The Honda Jazz, in its current generation, has been a unique player in the subcompact hatch class, offering unrivaled space and versatility for its price. After 3 years on sale, Honda saw fit (no pun intended) to give the Jazz a new lease on its showroom life, giving it a thorough update to compete against the younger challengers in the segment.
So, how does this new Jazz stack up then?
The most unmistakable improvement Honda made to the Jazz is in the looks department. The new car looks very modern indeed. There are new headlamps, a wider grille, new wheels, side skirts and a much more futuristic pair of front and rear bumpers, completely transforming the look of the Jazz from an ordinary economy car to something that's more like a fully kitted tuner car.
However, thats pretty much where the changes end. Not that I had a problem with the Jazz before; on the contrary, I've always found the original version of the current Jazz to be one of the most complete packages in its category.
Plunk down to on the driver's seat and you get the same deep dish steering wheel and the asymmetric yet unusually ergonomic center console and dashboard. I still like the way the aircon controls are stacked within easy reach, and the convenience of the iPod compatibility of the audio system (even for newer iPad/iPod Touch models).
There are a few oddities, however, as I do think Honda should have installed some readily available upgrades already available in the Honda parts bin like the steering wheel audio controls. I also feel that in this price range in the class, a Bluetooth handsfree system should have been included, especially given the fact that the Jazz's chief competitor, the Ford Fiesta S, already comes standard with it. I'm nitpicking a bit, sure, though these little bits do add up and can make the drive and ownership experience a bit better.
However, if there's one department where the Jazz is unassailable in its segment is interior space and cargo versatility. There is no question that the Jazz reigns supreme in its class. With the rear seats up, there's plenty of room to go around for luggage, not to mention the surplus of legroom and elbow room for all the passengers. If you need more space and don't have any warm bodies to occupy the back seats, you can fold them down and voila: you've got enough space that can rival several modern compact crossovers.
Under what could be one of the shortest hoods around is a 1.5 liter VTEC engine, able to produce 120 horsepower and 145 newton meters, all of them coursed through a 5-speed automatic transmission with manual mode and paddle shifters. The horsepower figure sounds good, but this is a car that can really do well with a small common rail diesel engine... the reasons being its significant size and weight.
Being a bigger car than most of its competitors, the Jazz feels sluggish, with the engine having to work a little harder because of the extra mass it has to huff around. It's not bad on the twisty roads and it performs decently while cruising on the highway (with fuel consumption roughly at the 12 km/l mark). However, once you start tossing in an incline or a full cabin with matching luggage on a long trip, the driver will be be hard pressed to keep the tach's needle on lower RPMs, bringing down fuel efficiency.
The Jazz is still a good car, but it could have been so much better. I think Honda should have done more to the car than just a thorough redesign. It does look great, but sitting behind the wheel of this top of the line Jazz, a subcompact car that costs PhP 857,000, I know that there are better hatchbacks in its class in terms of value, economy, features and performance... and can be had for significantly less money.