space comes from, and the large glass area gives you great visibility, making the cabin feel more airy.
Compared to the previous generations, the new Jazz seems to have been stretched, giving it a mini MPV shape. The styling cues are sharp, giving it a more aggressive look from the outside, while the interior features a sporty console with touch controls for the entertainment and climate-control systems.
While I was impressed with the quality of the interior parts in more upmarket cars like the new Mazda3, the same feeling coursed through me as I entered the new Jazz.
Well, the attention to detail is awesome for a car of this class, and yes, the stitching on the console is real – not fake like the competition. Even the air vents offer a sense of quality as you adjust them, totally unlike the crappy ones offered by some manufacturers. However, I must add that the volume control for the audio system is a headache to use, but thankfully the multi-function steering wheel takes care of that, along with a host of other features such as phone answering, cruise control and voice control (SIRI Eyes-Free Mode via iPhone only). Apart from Bluetooth, you also get HDMI, USB and AUX connections, but the HondaLink Application (including navigation system) works mainly with the iPhone and unfortunately not Android.
The “Ultra Seats” offer four adjustable modes. The rear seat backrests can be folded flat, while the front seat backrests can be pulled down fully to create space that is guaranteed to impress you in a vehicle of this size. I actually put this particular aspect to the test over the weekend when I used this configuration to transport a new 70x200mm door for a storage room at home.
There are seven cupholders around the cabin of this 5-seater car plus a mobile phone holder and tablet box. There’s a multi-angle rearview camera featuring steering guidance that’s bound to make your life easier, judging from the wide customer profile of the Jazz.
While Jazz customers range from teens to the elderly, many prefer very light steering and that is exactly what Honda has offered. However, assistance from the electric power steering is way too much at all speed levels, and there’s an inch or so of slack in the centre as well. While this makes it easy for everyone to drive the Jazz, it does take out much of the driver-car connection, or in other words, the fun-to-drive element. A consolation is that the steering is adjustable for both reach and rake. And the combination stalk has a 3-blink function that, again, makes life easier when changing lanes.
In order to increase interior space, the arms of the rear suspension have been made smaller and that, plus comfort-oriented damper settings, might explain why the suspension doesn’t feel as solid as it should.
For a feel of what a good driving car should be like, Honda engineers should take a test drive in the Ford Fiesta. But, yes, the Ford guys should in turn talk to their Honda counterparts about making spacious subcompacts.
Like the bigger Accord, the Jazz comes with an old engine that has been updated for better fuel consumption and lower emissions. The 4-cylinder single-cam 1.5-litre engine pumps out 117 horsepower, which is lower than the previous model (120 horsepower), and 146Nm of torque. But thanks to the new CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) developed under Honda’s “Earth Dreams” technology and replacing the 5-speed automatic of the Gen 2 car (Gen 1 was CVT as well), performance has not been sacrificed. In fact the new Jazz revs up better than its predecessor, with improved midrange performance. There are also gearshift paddles for the 7-speed manual mode.
All Honda models can now run on E85, including the Jazz. Apart from having a wider choice of fuel types to choose from, customers enjoy a lower excise tax rate when purchasing the vehicle due to a government promotion.
The top SV+ model comes with dual front airbags along with side airbags and curtain airbags, but ABS brakes with VSC (Vehicle Stability Control) and HAS (Hill Start Assist) are offered across the whole line-up. What is missing, though, are automatic headlights and windshield wipers, which could be reserved for the minor-change model in the future. Otherwise, Honda wouldn’t know how to improve on this class-leading subcompact. It’s that good.