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Honda Jazz GLi

A brilliant small car

by Julian Edgar, pics by Honda

Click on pics to view larger images

At a glance...

  • Extraordinarily good interior packaging
  • Excellent fuel economy and competent performance
  • Steering slow around centre
  • A few silly cost-cutting shortcomings
  • Electronic Stability Control a glaring absence
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How many times have you heard people complaining about the cost of fuel?

Geez,” goes the refrain. “I just can’t hack the amount I’m spending on petrol each week.”

I’d love to buy something more economical but those hybrids are real expensive and I don’t want a diesel. Diesel is for trucks. And with two teenagers and the way we go on holidays, nothing smaller than a Falcon/Commodore will do....”

Well, welcome to the Honda Jazz. This is a ‘small’ car with sufficient passenger room for two 1.8-metre tall front seat occupants – and two 1.8 metre rear seat occupants – and two full sized suitcases – and a few soft bags. We’ve been in big sedans that had less room than that.

Fuel economy? On an 800 kilometre open road trip, loaded with two adults, a child and a lot of camping gear, we gained an indicated 5.5 litres/100km. And half of that distance was with the air con running...

No, the Jazz won’t tow a boat (well, maybe it would an inflatable Zodiac!) and it won’t win too many traffic light grands prix. But as a practical, realistic new-age family car suitable for two adults and one or two children, it makes for a startlingly good case.

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The new model Jazz follows a predecessor that since 2001 sold no less than 2.5 million examples worldwide – and over 51,000 units in Australia. The current Jazz is larger than the previous car in all dimensions except height, however is still remains a compact and light vehicle (mass is 1065kg in tested GLi form).

Three different models are available: GLi at $15,990; VTi at $19,170 and VTi-S at $21,590. In each case a 5-speed auto is available at about $2000 extra. The GLi is also available with a $1000 upgrade pack that includes side and curtain airbags and a trip computer. We requested a GLi and thankfully it came with the upgrade pack – we’d suggest every GLi buyer should tick this option box.

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The GLI has a brand new design 1340cc iVTEC (variable valve timing and lift) SOHC four cylinder engine that develops 73kW at 6000 rpm and peak torque (127Nm) at a high 4800 rpm. (The other models use an 88kW 1.5 litre engine.)

The valve timing trickery gives the 1.3 litre extremely good low-down characteristics – the idle is so smooth it befits a luxury car at four times the price, while the tractability of the engine is amazing. You can drive along quite happily in the Jazz, engine barely above idle – and yet be in first, second or third gears. This low-rpm-and-high-gear approach pays dividends in urban fuel consumption. (Incidentally, the excellent performance was achieved in part by very careful design of the coolant flows within the engine, so reducing the propensity for detonation.)

But to get the best from the Jazz, you can’t be a lazy driver. On the open road, or for decent around-town performance, you must frequently use the gearbox. That’s no hardship: the clutch and gearbox are light. Explore all the rev range and you’ll find another level of responsiveness above 5000 rpm – so if the driver wishes, the engine can be driven in a sporty manner as well as happily lugging around at low rpm.

Outright performance is never scintillating, but if driven competently, the Jazz is fine. For example, we passed on the open road a combination of a truck and a car pulling a caravan, having no problem even with the Jazz fairly heavily laden.

Ride and handling are competent but not class leading.

Fuel economy is outstanding. The Australian government test figure is 5.8 litres/100km for the combined cycle and our overall consumption figure for a week of driving was 5.7 litres/100km. As mentioned above, on a trip expect around 5.5 litres/100km.

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In addition to the fuel economy/performance compromise, the other highlight of the car is its packaging. Many people have a perception that the external size of a vehicle is directly related to how much interior space it has. But such a perspective ignores how clever engineers can be in internal packaging of the suspension and driveline, and how smart the seating arrangements can be made.

And the Jazz body shape is quite amazing. Consider just these two points: the base of the windscreen is positioned directly above the centre of the front wheels, and the roof’s peak height is above the heads of the rear passengers. The maximising of useable cabin space is also enhanced by the positioning of the fuel tank – it’s directly below the front passenger seats.

The result is simply a huge amount of interior space. Aided by the height-adjustable seat and reach- and height-adjustable steering wheel, the driver is able to find a comfortable and roomy driving position, almost irrespective of their size. Sitting in the back is a revelation: even with the driver’s seat at its lowest height, an adult rear passenger can easily fit their feet under the seat in front; rear headroom is excellent and knee-room (enhanced by scalloped front seat backs) is very good. The rear seat back can also be set at one of two angles, allowing a more reclined position than normal.

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The rear seats fold flat on a 40/60 basis, giving a flat floor and massive load space. Furthermore, for taller loads, the rear seats can be folded so that they stand vertically, resulting in a 1.28 metre clearance for objects carried in the rear footwell. Even with the rear seats configured normally, there’s a load volume of 337 litres – easily enough to carry two full sized suitcases and a squashy bag or two. With the seats folded, there’s no less than 848 litres of carrying volume! And these aren’t achieved by the use of a spacesaver – a full-size spare wheel is provided.

The adjustment of the rear seats for these different configurations is quick and easy – this is not one of those cars where you wrestle with seatbelts, catches, head restraints and heavy seats to avail yourself of the different load options. The rear hatch opens high and the loading lip is very low. Finally, the three child restraint anchorages are positioned in the roof, so straps don’t intrude into the normal loading area.

So for carrying large loads, the Jazz is stunning. But it also performs well in normal day-to-day driving. The front door pockets are practical and large, and two bottle holders are provided for each front seat passenger. (Rear bottle holders are incorporated in the doors). All these work well – rather than just being included so that the PR company could get a large number to brag about. The front outer bottle holders, for example, are positioned so that the drinks can be cooled by the air conditioning vents. The dual gloveboxes, while not huge, are well positioned and the contents accessible.

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So what are this car’s negatives? Firstly, its steering is afflicted with the Honda disease that is becoming common in this company’s cars – a very slow response around centre. A car of this size and character needs quick and tactile steering, but instead the on-centre response is dull. A match with the steering – but again out of character for a car of this ilk – is the long-throw gear lever. Put the two together and the driving experience is diminished.

There are also a few obvious cost-cutting measures – there’s no passenger side vanity mirror, there’s no engine coolant temperature gauge (and one of the instruments has a big blank where we assume in some markets it goes), and the instrument faces are finished in an awful texture. In-cabin bolts that in other cars would normally be covered by trim pieces are exposed.

Despite their adjustments, we also found the front seats rather hard, resulting in numb bums after a few hours on the road.

However, the biggest downfall of the car is its lack of stability control – even as an option. The $1000 upgrade for another four airbags (and the trip computer) is to be applauded, but airbags come into action only when you’re crashing. Electronic stability control can help you avoid having the crash in the first place... Rumour suggests that the car will get stability control within 12 months.

Like most of the Hondas sold in Australia, the Jazz is made in Thailand. Build quality looks excellent, with the doors shutting beautifully and the paint flawless.

We loved the Jazz. We’d like to see stability control on the options list – that would be the icing on the cake. But overall, it is a brilliant design that combines extraordinarily practicality with competent performance and excellent fuel economy.

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