The second-generation Honda Jazz is a functional hatchback tuned for an urban environment. HORMAZD SORABJEE drives it down British streets

India wasn’t lucky enough to get the first-generation Jazz, a car that stunned the world with its ultra-efficient engine and splendid interior space, achieved by shoving the fuel tank under the front seats. It’s been quite a wait, but the second-generation of the car is finally on its way, and is set to hit Indian shores in June 2009.

A glance at the Jazz makes you realise that it’s not cut from the same cloth as other hatches. Its ‘cab-forward’ stance gives it mini-MPV appeal, giving it an edge over the Hyundai i20 and Skoda Fabia. However, in spite of the ‘form follows function’ approach, the tall Jazz is still quite sleek thanks to its tapering roof and rising window line.

The huge lights, the short, stubby bonnet with its raised V-shape central section and the honeycomb grille sets the Jazz apart from the rest. Even the flanks of the car have convex and concave shapes that define the rear wheel arches. The rear hatch section also has its set of tricks with black gloss trim above the numberplate, which gives the impression that the window line has been extended down. Adding to the Jazz’s unmatched functionality is the tailgate that opens right down to bumper level.

The true functional brilliance of the Jazz lies in its interiors. They set a new standard for space, efficiency and usability that other hatchbacks can’t hope to match. The generous dimensions and glass area make available an incredible amount of space. In the previous-generation City and the current Civic, the windscreen is so far forward that the A-pillar becomes an obstruction, however, on a more positive note, the Jazz features slimmer A-pillars and usefully wide quarter-windows.

Honda has also paid special attention to interior space. There are more slots and cubbyholes than you can count and the twin glovebox is very useful. But taking the game to a different level is the massive boot — by far the biggest on any hatchback we have seen. A feature that we found very clever is the ‘double trunk’ which features an underfloor storage area concealed by a double-hinged panel. This lower compartment is ideal for stashing smaller items. However, in this configuration, the spare tyre (which would normally sit in the lower part of the boot) is done away with and replaced with a tyre repair kit. Given our road conditions, it’s likely that Honda will choose the safe option of giving us a spare instead of more luggage space.

In the driver’s seat you are greeted by a stylish dashboard. The steering wheel is identical to that of the City but the rest of the design is good looking and very user-friendly. The instrument cluster is uncluttered. The dials have large and bold typefaces that are easy to read, just like in its saloon sibling, the City. The big, chunky knobs move with a solid feel and couldn’t really be any easier to operate. The only criticism is the brittle feel of some of the plastics and the dull interior trim of the U.K.-spec car I drove. However, it’s likely that the Indian model will come with lighter, beige interiors which have become standard fare for us.

Space and comfort

Passenger space and comfort is where the Jazz truly shows its finesse. Front seats are extremely generous although legroom is about average for a premium hatchback. The rear seat’s legroom, headroom and width are terrific and comparable to cars of higher classes. However, what takes the cake is the ‘magic’ operation of the rear seats made possible by moving the fuel tank forward (it’s normally positioned under the boot and rear passenger floor) to beneath the front seats. Not only does this allow the rear seats to fold completely flat with the pull of a lever, but they also fold upwards like a cinema hall seat and provide enough storage area for transporting a small bicycle.

The Jazz will initially come powered by a 1.2-litre petrol engine. Though there have been no signs of a diesel variant from Honda in the foreseeable future, a hotter Jazz, which will house the City’s 1.5 motor, is expected a few months post its launch. Honda is a company that is known for small-and-mighty engines, and though the Jazz’s motor only displaces 1198cc, it churns out an impressive 89bhp and 11.62kgm of torque which straightaway sends it to the top of the 1.2-litre class.

Once fired up, the engine settles down so much to the extent you’d think the car has stalled. The sweet-shifting gearshift and the light, yet progressive clutch are a part of the Jazz’s easy-going nature. With the best power-to-weight ratio in its class, the Jazz should easily outrun both the i20 and the Fabia.

Honda has never been able to establish its supremacy over European rivals in the ride and handling department, and the Jazz doesn’t prove otherwise. The car punts around town quite easily with its light steering and tight turning circle, but it simply lacks fluency through corners or the ride quality of the Fabia. The slow-geared and relatively light electric steering didn’t feel as precise as I would have liked and the soft damping didn’t give confidence at high speeds. Though the Jazz has been tuned for an urban environment, even at low speeds it felt fidgety and the suspension crashed through some uneven patches we found on British streets. The good news is that we can expect Honda to change the suspension set-up for the India-spec Jazz.

The Jazz’s unbeatable user-friendliness outweighs any dynamic shortcomings it might have. It was designed for city usage and the car fulfills its role with astonishing aplomb. The Jazz’s innovative design features will definitely be a benchmark of its class, but the lack of a diesel engine and its expensive price tag (estimated to be upwards of Rs 6.5 lakh) may limit its appeal. But then again, it’s a Honda. Following the resounding success of the new Honda City we can only anticipate the same phenomenal response for the Jazz once it enters the Indian premium hatchback market this June.

TECHNICAL DATA

Price (est) Rs 6-7 lakh
Length 3900mm
Width 1695mm
Height 1525mm
Wheelbase 2500mm
Turning circle 9.8m
Kerb weight 1047kg
Engine 4 cyls in line,
1198cc, petrol
Installation Front,
transverse, front-wheel drive
Power 89bhp at 6000rpm
Torque 11.62kgm at 4900rpm
Gearbox Five-speed, manual
Suspension (F/R)
MacPherson struts and stabiliser bar/Trailing arm with torsion beam and stabiliser bar
Fuel tank 42 litres
Boot 399 litres
Brakes (F/R) Ventilated discs/discs

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