Honda Jazz 1.3S Sport 2011 Review

Although it still seems like a new model line for Honda, the popular Jazz has been around for 10 years already. To keep things fresh for Jazz fans, Honda has refreshed its sub-compact hatch with styling tweaks, new colours and extra equipment. When the second-generation Jazz reached NZ shores in early 2008 it had mums nationwide swooning and quite a few Grandmas too. The Jazz was affordable, practical and cute – healthy sales followed. But that was 2008, since then the Jazz has come up against some tough competition like updated version of the Ford Fiesta, VW Polo and the rampaging Suzuki Swift.  Will the 2011 facelift be able to maintain the Jazz’s place within the affections of NZ mums? Car and SUV belted into a 2011 Jazz 1.3S Sport to find out the answers.

While Honda’s facelifts are sometimes criticized for being too subtle the Jazz receives visual updates in a few key areas. At the front there’s a more modern bumper and a replacement grille that joins new headlights. It’s a similar situation at the rear where restyled taillights sit above a new bumper. The result of the changes is a hatch that not only looks sleeker but also is also more aerodynamic. Our 1.3S Sport model received some striking extra features like a sportier grille, rear hatch spoiler and a full body kit with deeper side skirting. 15-inch alloy wheels are standard and door handles and mirror caps are nicely colour-matched. Three new exterior colours are now available for all models in the range; Storm Silver, Sunset Orange and Lime Green (pictured). Overall, the refreshed Jazz is a tidy little package, the updates also work well to make it appear lower and less like a shrunk-down minivan. However, the Jazz still maintains a style that’s staunchly individual and unapologetically Japanese. Aesthetic appeal has just been boosted.

The Jazz interior has also received updates with a new darker and more premium dashboard material. There are still hard plastics to be found in some areas but touch surfaces feel good and everything is well screwed together. Bright orange illumination makes the control screens easily visible and is repeated in the sporty three-dial instrumentation. The unique controls layout remains the same for the new Jazz, while it looks unconventional it’s easy to learn and operate. A leather-wrapped steering wheel houses audio controls and now trip computer and cruise controls on the Jazz 1.3S. The seats are trimmed with a new higher quality cloth, it feels durable and soft but the blue pattern didn’t match up well with our vehicle’s lime green exterior hue. The driver’s chair has height adjustment and makes for excellent visibility through the large windscreen and side windows. One of the Jazz’s core strengths remains its space and practicality. For a compact hatch there is comfortable head and legroom up front and class-leading legroom in the rear thanks to a clever upright bench seat. This rear seat reclines backwards, splits 60/40 for loading longer items and the base can be pushed up for loading tall items behind the front seats. If you’ve got a big load planned the rear seatback folds forward to create a flat and low cargo floor with 848-litres of space (337-litres when in position).

In terms of equipment the Jazz is nicely specified for its price with auto air-conditioning, CD Stereo with USB input for iPods, electric windows, trip computer, remote central locking, seatback map pockets and plenty of cup and bottle holders.

Available with a choice of 1.3-litre or 1.5-litre petrol engines our tested model sported the smaller 1.3-litre option. This four-cylinder is mechanically unchanged for 2011 and produces the same 73kW of power and 127Nm of torque. The diminutive engine uses Honda’s latest iVTEC variable valve technology but struggles to move the Jazz around with any real gusto. Around town the Jazz has no issues keeping up with traffic but on motorways and the open road it needs to be kept at high revs to really get going. With three passengers on board it has to strain up steep hills and for open road overtaking a lot of space and planning is required. That said, if it’s just going to be used for trips to the shops and the occasional excursion across town it’s definitely capable.

Our tested Jazz was equipped with the 5-Speed manual transmission, which is a smooth and very easy gearbox to operate. The clutch pedal is exceptionally light and won’t start to feel heavy even in stop-start traffic. The gearstick finds its ratio predictably so if you prefer self-shifting it’s a good setup. If you opt for the manual transmission you’ll be rewarded with a fuel economy figure of just 5.8-litres per 100km on the combined cycle. It’s not ultra thrifty, like some newer competitors which are getting low or even sub 5.0-litre economy, but the Jazz is very frugal.

Dynamically the Jazz is competent, it’s agile when cornering and has enough grip through its front wheels to stay well settled. The big news here is with the standard inclusion of Electronic Stability Control for the 2011 model. This will prevent the Jazz from going off course and significantly boosts its safety credentials. With a turning circle of 10.4 metres the Jazz can pull sharp U-turns and is well suited to tight car parks and urban duties.

Under normal conditions the Jazz has good compliance and moves over rougher surfaces without transferring shudders to the cabin. The steering is very light especially on centre where it can feel vague at times. General refinement is impressive in the Jazz with little wind or road noise entering the cabin. The engine is near silent at idle but can get buzzy under load.

For safety the Jazz is much better aligned with its competitors now with stability control included. Other safety features include front, side and curtain airbags, disc brakes all round with ABS and emergency brake assist functions. The Jazz also boasts a 5-Star NCAP crash test rating.

All up, it’s a commendable facelift for the Jazz despite a lack of any major mechanical updates. The styling tweaks are effective in modernising the Jazz shape and making it appear sleeker and sportier. The interior updates improve the quality of the cabin and including stability control across the range will keep the safety conscious satisfied. All the traditional strengths of the Jazz remain, it has the most practical interior layout in its class, and it’s economical and handles sharply around town. Mums of New Zealand your hatchback champion is in good shape and ready for more duty.

Price: from $24,700 as tested $27,960

What we like:

  • Interior space and practicality
  • Facelift styling updates
  • Balanced ride and handling

What we don’t like:

  • Steering can be too light
  • Not the cheapest model in the segment
  • Small engine is lacking power and torque

Who will buy this car: The Jazz is all about the mums really, older mums, new mums and even those who have been upgraded to grandmothers.

Cool Factor: Depends who you are really. If you’re a mum the 2011 Jazz is damn cool but if you’re a teenage boy you’ll be parking two blocks away from your destination.

Words and Photos: Adam Mamo

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