The small car market is currently a large one, with many makes and models. In Japan, it has been extremely competitive, with the Toyota Corolla sitting atop the heap for many years as the favourite small car in the country. Recently, the Honda Jazz (Honda Fit in Japan) knocked Toyota off the top, and it isn't hard to see why.
The little Jazz is a well engineered, practical, economical (if somewhat sluggish) performer. The model we tested was the Gli (Base model) 1.3L with air at $18,990 plus on-roads.
The little Jazz follows the current trend of small cars, bulking up in dimensions, interior size and practicality. Its design is similar that that of a small van with a cargo area at rear, and short nosed front. The short nose hides the pint sized 1.3L engine, with the rear cargo area hiding a spare space saver wheel under the floor. Space utilisation must have been key in the designer's minds, as the little Jazz stands out as a practical load carrying city runabout, easy to live with day to day.
The rear floor of the car is flat, and the rear passenger seats fold completely flat also, providing over 1300 litres of storage space in the rear, ample room for large objects. According to Honda literature you can store 3 26" mountain bikes upright (with front wheels intact). Quite believable, given the 1.7 metre by 1.28 metre high rear load area when the rear seats are folded flat. With the rear seats in their upright position, there is room enough for 6 feet tall adults to sit comfortably, with grab handles on the roof, and rear head rests for safety. There is a good amount of knee room also.
The front seats provide a moderate amount of comfort, and decent lateral and lumber support. Rear seats didn't seem to benefit from the same amount of 'give', and might be a little more uncomfortable for longer trips. Driver comfort is good, with relatively high seating position in the car giving good forward visibility with a tilt adjustable steering wheel.
There is a reasonably large glovebox, and lipped storage trays at the driver and passenger's knees (becoming common in small cars these days). Two cupholders are moulded in front of the gearbox. The plastics and fabric used inside are of high quality feel and great finish.
The leather steering wheel is comfortable, and pleasant to use. It feels nearly sporty, with good hand position grips. The rest of the interior controls are all similarly easy to use, with simple A/C and heater controls, 4 speed fan, and a CD/Stereo unit mounted in the dash. The CD controls were basic, but friendly, and the sound was adequate from the system. There are 4 speakers. Of note, the Stereo is moulded in the centre console, maybe Honda thinks most of their buyers wont want to be replacing it?
Expanses of grey shades of plastic and material emphasise a Euro styling influence for the car. This carries through to the vehicle exterior, with large looking external dimensions, but still a compact stance on the road.
The 1.3L I-Dsi engine, incorporating a single over head cam and no variable valve timing, punches out 61kW at 5700rpm and 119Nm of torque at 2800rpm. It idles very smoothly and quietly, and when moving away you'll find approximately 90% of torque in the little unit is available from 2000 to 5000 rpm, ensuring that there is usually acceptable acceleration when required. For a 1.3L engine, performance is reasonable, if a little loud at high revs. The engine is smooth though, and quite flexible given its good spread of torque - allowing fewer gear shifts. The benefit of 1.3L and Honda engine design, coupled with ever tightening emissions standards is of course better fuel consumption. When highway cruising we achieved around 4.9L/100km, and in and around the city the figure crept up to about 6L/100km. Both of these figures were read from the trip computer.
Fantastic economy, but in reality, we found filling up the tank gave us slightly worse figures, by 5-10%.The driveline is also good, with the powerplant mated to a slick 5 speed gearbox. It has a short and easy throw, with a very direct and precise feel. Unfortunately the clutch on the test vehicle wasn't as nice, with a lot of slippage when changing gear, but it was nice and light and easy to live with in city commuting.
Handling is very good for the small car, thanks to fairly firm suspension. Understeer prevails, as this is seen as the 'safer' handling characteristic than oversteer. City bumps and thumps were soaked up admirably by the front independent and rear torsion beam suspension, given the overall firmness of the suspension. On rougher roads, the car could feel somewhat unsettled, but on normal city and suburban roads where the car will spend 99% of its lifetime, it was acceptable, if not a little firm.
Steering and braking the car was less enjoyable however. There isn't a great deal of feel through the steering wheel (possibly thanks to its electric power steering?), and the brake pedal felt wooden, without a lot of graduation. Brakes were reasonably competent though, thanks to some ABS and Electronic Brake force Distribution (EBD) technology.
Safety for the Jazz is excellent. Active safety is very high, with ABS and EBD to measure wheels slippage and alter brake force to each individual wheel. Twin airbags are offered, and various safety measure have been included in the body construction. There are also rear headrests, something sadly lacking in many much larger cars.
In conclusion, we found the Honda Jazz to offer excellent fuel economy and very good driveability, only let down by a slightly underpowered engine. It has excellent safety, class leading practicality and space, cute styling, but rather firm suspension. It stands out as a small car worth considering.