Back-to-basics for brilliant Jazz will pay dividends to Honda
Convinced that Honda has actually heard his criticisms and pleas over the past couple of decades, Iain Robertson delights in the latest Jazz model, which winds back the bravado and frills to deliver straightforward engineering and design integrity.
Since we have all become ‘digitised’ and forgotten the good old days of videotape, I wanted to take this opportunity to remind you that there were two main methods of recording TV programmes and viewing movies; the main technology was VHS but electronics giant Sony had developed its own Betamax system. They were not compatible with each other, although they possessed similar price points. If anything, the slightly smaller Betamax cassettes were of finer quality but it was VHS that muscled its way into market domination. Incidentally, the British-Dutch combine of Phillips also developed the video disc (about the size of a vinyl album) that presaged the arrival of CD and DVD technology. It did not last either.
I have always perceived Honda as the automotive equivalent of Sony. There was a time, when Sony was the premium domestic electronics market leader. The hardware would cost a wee bit extra but its Trinitron TVs, radios and cassette-players were the gadgets to go for. To be fair, Japan ruled the electronics arena. Chinese and Korean alternatives had not commenced their low-price and market flood priorities.
Were you to track Honda’s business in the same way as you might Sony’s, you would spot many inevitable similarities. The general perception of Honda is that it is marginally better in most ways than Nissan, or Toyota, which are significantly more mainstream in their approaches. A lot of the credit for its stance lies in the Anglophile beliefs of Soichiro Honda, the company’s founder, who passed away in August 1991. Honda products were always more British/European in their influences, a factor that developed tremendous popularity for the company, not merely in the UK.
Sadly, over the past three decades, Honda, like Sony, lost its edge. Once Mr Honda’s ideas pool had been exhausted, the carmaker seemed to lose its sense of direction. It has taken the best part of that period to recover, although recovery may be too strong a word, when it is judged predominantly on the appearance of its first ever EV model, the Honda e. Although largely and pleasingly ‘conventional’ in its simplistic design language, it can be described as Honda’s ‘gamechanger’ and needs to be, if the carmaker is to stand half-a-chance of survival as a non-affiliated brand.
The original Jazz was of similar ilk in 2001 at its launch. Broadly conventional, it relied on a simplistic and direct approach in almost every respect. It has endured three redesigns since, to arrive at its latest fourth iteration. Fortunately, it has not lost its core intent and has retained the outstanding ‘Magic Seats’ in the rear that are a vital signature of practical space utilisation that could only ever be a Honda innovation and have never been copied by other carmakers…which is their fault!
However, the all-new Jazz (and it is entirely new), despite returning to original form in many ways, is as important to the compact hatchback scene, as Honda e is to the BEV sector. For a start, just as Honda instigated the hybrid scene at the turn of the New Millennium, performing in a parallel vein to Sony/VHS, with Toyota and its alternative hybrid technology, it is no longer trying to forge a new furrow. In fact, the similarities with today’s Toyota hybrids, with a few brand pertinent optional applications, are far closer than Toyota might like, without being a carbon copy, naturally.
Two model designations are available (from this summer), the normal version and the Crosstar pseudo-SUV alternative, complete with body enhancements; a cliché product to satisfy the current demand for urban on-roaders. Beneath the skin, both versions are identically powered by an optimised version of Honda’s 1.5-litre i-VTEC petrol engine, to which is connected a pair of compact electric motors, a lithium-ion battery pack and a new type of fixed-gear transmission (eCVT) that works super-efficiently.
Its total of 107bhp enables a top speed of 108mph and a 0-60mph dash in around 9.1s, accompanied by a CO2 rating (from) 102g/km and (up to) 62.8mpg (both WLTP figures). The entire propulsion system is dependent on three, interchangeable driving modes: EV (from battery to electric motors); Hybrid Drive (from engine to electric generator); and Engine (direct to wheels using a lock-up clutch). In typical style, the transition between all three modes can be monitored on the graphics display, which is more for amusement value than driver control but is completely seamless in its delivery and is ingenious enough not to need a driver over-ride.
Jazz is an incredibly neat and flexible packaging exercise that positions the fuel tank between the front seats and allows Honda to boast of a near-300-litres normal boot space and, using a combination of the Magic Seats and their ability to fold flat like most hatchbacks, up to 1,203-litres capacity, all within a body length that has just crept over 4.0m (10cm longer than the previous model). Naturally, several of the connectivity options, including the use of AI for some aspects, announced recently for the Honda e are incorporated within the Jazz’s impressive armoury.
Yet, the digital instrument panel ahead of the driver and the central dashboard touchscreen are designed to be intuitive and easier to use than ever before. There is a distinctive lack of complexity to the layout and a minimal presence of extraneous switchgear. Understandably, the ADAS features (lane discipline, swerve control, fore and aft collision mitigation and blind spot recognition systems, among others) are all part of Honda’s ‘Sensing’ systems and are comprehensive. However, all occupants will benefit from the increased structural rigidity of the body that has allowed Honda to install friction reduced suspension components and a greater sense of damper compliance, which makes Jazz less of a puddle-jumper and gifts it a more up-market appeal, where it should be.
Conclusion: I am sublimely happy for Honda, which (finally) seems to be getting its act together. When the new Jazz goes on sale this summer, it will once again raise a standard for the compact car category, which will also signal a return to brand prosperity.