Vince Pornelos / Vince Pornelos, Honda | August 15, 2017 10:08
A quick drive to Baguio and back with Honda's refreshed trio
I was really having a bit of fun. It was just too much of a blast behind the wheel of this new 2018 Honda Jazz RS, letting that 1.5-liter i-VTEC motor breathe in as much of the fresh mountain air with my right foot as we made our way up this wide and twisty mountain road.
But Baguio, it seems, has other plans in store, enveloping us in a fog that only these mountains could. I checked my mirrors for the rest of the convoy: refreshed models, all of them: another Jazz, a City with the new face, and the much sportier Mobilio in that new shade of orange.
We'll have some fun in the mountains with these cars, but first, let's slow it down a bit. Fog, after all, isn't something to take lightly.
Earlier in the day, we gathered in BGC to meet this new fleet of Hondas. Strictly speaking, these cars aren't all new: they're facelifts of their existing models. It's not unusual because all (or at least most) manufacturers perform these updates and upgrades to their cars about halfway through their showroom life.
We started our day with the Mobilio, an MPV that, in my opinion, looks so much better than before. The Mobilio, upon its initial launch a few years ago, was a bit too soft for my liking in terms of design much in the same way that the original pre-facelift Innova was in 2005. This Mobilio is much more like it. For one, the entire front end has been changed, with the sporty new look creating a very visible distinction between this MPV and the much smaller Brio. It actually looks quite cool for an MPV; something it needed to sell better when compared to its taller crossover twin, the BR-V.
Inside, the change has indeed come: they transplanted the dashboard of the BR-V into the Mobilio (they share the same architecture anyway) and now it looks more upscale than before. It's still a seven seater and has the same features as before, but the overall impression has become more compelling.
Like the rest of the trio that we're about to sample, the Mobilio has the 1.5-liter i-VTEC that makes 120 PS and 145 newton meters of torque. The shared engine also comes with either a 5-speed manual or a CVT, though all of the cars in this group come with the latter.
On the highways and twisties, the Mobilio does very well for a small MPV. You don't really expect great maneuverability out of a wagon that has seven seats, but the Mobilio does it well. On tight urban and town roads, the visibility and maneuverability make it a great daily driven MPV; and it has the versatility and fuel economy (10.2 km/l, four big persons in the car, highway driving) to boot.
At speed, there's a good balance when you're taking corners, and the Mobilio likes to rev if you want to have a bit of fun. Where it lacks is in the torque department. With four of us in the car in a wagon you do have to be a bit more liberal with the throttle on the uphills; the Mobilio with the CVT is the heaviest of the group. They did try to keep the weight down, but that also meant they couldn't put on as much sound insulation; as a result, it can be a bit noisy in the cabin on rutted concrete or lower grade tarmac.
Drives like these are perfect opportunities to really enjoy the roads, especially the new highways that cut down Manila to Baguio travel times from the horrendous hours of decades past to a very convenient drive. Heck, now you can head to Baguio directly with just one break to use the facilities. More than that, it's a good opportunity to test the handling of the cars on the fast mountain roads like Marcos highway.
After a while with the Mobilio, we hopped aboard the Jazz. Unlike the Mobilio, the changes to the Jazz both inside and out are far more subtle; just a few tweaks here and there to keep it fresh like the bumpers, headlights, DRLs, so on and so forth. But perhaps the biggest change is the variant: this one is the new RS version.
On the outside, it has a few little bits and pieces that make it more distinct; things like the blacked out wheels, the black grill, the orange interior stitching on the upholstery, and the RS badging. There are actually a few creative interpretations for what RS means; some say it's Rally (or Rallye?) Sport, some say it's Road Sailing, though the one I liked was rather cheeky: Relatively Sprightly. Whatever the case, the Jazz RS looks good.
Despite having the same engine and same CVT, the Jazz drives very differently. The wheelbase is shorter than the Mobilio, making this Jazz much more maneuverable. More importantly, there isn't much overhang; much like the Mini. Being the lightest one here at 1062 kilograms also helps, resulting in a car that's enjoyable on the twisty roads, even on the uphill. This Jazz isn't about power, but handling; yes, we miss the exciting cam-changing VTECs of old, but they really were left behind by modern emissions and fuel economy standards.
Fuel economy wasn't really a concern for us here; we were trying to make it to Baguio before the lunchtime traffic sets in, or at least before the fog gets too thick. Day One was done.
The next morning it was time to make our way down. Being that our lead driver was an ex-rally driver, he wouldn't pick the fastest way down: he picks the most fun way down, and that meant Kennon Road.
This former goat trail is a real challenge to drive fast. You really need a few things to take it safely with speed: good training (particularly braking), a good deal of patience (never misjudge cornering or overtaking on a tricky road as this), and a car with good handling. The last one was easy: we were driving the Honda City.
Like the other two, the City has also been updated, but the measure of the updates are somewhat in between of the night/day transformation of the Mobilio versus the subtle re-adjustment of the Jazz. The upgrades to the City are subdued, but more noticeable.
There were changes to the face, but truth be told, they're not as easy to spot given how subdued they can seem. If anything, the new look is more upscale than before. The change is more profound inside, given that Honda did change the color of that big silver trim to something more subdued: dark gray. One thing I really liked was the upgrade to the lighting system: the headlights and foglights are now all LED.
Of the three, only the City is proudly made in the Philippines, and it's arguably the best handling car we make. Driving down Kennon, the brakes, the control given by the CVT, and the progressive feel of the suspension do give the driver a good measure of confidence.
The composure the City offers is excellent. The testament to its handling is the fact that the stability control indicator never lit up; if you drive fast but sensibly, the suspension and chassis of the City will take care of you without needing electronic help. Once down from the mountain, the City settled down, and all we needed were our Spotify playlists to keep us company via Bluetooth as we kept on our smooth and merry way back to the capital.
Yes, these updates to the three may seem skin deep, but the City, Mobilio and Jazz are three solid automobiles already; they didn't really need to do much to make them better. All that was needed was a few tweaks to keep these overachievers of Honda competitive in the modern automotive market.