Do Jazz and Sport really go together?
The Honda Jazz has an enviable reputation for excellence in a crowded mini-hatch segment. And yet, Honda believes it deserves even more lustre. Saddling it with a Sport badge may defeat the object, though. By DEON SCHOEMAN.
Honda Motor Southern Africa would like its highly regarded Jazz compact hatch to do even better. While mainstream contenders like the new VW Polo boast sales of around 1,800 units monthly, the Jazz typically manages around a tenth of that. But then, the Jazz has never been a mass-market product. Instead, it’s adopted a more individualistic approach that has won it (and the Honda brand) many loyal and satisfied fans over the years. You see, the Jazz makes the impossible possible: it successfully combines small hatch dimensions with the space and versatility of something a lot bigger. Jazz drivers can revel in the agility and manoeuvrability of a subcompact hatch, but don’t have to make do with limited interior space and equally limited versatility. None of the Honda’s segment rivals can match its flexibility. The key to the little Honda’s versatility is the Magic Seats system – and it’s an apt description. The rear bench seat is split 60:40, and either section, or both, can be folded down. Nothing unusual about that, I hear you say – most hatchbacks offer the same. However, these seats fold down completely flat, creating a perfectly level floor that increases the boot from a useful 359 litres to a vast cargo area boasting 889 litres of space – and that’s only up to the window line. And wait, there’s more. You can also opt to tip up the rear seats, which creates a deep, wide cargo channel behind the front seats, while keeping the boot intact. Again, you can fold up each seat section individually, making for even greater versatility. The Magic Seats arrangement is totally unique and endows the small Jazz with practical capabilities even much larger models can’t muster. Add the generous glass areas (the steeply raked windscreen provides a truly panoramic view of the road ahead) and a tallish, extended roofline, and the result is more innovative mini-crossover than mundane hatchback. Underpinning all of this is Honda’s upmarket reputation. The Jazz exudes a certain tactile quality that’s a cut above, and suggests an elevated ownership experience, as well as extended longevity and reliability. No wonder the Jazz attracts a very specific motoring audience that acknowledges and prioritises these more pragmatic aspects of motoring. Young moms, empty nesters and older (wiser) folk are often spotted behind the wheel. For that very reason, the Jazz won’t (and shouldn’t) get the hearts of boy racers or petrolheads beating faster. All of which makes the decision to launch the Honda Jazz Sport a puzzling one. Admittedly, the new Sport has some compelling selling points all of its own. Not only is it the new flagship of the Jazz range, but it gets a series of cosmetic updates not shared with the rest of the line-up. This Jazz is dressed up in unexpectedly sporty apparel: splitters, spoilers and sill extensions create a look that, if not exactly muscular, is certainly eye-catching. Black alloys, fatter rubber, and lashings of chrome and gloss black add to the street racer look. Step inside, and the execution is luxurious with a whiff of racy flamboyance, thanks to red stitching and alloy pedals. It has all the standard kit you could wish for – from a touchscreen infotainment system, climate control, Bluetooth audio and hands-free telephony to keyless central locking, cruise control, and electric windows and mirrors. Nor is this just a case of window dressing and badge engineering: there’s extra urge from a new 1.5-litre four-pot mill. The 97kW of power and 155Nm on offer is up 9kW and 10Nm on the 1.5 Elegance. With all those sporty bits, and the extra muscle, you’d expect enthusiastic dynamics, especially considering the Sport’s relatively low kerb mass, which translates into a decent power-to-weight ratio. However, progress is swift rather than fast: the 0-100km/h is despatched just shy of 10sec, and top speed is a largely academic 180km/h. Despite the low-profile tyres and retuned suspension, the ride remains supple, and overall progress is responsive and enjoyable, if not particularly sporty. Here’s the rub: instead of the slick, short-shifting manual gearbox any Honda with sporty pretensions deserves, the Jazz Sport makes do with a Constantly Variable Transmission (CVT). That’s like asking sprint prince Akani Simbine to race the 100 metres in gumboots – or wrapping a dive belt around butterfly ace Chad Le Clos’ swimming trunks: it blunts any chance of extracting meaningful performance from the Jazz Sport’s drivetrain. What exactly is a CVT? Well, think of a rubber belt running up and down a variable-diameter cone to create a continuously variable gear ratio, instead of a normal gearbox equipped with a selection of specific, fixed gears, and you get the general idea. The principle supposes that the CVT always achieves just the right, most effective ratio for any given driving situation, ensuring optimum fuel efficiency. In practice, the experience can be disconcertingly reminiscent of driving a car with a slipping clutch, with no succinct gear changes. The Jazz Sport counters these negatives by offering steering wheel-mounted shift paddles and a Sport mode, which allows manual selection of “virtual” gears. And to be fair, the transmission heeds those shift commands with fair alacrity. But there just isn’t the directness, the feedback and the response you’d expect of a car with athletic aspirations. If Honda’s intention with the Jazz Sport is to extend the stellar hatch’s appeal beyond its currently defined user base, then the CVT seems a shift in the wrong direction. In the pragmatic Jazz driver’s universe, the CVT’s benefits outweigh the downsides, which is why many Jazz buyers prefer it ahead of the manual offering. But for the Jazz Sport to live up to its looks, it should have been fitted with a manual gearbox and a stack of closely spaced ratios. Honda is no stranger to the performance transformation game: the tar-melting, tyre-smoking, no-holds-barred Civic Type R started off life as the oh-so-polite Civic Hatch. The result is a real hero car that’s an impressive ambassador for the brand’s technological prowess and performance credentials. That the cosmetic execution of the Jazz Sport suggests some Type R influence only adds to the disappointment of an otherwise brilliant little car hampered by the wrong gearbox choice. Frankly, the Jazz was never meant to be a boy racer. If Honda wants to extend the Jazz’s market reach, it would be better off focusing on the hatchback’s quintessential value proposition – that special mix of individuality, space and agility that makes it stand out from the hatchback crowd. DM PROS Spacious, hugely versatile and well-equipped. A truly innovative take on the hatchback formula. CONS CVT gets in the way of the dynamics those sporty looks suggest. VITAL STATS
|Honda Jazz 1.5 Sport|
|Engine||In-line four cylinder, 1,498cc|
|Power||97kW @ 6,600rpm|
|Torque||155Nm @ 4,600rpm|
|Power-to-weight ratio||90,99 kW/ton|
|Gearbox||Continuously Variable Transmission, FWD|
|Wheels/tyres||16-inch alloy, 185/55 R16 tyres|
|Fuel tank capacity||40 litres|
|Fuel consumption (claimed/tested)||5.6 / 8.9 litres/100km|
|Operating range (claimed/tested)||714 / 450km|
|CO2 emissions||133 g/km|