The new Honda Jazz is bigger and roomier, and brims with new technology
All that jazz Honda Jazz 1.5 comes with with keyless entry, an engine start button, LED headlights and a seven-inch display audio

IT was a car that drove better than it looked. In 2002, the first Honda Jazz was introduced here with dorky design befitting its runabout status but with an unusually engaging drive. The second-generation Jazz continued with a precise steering and responsive engine in 2008 but improved on the upright styling of its predecessor with a snazzy teardrop. In terms of styling, however, the latest car has succumbed to its inner dorkiness and gone for the shapeless look, one that makes even an amoeba look less amorphous. A deep groove across the doors just below the window line tapers down to the front wheel arch and could be an attempt to amp up the aesthetics, but ends up looking like a longkang going nowhere.

But there is probably a very good reason why the third-generation Jazz is uninteresting to view - Honda was concentrating on all that new technology to fit into it. The car brims with features and advances not seen in this segment. It is a brand new model with an all-new body and platform. Its engine and transmission set a new benchmark on performance and fuel economy. It has safety equipment more commonly associated with pricier Honda models.

There are two engine versions -1.3 and 1.5. The 1.5, also called the Jazz RS, is the one to have. It comes with all the bells and whistles, such as keyless entry, an engine start button, LED headlights and a seven-inch display audio that syncs with smartphone apps such as navigation, music and Siri. A multi-angled rear-view camera is also standard. The 3.95-metre long hatch has its wheelbase stretched by 30 mm to 2,530 mm and boasts a more spacious cabin with better headroom (the platform is lower) and amazing rear legroom (an extra 115 mm). As with the previous model, the versatile interior allows various seat configurations so you can turn it into a bedroom or transport a potted plant or surfboard, although not all at the same time.

But the bee's knees has to be the new powertrain. The five-speed auto is replaced by a seven-step continuously variable transmission with instantaneous response but still aids fuel-efficiency with its wider ratios.

Combining shorter ratios for accelerating and taller ones for cruising, it shifts smoothly and linearly while sounding more like a conventional auto. Unlike CVTs of old, this next-generation Earth Dreams transmission even locks up by holding the gear under hard acceleration. And if the steering wheel-mounted shift paddles are used, the changes are quick and crisp.

The new direct injection 1.5-litre DOHC i-VTEC engine also boasts Earth Dreams technology for strong torque but good fuel economy. Consumption under the combined cycle is rated at 5.1 litres per 100 km, or an outstanding 19.6 km per litre. But the VTEC engine's free-revving nature may not allow you to achieve this.

With its good low-end torque and direct CVT, the Jazz RS is almost a pocket rocket. The precise steering also encourages you to drive it hard. But this can raise the level of engine noise to unseemly levels. For a small car, the Jazz comes with a wide range of safety aids, such as Vehicle Stability Assist with Motion Adaptive Electric Power Steering, Hill Start Assist and Emergency Stop Signal. The first is unique and applies the brakes to individual wheels to prevent loss of traction, while automatically counter-steering if the car is under or over-steering in a corner.

So while it may not look great, but the new Honda Jazz is still a great drive.

CAR INFORMATION

Honda Jazz 1.5 RS (A)

Price

:POA

Engine Type

:

4-stroke DOHC i-VTEC

Engine Cap

:

1,498 cc

Horsepower

:

129 bhp / 6,600 rpm

Torque

:

155 Nm / 4,600 rpm

Transmission

:

CVT (A)

Acceleration

:

9.6 sec (0-100 km/h)

Top Speed

:

196 km/h