Could the 2017 Honda Jazz VTi be Australia’s cheapest (and best) small SUV?
It has been almost 15 years since the first-generation Jazz went on-sale locally, and that marks a decade-and-a-half of light-hatchback leadership in terms of space and practicality. To such a degree, too, that the Honda can still best some small SUVs.
Equally, however, not much has changed in the drivetrain and dynamics department with this little egg crate-on-wheels. What has improved is the value equation. The entry-level Jazz VTi, as tested here, now gets a new touchscreen infotainment system plus 15-inch alloy wheels replacing steelies with hubcaps, all at no extra cost.
Time, then, to revisit this off-centre little hatchback that prioritises space over style. Can small revisions help it size-up against newer contenders?
Vehicle Style: Light hatchback
Price: $14,990 plus on-road costs
Engine/trans: 88kW/145Nm 1.5 petrol four-cylinder | five-speed manual
Fuel Economy Claimed: 6.2 l/100km | Tested: 8.8 l/100km
Australia’s light car segment these days kicks off at $14,990 plus on-road costs. That’s the price of this Jazz VTi, as well as the Mazda2 Neo and Hyundai Accent Active that are first and second for sales volume in the class. The third-placed Toyota Yaris Ascent costs $15,290 (plus orc), while this Honda is fourth on the charts.
All are five-door hatchbacks, while the Jazz’s 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine is matched only by the Mazda2. But this VTi gets 88kW of power and 145Nm of torque, while the Neo gets 79kW/139Nm. Toyota’s 1.3- and Hyundai’s 1.4-litre are each off the pace.
The Honda looks to take an early lead. It’s also now the only contender with alloys, although it lacks autonomous emergency braking (AEB) standard in the Mazda and optional on the Toyota. It’s also one gear down on the 2 Neo and Accent Active, with a five-speed manual transmission as standard.
An automatic continuously-variable transmission (CVT) costs $2000 extra. For that price the Accent adds a CVT as well, while the Mazda2 adds a six-speed automatic. The Yaris only gets four gears, but for $1530 extra, leaving it cheapest of the autos.
- Standard Equipment: Keyless entry, power windows and mirrors, multi-function trip computer, manual air-conditioning, cloth trim and cruise control.
- Infotainment: 6.1-inch colour touchscreen with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, USB and HDMI inputs, and six speakers.
- Options Fitted: None.
- Cargo Volume: 350 litres.
Keeping interior expectations modest is wise when searching for a light hatchback, and in particular a completely unoptioned, entry-level model grade. Thankfully, however, the Jazz VTi smashes even the most basic requirements inside.
Honda fit-and-finish is flawless, firstly.
That’s the case in most of the Japanese car maker’s lineup, but the buyer seems to be getting especially good value at this level. Genuinely, there are luxury cars with wider panel gaps, looser storage lids and more brittle lower plastics than in this Jazz.
The roof grab handles are as nicely damped as the flip-up driver and passenger vanity mirror covers, the flip-out cupholder positioned under the driver’s airvent, and the flip-down 12-volt power socket. The air-conditioning controls also rotate with tactility equalled by the steering wheel-mounted audio and cruise control buttons.
Hard plastics dominate, but they are nicely textured and blended with cloth trim on the front and rear doors, and gloss-silver doorhandles and side applique. It’s the little things at this level, and compared with rivals the Honda nails the finer points.
Let-downs are few, but include a glovebox lid that falls with a thunk towards the floor when opened – the only sign of an undamped part in the cabin – and no leather-trimmed steering wheel (although only Suzuki’s Swift has one at this price point).
The driver’s seat is also only adjustable for height, but not tilt. Particularly noticeable with a clutch pedal, the pew is tilted too far forward, robbing the driver of under-thigh support in an otherwise decently comfortable seat.
Although the new touchscreen with reverse-view camera is standard – unlike in a Mazda2 Neo – the interface is flawed. Accessing your smartphone contacts list is blocked out at speed, which is needless given the simple menus, while audio volume takes the form of on-screen tabs shown only on the ‘home’ screen.
Of course, the Jazz VTi continues to seize most ground against its competitor set in terms of packaging. The rear seat may not boast the plushest bench around – in fact it’s overly firm – but the backrest even tilts in two stages, which is unique in the class.
There’s stacks of legroom, if not headroom, and the ‘floating’ bench can even tilt up against the backrest to create a divided boot area in the middle of the hatchback. A low loading lip at the rear means lifting larger items into the Honda’s boot is a cinch, and the 350-litre capacity is by far the largest in the segment.
Heck, it’s bigger than that in a Toyota Corolla hatchback. And yet after a teenager’s lifetime no rival can exceed the brilliant cabin formula of this contender.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 88kW/145Nm 1.5 4cyl petrol
- Transmission: five-speed manual, FWD
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front and torsion bar rear
- Brake: ventilated front and rear drum brakes
- Steering: electrically assisted mechanical steering
Just read the last line of that last section once again. No rival can still match the Jazz for packaging, but as it turns out this VTi still can’t equal its best rivals on the road.
Honda can build a winning engine, though. The 1.5-litre and manual combination must surely rate as the best in the class. Peak torque doesn’t activate until 4600rpm, but that’s no problem given the 1043kg kerb weight. And that contributes to a revvy, if not refined, personality towards maximum power being delivered at 6600rpm.
The five-speed’s shift quality is superb – although most buyers will sadly option the wildly inferior automatic CVT – and especially for an entry-level model the performance and sheer enthusiasm of this Jazz’s drivetrain is beyond reproach.
Perhaps an exception is economy, which polled an average 8.8 litres per 100 kilometres over mixed conditions.
The VTi is also less impressive, to varying degrees, in its steering and suspension.
Where Honda engineers have developed a sharp and engaging, yet comfortable and serene chassis in the 10th-generation Civic small hatchback, the third-generation Jazz light hatch instead lacks both fun and finesse on the road.
Its steering is loose on the centre position and requires plenty of arm-twirling to park. Despite rolling on broad, 65-aspect 15-inch Bridgestone Turanza tyres that should help quell bumps, this light hatchback can prove lumpy and restless.
We should note that the Jazz VTi rides far better than the VTi-S and VTi-L model grades with 55-aspect 16-inch tyres, however. It’s not harsh or uncomfortable, but just needlessly firm when there is little dynamic benefit.
The Honda’s chassis is solid and secure through corners, at least the equal of the Accent and superior to a Yaris. But a Mazda2 is both more fun and more supple.
If only engineers could sprinkle a bit of Civic magic over the blobby Jazz.
The Jazz was tested by ANCAP in 2014 and it scored 36.58 out of 37 points.
Safety Features: Dual front, front-side and full-length curtain airbags, ABS and ESC and reverse-view camera.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/100,000km.
Servicing: Five-year/100,000km capped-price program includes below-average six month/10,000km checks at a higher-than-average $259 and $297 for the first duo.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
An Accent is big but bland, while a Yaris is small and dour. The Mazda2 is somewhat cramped inside, but one of the best to drive – in complete contrast to the Jazz.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The Honda Jazz is at its most convincing in this entry-level VTi trim equipped with a standard manual transmission.
Adding larger wheels, leather trim and climate controls on the VTi-S and VTi-L, which are also automatic CVT-only, merely make this Jazz feel chintzier and less comfortable. Deleting the DIY-shifter also removes one of its greatest assets.
There is otherwise a lot to love about this little Honda in this specific model grade. Although lacking in steering and suspension finesse, the drivetrain goes a long way to providing fine driver enjoyment. Likewise, the cabin might be basic and touchscreen flawed, but for space and quality it remains unsurpassed.
Just remember – with the Honda Jazz, it’s base or bust.
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