The third-generation Honda Jazz is gunning for the top.
The third-generation 2014 Honda Jazz is another big step forward in practical and spacious urban commuting.
The Honda Jazz has built itself a reputation for being a versatile, reliable and humble city-friendly vehicle suited to many tasks. The third-generation model is no different.
Honda has updated the car’s styling substantially, with sharper Civic-like design for the front and an edgier rear-end with long vertical taillights. Side-on, it carries a rising line to add an extra element of sophistication without going over the top.
Although the new Honda Jazz doesn’t launch in Australia until July 2014, we took the opportunity to drive a hybrid variant in Japan, where it’s referred to as the Honda Fit and remains the best-selling car in the country.
The current Honda Jazz range in Australia does include a hybrid model, but given the $2000 price increase over the range-topping petrol model, unpopularity of hybrids in general, and its basic inability to match the fuel efficiency of similarly priced Toyota Prius C (4.5L/100km v 3.9L/100km ), it hasn’t proved popular.
Nonetheless, there are substantial improvements to the new Honda Jazz hybrid, least of which is the new cabin. The flowing centre console is directed at the driver with a flush LCD infotainment screen and a futuristic, space-saving gearstick.
The seats are more refined and supportive while the whole cabin quality has been improved noticeably over its predecessor. There are soft-touch plastics where there weren’t before (although, strangely, the door parts where you’re likely to rest your arm are still hard while the dashboard, where you’re not likely to ever touch, is now soft) and the material quality is a step above.
As with the previous-generation Honda Jazz, the 2014 model is exceptionally spacious. It’s tall, so headroom is plenty, while we could easily fit four large adults in the front and back without any complaints. The amount of legroom puts some medium-sized sedans to shame.
The boot remains spacious, but the “magic” rear folding seats are still the selling point for the Jazz as its versatility and ease of use makes it more practical than many SUVs.
You can basically put anything in a Jazz. With the rear seats folded flat it becomes your best friend at Ikea or for moving house. It’s a city-car and a van all in one.
The biggest change is a new seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox that is coupled to a 1.5-litre rather than 1.3-litre petrol engine with electric motor. It allows for much smoother and linear acceleration than the outgoing hybrid’s rather woeful continuously variable transmission (CVT).
The regular, petrol versions of the 2014 Honda Jazz, however, will continue to use a CVT transmission and stick with the old-style gearstick. And given how far out the Australian launch is, we're unsure if it will get the flowing LCD screen in any variant – though we can assume that it will for the mid- and top-spec models.
The hybrid drivetrain has a combined power output of 103kW. The standard car will be available with the same engine unassisted with 97kW and 155Nm while the 1.3-litre base model continues at 73kW and 119Nm.
Australian fuel economy figures are still to be confirmed for the new model but, according to Honda Japan, the Jazz Hybrid can manage a 2.7L/100km while the 1.3-litre manages 3.9L/100km and the 1.5-litre does 4.5L/100km.
On the road the hybrid is – for the first time – actually fun to drive. There’s a sense of urgency from the Jazz’s charged powertrain that simply didn’t exist before.
It’s zippy, quick to get up to speed and doesn’t feel over-worked in the process. Honda has even included a Sport mode and paddle-shifters that will let you maximise all the power on hand.
Where it hasn’t improved is the cabin noise, still drowning the cabin with an unflattering engine note and, despite a change to a dual-clutch system, a transmission drone.
During our quick drive through Tokyo we found the Jazz to be well balanced and smooth both around bends and over Tokyo’s almost impeccable roads. We'll have to wait for the local launch to find out how it handles Australia’s degrading country roads.
The Hybrid version at least suggests the 2014 Honda Jazz Hybrid will remain a worthy contender in the city-car segment, even if the biggest innovation remains the clever folding rear seats from the original.
Then it will be down to how Honda Australia prices the Jazz, when it has a history of sitting on the high side for its segment.