When the second generation (second gen) Honda Jazz was introduced at the second Philippine International Motor Show in August, was welcomed with open arms, several inquiries and a few apprehensions as to whether it can upstage the original. Given that there are a lot of kei (short for keijidosha or light cars in Japanese) four-wheeled options in the country of late, it may have its work cut out for itself. But based on five days with the car, it looks like the sequel is way better than the original.

The new Jazz sports a growth spurt in nearly all dimensions, as seen in the longer, wider and taller front and side glass panels. The headlights now look more like wedges, and the front grille (along with the Honda logo) is more pronounced. The rear profile is cleaner than before, and the tailights have larger white lamps for better symmetry with the unit's alabaster silver paint. On first glance, it looks more like a concept car than a production unit.

Inside is where the growth spurt is telltale. The WIDE front windshield and the tall bucket front seats give you a faux SUV impression, and the increased width makes for Civic-level seating comfort for four people of all sizes. You can actually squeeze in a fifth occupant in the rear, provided he or she has the build of (Eat Bulaga hosts) Vic Sotto or Pia Guanio. There are elements borrowed from its bigger Civic and Accord siblings - like the steering wheel design and the head unit layout, respectively - and the cabin layout (although a bit cluttered) is surprisingly occupant-friendly. The new residence of the volume adjustment knob - right smack in the center of the middle dashboard - can be confusing at first usage, as moving the blower knob (located at the left part of the middle dashboard area, normally a place where the volume adjustment knob is located) happens a lot. Speaking of the head unit and aircon controls, they are also surprisingly occupant-friendly, but their futuristic looks makes this writer wonder if the Jazz's designers had a little too much time watching Star Trek: The Next Generation reruns while looking for inspiration. In all honesty, they look nice and are east to read and reach, but their revolutionary designs seem like what's lacking is haling frequency and photon torpedo access. Also, the audio entertainment is decent, but in a time where many carry external MP3 players (like iPods), just having a head unit with an auxiliary jack outlet and MP3 capability just isn't enough. Far better to provide even an external MP3 player jack (with head unit-linked playback and stored in the lower-tier part of the glovebox for easy reach) similar to those found on the Hyundai i10 and the Toyota Yaris and the retail price getting a small bump, rather than providing a head unit with an auxiliary jack, CD/radio and MP3 capability (with the MP3 feature working only for MP3-loaded CDs).

Storage capacity that rivals compact SUVs - whether for small items or large ones - was retained with the new Jazz. Gone is the canal that ran parallel to front occupants' knees; in place are a bevy of small cubbyholes under the steering wheel and a two-tier glovebox. Cupholders are plentiful, and the ones in front of the leftmost and rightmost aircon vents are a great place to store mobile phones and drinks during long trips. The Utility, Long and Tall (ULT) feature - which makes the rear seats' backrests fold flat or the rear seat thigh cushions fold like an accordion - is a welcome sight for frequent cargo haulers and those with an occasional urge to carry flora. With the ULT feature and the large cabin dimensions, you and a date can actually have a meal - and perhaps even more - at the back of the car.

Although Honda claims that the 1.3L models now tote its reknowned i-VTEC (Intelligent Variable valve Timing and lift Electronic Control) valve technology, the narrow powerband of the P747,000 Jazz 1.3L i-VTEC A/T makes the said feature wake up rather late. You enter the powerband at a high 3250 rpm and the i-VTEC comes alive at around 4000-4250 rpm; by 5500 rpm you just get noise. The a/t is willing to downshift to second gear or even third gear at one-half throttle effort, but for overtaking maneuvers, you have to floor the throttle. The ECU-governed 190 kph top speed and the 14.3 km/l (two days, city driving) is a given, but 7.71 km/l on two days of highway driving is surprisingly thirsty.

The growth spurt also translates to better handling, as the expanded width and track make traction break at 90-100 kph. There's less body roll on turns, and it's less prone to snap-on oversteer should the car hit a bump mid-corner. The ride comfort is still superb, but the tires on the test unit (Bridgestone Turanza ER570 175/65R15s) can provide a firmer ride than usual on long stretches of broken tarmac. The steering is much improved, too, as it's light at all speeds, making parallel parking and long backing VERY easy. In addition, the new Jazz's turning radius is a small 5.2 meters - advantageous in small areas like the Aurora Boulevard-Cubao u-turn slots.

Safety's another positive with the new Jazz. The brakes have good bite, the ABS wakes up when you need it and decent handbrake grip is achieved with just a five-degree pull. Exterior lighting is bright, the side mirrors have vision that extends to the second lane of sight on both flanks and the wide front windshield allows for a large line of sight (even peripherally). The gauge cluster design still retains the three segment cluster - rev counter, speedometer and fuel/gear indicator - plus futuristic fonts and a large menu screen within the speedometer cluster for quick, easy glances, but the fonts for the gear indicators are small.

The first-gen Honda Jazz may have set a lofty standard for its predecessors to follow, but the second iteration shows that this kei is more than able and willing to take up its forebear's mantle as (arguably) the subcompact car standard.