Honda Jazz 2003 vti
Owner Review

2003 Honda Jazz VTi review

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I purchased an '03 Honda Jazz VTi 14 months ago because I was sick of driving my jacked-up, highly modified 4x4 Toyota Hilux to work and back every day. I work a white-collar office job and don't need my ute Monday to Friday, but I live in the CUB (cashed-up bogan) life on the weekend, frequently going camping, dirt biking, mountain biking etc which requires me to own a dual-cab ute. The Jazz was bought as a cheap daily with the idea being that it would save enough in fuel to pay itself off within 12 months (due to my long commute).

I did my research, and after only ever hearing positive things about the manual version of the early version Jazz, I pulled the trigger and got myself an absolute gem; $1500 for something with 90000kms on the clock, and one lady owner since new. I have the red version, which has subsequently faded to a pink/salmon colour (something which is notorious in Hondas of the early 2000s). The colour tends to get a lot of laughs from my mates, especially the ones who haven't seen the light of the two-car model and who continue to belittle my beloved daily for not being a 4x4 or performance car.

It also had some panel damage, although it's not major but it does tend to get exacerbated by driving at high speeds due to the wind peeling back the panel. It can be easily fixed with a quick kick from the heel which jams the panel back into place. Realistically I could probably fix this with Zip ties - I'm a pretty practical bloke, but I think it's funny and gives my POS daily some authenticity.

Practicality

I cannot stress how practical the Jazz is. Honda have given careful consideration to CUBs that want to take their 80-inch plasma screens home and keep them upright when transporting, so they have included a feature called Magic seats (Google it) - not that I've ever used them. The clever Honda engineers have packaged the fuel tank under the handbrake so it means the back seats can fold completely flat, leaving a gaping chasm between the roof and floor. With the front seat folded flat, the Jazz essentially becomes a ute with a boot - it easily has more lockable interior space than any modern day dual-cab ute and probably most family sedans for that matter.

There are times where my Hilux is parked for weeks due to major modifications/upgrades, so the Jazz has to double as a weekender as well. When this occurs, I can easily fit four mountain bikes with their front wheels off, and one passenger. Swags, fridges, tents, mattresses - you name it and it will likely fit in the back of the Jazz with ease (if only it could fit my dirt bike, I might even consider selling my ute).

I've even used pool noodles and tie downs to tie bigger bulkier items to the roof when the back is full. Even then, roof didn't cave in, which is just another testament to the underlying Japanese engineering. I have taken it to 4x4 stores to pick up heavy and bulky accessories for my Hilux, such as bull bars/sliders/awnings and the shop attendant smirks as they see me back up with the Jazz exclaiming, "This will never fit in that tiny car." I chuckle to myself. They couldn't be more wrong. It even has tie-down points in the back, something that my mid-tier Hilux SR didn't even have in the tray!

Driving Experience

The 81kW 1.5-litre is not the most powerful engine in the world on paper, but it’s powerful in spirit though, and when you put the boot in and hear that legendary Honda (I)VTEC kick in, it has plenty of go and will beat any dual-cab ute off the line. The manual gearbox paired to the inline-four is absolutely superb. It has short throws of the gear lever, which gives it a great feel.

I find the NVH reasonably refined, especially in comparison to my Hilux, which has every wind noise-making accessory under the sun attached to it. I have actually sat in a few other cars in the class from this era (Echo, Mirage and Getz), and the Jazz is relatively comparable, if not better in this aspect. The exhaust note of the I4 isn't actually terrible either. I removed the muffler for a period of time (just because), and it sounded like a little race car, but I found myself driving like Charlize Theron in that red Mini Cooper from the Italian Job. So to the disappointment of the boy racer in me, I put it back on to get my fuel economy benefits/demerit points back.

I find the handling sharp - I liken it to a go kart when unladen and it is superb through traffic (at only a touch over 1000kg it's no surprise) and supremely responsive. Taking extra people and/or gear significantly changes the car's handling characteristics but I'm in it alone whilst driving most of the time so it doesn't really affect me. The primary and secondary ride are also very good as well.

The interior would be considered by most as a little bit vanilla however, but it is very much like the rest of the car: practical. It has all the basic features you would expect from a car built in the early 2000’s: air conditioning, radio and a CD player. My major gripe with it is I can't fit a double DIN head unit, or any other head unit for that matter without changing the facia for the centre console, which is $300 off eBay (hard to justify as its 1/5th of the cost of the car). I settled for a $20 FM transmitter instead which is sufficient for the time being.

Maintenance

I am a certified YouTube mechanic, meaning I’m too stingy to pay an actual mechanic, so luckily the Jazz is a particularly easy car to work on. The only things I have done in the last 30000kms have been air filters, cabin filters, oil and oil filters. I may consider doing the fuel filter next service, however it is an in-tank FDM-style one which looks like a pain to replace, so I've been putting it off and may never do it. I only ever buy oils/filters when they are on special, so servicing costs around $60 every 10000km, and to change oil and filters only takes 20 minutes.

This legendary Japanese I4 1.5-litre engine - sometimes likened (by me) to a Japanese Barra minus 2 cylinders and some power - is basically the same one they use in the current Jazz, meaning parts are cheap and readily available. It has a timing chain (not a belt) and there are plenty of reports where they have got to 300-400,000kms without any issues.

If you're looking at forking out $50k for an electric car, or some form of modern-day hybrid, look no further; a $1500 Jazz and $48,500 worth of fuel (at $8.40 average per 100km) could get you 577,000kms, probably using the original clutch and tyres with a couple oil/filter changes (I would love to see an electric car get to this sort of mileage on the original battery pack).

I read somewhere that "Jazz" is actually a byword for "reliable" in Japanese (unconfirmed). This car gets an absolute hiding from me: the handbrake frequently gets pulled while the car is still in motion, it gets its fair share of corrugations on dirt roads as well as exposure to roads or tracks that were most certainly not designed for a micro hatch. I even treat it to old two-stroke fuel intended for the mower, other garden tools and dirt bikes whenever I have near-empty jerrycans lying around, for extra engine lubrication.

The mighty Jazz is not fazed by any of this - it just keeps on driving, continuing to be the epitome of Japanese reliability.

Fuel economy

I have now clocked up 30,000 hassle-free kilometres in the plucky little Jazz in just over 12 months. I'm a nerd who loves numbers, so I track my fuel economy religiously.

It has averaged 6.1 litres per 100 kilometres through mixed driving conditions, with my commute formerly consisting of 60kms of freeway and 20kms of stop-start traffic. If I filled up just before the freeway, I was able to see magical readings of 4.1L/100km at just under 100km/h, with anything over 110km/h pushing the friendship up to 5.3L/100km. I have found the dash reading for fuel consumption to be 0.5L/100km out, so you have to add 0.5 to get a more accurate reading (obviously I measure using true odometer and litres at the bowser).

Seasonal fuel use is something people fail to mention in their reviews; however I have found that autumn and spring are the best times to clock the best fuel efficiency numbers on the Jazz. Due to temperatures not being too hot (meaning no need to have the air conditioner on) combined with longer days (meaning no headlights required at the time of day I drive to work) seems to bring down consumption by 0.6L/100km.

The air con surprisingly only adds 0.1-0.2L/100km depending on the setting, but the headlights seem to add 0.4L/100km. The Jazz runs on the smell of an oily rag, it basically cleans the air that it goes through - if everyone drove Honda Jazz's we might be able to significantly reduce CO2 emissions worldwide and reduce the so-called 'need' for the electric car.

From a numbers perspective the Jazz pays for its own rego, insurance and servicing in a year based on fuel savings alone (6.1L/100km vs 12L/100km for the Hilux) equating to around $2100 a year - assuming I drive 25000km in it every year. Rego, insurance and servicing equate to $1200 a year, which means in two years the car will have paid for itself. Although it didn't quite meet my initial 12 month target, I haven't factored in maintenance costs and depreciation on the Hilux.

All-terrains on the 'Lux are $250 a pop, the EGR means the 8 litres of oil needs more replacing than the manual suggests, not to mention the constant need to clean the manifold and EGR system. Filters, pre-filters, injectors & the high-pressure fuel pump are much more expensive for the dual-cab.

I've grown so fond my Jazz I’ll probably never sell it; I'll just keep driving it as a daily and run it into the ground (if that's even possible). This car is the definition of practical cheap motoring, and if you've ever owned a Jazz you’ll know exactly what I'm talking about. It has changed my perspective on value for money, and I now measure things in costs of Honda Jazz's e.g. that new dirt bike will be $12,000 which equates to eight Honda Jazz's that could potentially get me from A to B for millions of kilometres combined (that's a lifetime of cheap motoring).

If you're looking to get from A to B cheaply without all the frills of a modern car, looking for a daily or not even looking at buying another car, I would encourage you to buy an early model manual Honda Jazz (because CVT's suck) - you won't regret it!