Vehicle Style:5-door light hatch
Engine/trans: 88kW/145Nm 1.5 litre petrol 4cyl | 5sp manual
Fuel Economy claimed: 6.2 l/100km | tested: 6.4 l/100km
When we attended the launch of the new Honda Jazz range, something was missing.
While Honda provided an even mix of low-spec VTi, VTi-S and high-spec VTi-L models to drive, all were equipped with a CVT automatic and there was nary a clutch pedal in sight.
Now, motoring journalists can be cynical, and when a manufacturer omits something as important as the price-leading variant of a new car range from a launch, our thoughts immediately default to “what are they trying to hide?”.
Well, after a little bit of arm-twisting we’ve finally prised a Jazz VTi manual from Honda’s hands and… there’s nothing wrong with it.
There are a couple of small complaints, but at its core we found the manual Jazz - the one you’ve been seeing advertised for $14,990, retail - to be a sweet little thing. Here’s the rundown.
- Standard equipment: LED headlamps, fabric upholstery, cruise control, air conditioning, trip computer, power windows and mirrors, reversing camera.
- Infotainment: 7-inch colour touchscreen with Bluetooth audio and telephony, 2 USB inputs, HDMI input (for bring-your-own navigation app), AM/FM/CD tuner with four speakers and steering wheel controls.
- Storage: 350 litres with rear seats up, 906 litres with rear seats down, 1492 litres with front passenger and rear seats folded
Besides the presence of a third pedal and a row-your-own shifter, there are no differences between this and a CVT-equipped Jazz VTi inside.
It’s pleasant and well-equipped, but that also means the VTi manual suffers from the same foibles: namely flat seats with poor under-thigh support.
Honda’s Display Audio infotainment system looks good with its 7-inch colour touchscreen display, but it’s somewhat clunky to use.
Simple actions like pairing a mobile phone via Bluetooth are less than intuitive, and using the system’s bring-your-own navigation functionality (which requires a compatible iPhone and a paid app) requires the phone to be plugged in with not one, but two cables.
But thankfully, all of the good things that we like about the Jazz are still present in the VTi manual.
Things like ultra-bright LED headlamps, standard reversing camera (with three different views, no less), and those Magic Seats that transform the Jazz from hatch to pint-sized van.
Compared to its predecessor, the Jazz VTi has 35mm more front shoulder room, 20mm more rear shoulder room and a whopping 115mm more rear legroom.
Though the seats themselves are lacking support, there’s certainly more than enough sprawling space for four adults.
There’s more cargo space on offer in each of the Jazz’s various 'Magic Seat' configurations, though with the fuel tank directly underneath the front seats some may find the driving position to be a touch too tall.
ON THE ROAD
- 88kW/145Nm 1.5 litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine
- Five-speed manual, front-wheel drive
- MacPherson strut front, torsion beam rear suspension. Electric power steering
- Ventilated disc brakes at front, drum brakes at rear.
While the Jazz VTi's optional CVT is a fairly well-sorted transmission, the base model manual injects some much-needed excitement to the Jazz formula.
Light, slick and with a satisfying 'snick' as at slips into each gate, the shifter is typically Honda in its precision. The clutch is light and easy to modulate, and the combo makes for an easy drive.
However, there's just one drawback to the manual. Being a five-speed, there's not a great enough spread of ratios to make the Jazz feel relaxed at highway speed.
In fifth at 100km/h the engine is turning at 3200rpm and creating a substantial buzz. A taller fifth gear would solve it, but at the expense of acceleration. The addition of a sixth gear would add cost.
It's a great little steer if the majority of your driving is done within the confines of the city, but if you expect to do a lot of highway driving, the CVT is probably the more sensible option.
The CVT also has the edge in fuel economy. We recorded an average of 6.4 l/100km in our VTi manual tester - 0.2 l/100km off the factory quoted figure - but the optional CVT comes in at 5.8 l/100km.
But, as a means of extracting the most out of the Jazz’s 88kW/145Nm 1.5 litre naturally-aspirated engine, the manual gets our nod of approval.
It’s fun in a way that the CVT (even with its shift paddles) never could be, and having full control over that rorty four-pot is gratifying.
The ride on the 15-inch steel wheels is good. The Jazz ably absorbs bumps without much fuss, corners more competently than its predecessor and the electric power steering feels precise and light.
Its 10.4 metre turning circle isn’t the tightest we’ve seen in this size category, but the Jazz’s compact size gives it a decent level of maneuverability around town.
ANCAP rating: The 2015 Honda Jazz has yet to be tested by ANCAP.
Safety features: Stability control, traction control, ABS, EBD, brake assist, three-point seatbelts and six airbags (front, front side, full-length curtain) are standard on every Jazz.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
Rivals are many in this segment, but few can equal the Jazz for value or spaciousness.
Mazda2 Neo is the most compelling alternative and provides a sharper drive for the exact same retail price, but has much less rear legroom and boot space. The Fiesta is a cracking little drive but now looking a little dated inside.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
If Honda provided better seats, the Jazz would be an absolute stand-out in its segment.
Spacious, versatile, easy to drive and easy on fuel, the Jazz is one of the best light hatchbacks you can buy today. In manual form there’s even some driving fun to be had - as well as that attractive $14,990 sticker price.
We’re not quite sure why Honda seemingly wanted to keep the media away from the cheapest variant of its most affordable car, but they need not have done so.
Yes, it could use another gear in its ‘box, but in urban driving it’s not that big a deal.
That’s pretty much the only downside to the manual, and given how precise and easy to drive this particular manual is, it’s the Jazz we’d be going for.
PRICING (excludes on-road costs)
- VTi manual - $14,990
- VTi CVT - $16,990
- VTi-S CVT - $19,790
- VTi-L CVT - $22,490
MORE: 2014 Honda Jazz Revealed