Honda's Philippine automotive operations is having a really busy year.
We're only 3 quarters in and already the Japanese company has launched the Accord (all-new), the Civic (update) and the City (all-new), while the launch of the Brio and Brio Amaze nameplates is forthcoming at the 5th Philippine International Motor Show. Indeed it's a good year for Honda, having revitalized their aging lineup amidst the wave of all new models from other manufacturers.
As good as the all-new Accord and City are, we've always found hatchbacks to be more clever and far more versatile all around. So this year, along with those many other model launches, Honda Cars Philippines gave us the next generation Jazz, a hatchback that has honestly leveled up in all respects.
Let's see if this 3rd generation Jazz has what it takes to make an impact in the subcompact car class.
When Honda formally revealed the Fit/Jazz at last year's Tokyo Motor Show, we really thought that it was going to take a long time to get to the Philippines; such is the standard practice in the industry. Thankfully the Jazz was brought out quickly soon after Honda's Thailand manufacturing plants started churning out left hand drive (LHD) versions of the car.
Unlike the 2014 City which was (and still is) mistaken for a mere facelift or design update over the previous model, the 2014 Jazz is obviously all-new; if you didn't think so upon first glance, perhaps a visit to the optometrist is in order.
The front end of this 2014 Jazz VX+ is quite striking to look at with the “X-shaped” motif, bearing similarities to the look of the 2011-present Honda Civic hatchback offered in the European market. The side profile is not as wedge-shaped as before as the front has been rounded out significantly, though Honda's designers gave the doors a rather unique set of character creases.
What is common (particularly with Hondas) is that the A-pillars -if extended- finish off far ahead of the wheels, something that will play a big role in terms of cabin space. The rear end has also been redesigned thoroughly with LED taillights (except for the entry grade variant) and a tailgate that is busier than ever. The wheels are 16-inch alloys on this VX+ model and are shod with Bridgestone Turanza ER370 rubber. Overall, the Jazz looks properly futuristic; something that continues on into the cabin.
It is common for car manufacturers to share similar or even the same dashboards amongst hatchbacks and sedans generated from the same platform like the Toyota Yaris/Vios, the Ford Fiesta 4-door/5-door as well as the Mitsubishi Mirage/Mirage G4. Honda didn't do that dashboard transplant from one to the other much in the same way that the 2008-2013 Jazz had a very different cabin from the same generation City. The architecture of the Jazz's dash shares plenty of commonalities with its sedan brother than the previous generation did, but there are some significant changes like the center console trim design on the passenger side, the gauges, the positioning of the sockets for the audio and 12v outlets, as well as the addition of folding cupholder for the driver below the A/C vent... the spot that became my pocket of choice for my iPhone.
This being the top spec 2014 Jazz VX+, it comes with all the bells and whistles befitting its status in the hierarchy. Standard features include push button ignition, a comfort access smartkey, steering wheel audio controls, a multi-info display (which can also be mirrored onto the main LCD) and paddle shifters. Apart from the expected power features (FYI, this one gets a one touch up/down driver window), the VX+ gets the same “touchy” treatment as its 4-doored brother with a touchscreen entertainment unit with Bluetooth, USB and HDMI input (though it does shut off when driving), as well as a touch panel unit for the automatic climate control system. A rear view camera is also standard with “dynamic guidelines”; they follow the amount of steering input when backing up. There is a bit of an issue with regards to the touchscreen display unit. Yes, it's a nice system with plenty of potential, but I did find it to be under-utilized (like the one in the 2014 City VX+) since it doesn't have any DVD compatibility, digital video playback capabilities or even satellite navigation... the automotive equivalent of getting an all-conquering smartphone but all you do on it is text or call.
What was really surprising was how much the cabin had matured overall; if you're familiar with the previous (second generation) Jazz, what's clear is how liberal and creative Honda's interior designers had been when shaping the dash of that model. The seats are more plush than before, though this model still had the fabric upholstery instead of upscale leather. Another Jazz characteristic has been retained in the overall visibility of the driver and the wide range that the seat's height can be adjusted.
What was noticeable when I was comparing between the VX+ variant of the 2014 City and 2014 Jazz was the slight disparity in spec. For instance, the City VX+ had a leather wrapped steering wheel while the Jazz VX+ has to make do with urethane material. The Jazz VX+ has 4 speakers while the City VX+ has 4 speakers and 4 tweeters. The City VX+ comes with a total of 3 power outlets (1 in front, 2 in the back) while the VX+ Jazz only has one. The upside with the Jazz VX+ is that it comes with 7 cupholders (versus the City's 4) as well as a special pocket in the center console box that can fit a tablet like an iPad or Galaxy Tab though we were not able to try it out.
The best bit about the Jazz, however, is the incredible way the rear seats can be reconfigured to suit your cargo needs. No car in the class of the Jazz or even in the class higher (C-segment/compact car class) sold in the Philippines can compare to the versatility and maximum cargo capacity offered by Honda's subcompact. Honda markets the 4 configurations of the cabin as ULTR or Utility, Long, Tall and Refresh.
In Utility mode both rear seats are folded down for maximum capacity of up to 1,492.3 liters (52.7 cubic feet), or enough for most mountain bikes. In Long mode, the rear seats are folded down as well as the front passenger seat, allowing the Jazz to accommodate items up to 2,362mm in length (7 feet 9 inches) or a typical surfboard. In Tall mode, the Jazz has the bottom cushion of the rear seats folded up to carry items up to 1,219 mm (almost 4 feet) in height. Finally Refresh mode allows for you to relax in the cabin by folding back the front seats (with the headrests removed) flush with the rear seats so you can chill with your legs stretched out; this'll work if you're the passenger, but the driver will feel a bit left out of the fun.
At the heart of all Philippine-spec 2014 Jazz variants is a 1.5-liter SOHC 16-valve i-VTEC engine. The motor itself, the Honda L15A, appears to be a carryover from the previous one and makes 120 PS at 6600 rpm and 145 Nm at 4800 rpm. It was a little odd that Honda didn't opt to launch the Jazz with the more powerful L15B Earth Dreams i-VTEC engine available in other markets as it makes 10% more power at 132 PS and a bit more torque at 155 Nm.
Driving the Jazz VX+ around town is a breeze; smooth, more refined and more comfortable over the previous generation. What's really different in the way the Jazz accelerates is the transmission as Honda opted to replace the transmission with a new generation 7-speed CVT. We find the move strange because the first gen Jazz (2002-2008) already had a 7-speed CVT followed by a 5-speed automatic gearbox in the second gen Jazz (2008-2014) and then now back to a 7-speed CVT for this third gen.
Nevertheless the return of the CVT in the Jazz made for some smooth acceleration and good fuel economy numbers. In town the Jazz delivered 8.9 kilometers per liter in moderate-heavy traffic (18 km/h average) and 11.7 kilometers per liter in light traffic (32 km/h average); pretty good numbers from a car that has gained a bit of weight over the last generation. The i-VTEC/CVT combine shone through on the highway though; at an average speed of 84 km/h (Driver + passenger), the Jazz did 17.5 kilometers per liter.
Handling is a strong suit of Honda, something that the Jazz meets with confidence whether you're in the city or on a challenging mountain pass. Body control and weight control is good when cornering at speed, and the stability offered by the Bridgestone Turanza tires are pretty good. What I do wish Honda fitted (sorry, we couldn't resist) the Jazz with rear disc brakes instead of drums. 4-wheel disc brakes should really be standard for top spec variants, but what Honda did to augment the brakes and controllability of the car in emergency situations is fit it with stability control, hill start assist and an emergency stop signal (similar to Mercedes-Benz's PRE-SAFE) on top of the standard ABS and EBD. Being the top spec variant, this Jazz also gets curtain and side airbags; again, we don't like testing those.
So where do we stand on the 2014 Honda Jazz VX+?
Overall, Honda has produced a car that definitely builds on all the nameplate's strong suits, namely: versatility, design, sportiness, fuel efficiency and space. What they really improved on was the overall refinement and maturity in which the Jazz drives and feels; two things that are really needed for a model to be more premium over the previous one.
What had us on the fence, however, was the way the pricing had increased. The previous 2013 Honda Jazz 1.5V was priced at PhP 857,000. This 2014 Honda Jazz VX+ is almost knocking on 7 digit territory with its PhP 948,000. That price can go even higher still as opting for Modulo and Mugen kits have the capability of sending the price tag well north of PhP 1M. It sounds steep for a subcompact but it's all part of the strategy of Honda Cars Philippines.
The Jazz is now being marketed as something like a “semi-premium” subcompact in Honda's new model stratification plan; that's the reason why both the Jazz and City are significantly more expensive, significantly better equipped and noticeably better in overall quality. That's all well and good because Honda is getting ready to introduce a new model to fill in the spot the Jazz vacated with the upcoming Brio hatchback.
What do you think?