Honda introduced the Fit in the 2nd half of 2001 and by 2002, it already managed to shock the world by defeating the mighty Toyota Corolla, dethroning it from its position as Japan's best selling car which it has held on with an iron grip for thirty-three consecutive years.
The Fit was released outside of Japan in both the European and Asian region with equally good success. By the end of 2002, Malaysia was one of the last few remaining Asian countries which doesn't feature the Fit/Jazz in its domestic line-up. But early in 2003, this too finally changed as Malaysian Honda fans eagerly and enthusiastically welcomed the Honda Jazz to our shore.
As with all export markets, the Fit was introduced as the Honda Jazz here in Malaysia and with instant success. The first batch of 100 units Honda Malaysia brought in was all taken up immediately by eager dealers, and even then was only just to fulfill back orders ! And Honda Malaysia told me sales of the Jazz has been growing month by month since ! So naturally I was curious and very eager to take a close look at this famous car, and learn what makes it so good. When I found out that Honda Malaysia do have cars allocated for test-drive/review, I got in touch with them to ask to borrow a unit for test-review. With the help of a little 'insider infor' I specifically asked for the 'red unit', because that one has the optional Honda Access bodykit and leather seats. As everyone would readily agree, coverage of the Jazz's accessories is 'mandatory' for a TOVA review.
Honda's design philosophy is exemplified by the simple phrase "Man Maximum - Machine Minimum" and the Jazz is one of Honda's showcase of this philosophy. Simply put, Man Maximum - Machine Minimum puts the emphasis on the human aspect in the design of the car - safety, cabin space, driving enjoyment, environment, etc. The mechanical portions are to be minimized, even casted aside, with everything focused only on the human angle. Honda actually has been working with this philosphy for many years, but the Jazz represents the most modern interpretations with the result that many aspects of the Jazz's design departs from the more traditional ones on the established Honda models.
Let's take the interior first. Here Honda deviated from their normal conservative approach for a more 'adventurous' design with an emphasis towards the asthetically exciting rather than just bluntly functional. While there's a possibility a few may find it too radical, the actual result was that many have found the interior to be pleasingly good-looking. Man maximum - Machine minimum also applies to the interior cabin space as well. In this case, it means given the external dimentions of the Jazz, the interior cabin space is to be as large as possible. This is acheived by minimizing the intrusion of the mechanical portions into the car. The very narrow and compact design of the new iDSI engine is a prime example, the unique placement of the fuel tank is another, and many similar innovations. The end result is that looks which has been known to be misleading is really very misleading in the Jazz. Many mistakenly pre-judges the Jazz as 'too small' by virtue of its physical 'external' size but the interior passenger space is actually quite big. Thus while the Jazz is a 'small' car in design (classified as so-called 'B-segment'), the interior cabin is almost as large as the next size car (the so-called 'C-segment').
While classifications like B-segment and C-segment are well and good, how does it translate to the actual real-life physical space we can relate to ? Well, let's examine this TOVA style. For a 'next size up' model to the Jazz, the Honda Civic must be the most appropriate choice. The equivalent Civic variant to the Jazz should be the ES-Civic 5-door hatch. However this model exists mostly in the Japan Domestic Market and U.K./Europe. The 4-door sedan however is available in almost all markets worldwide so for the most useful comparison where everyone can relate to, we will use the ES (1.7l) Civic 4-door sedan. Expectations-wise, externally the ES-Civic sedan will be larger in size since its the 'next size up' car but given the design target as explained above, the ES-Civic's interior cabin-space will become the reference by which the Jazz's interior will be judged. The most accurate comparison data will of course be the official Honda data which are published on the Honda Motor Co. Ltd. (often called 'Honda Japan' by enthusiasts) web-site at http://www.honda.co.jp/auto-lineup.
First, the external dimensions; the length, width, & height measurements for the Jazz vs ES-Civic sedan are 3830mm X 1675mm X 1525mm vs 4435mm X 1695mm X 1440mm respectively. So the larger size of the Civic sedan is clearly shown by the published figures - the Civic is significantly longer (605mm or ~24"), wider by 20mm (or ~1") though quite a bit shorter. Thus the 'next size up' relationship is clearly shown by the external dimensions.
Now, let's look the internal dimensions. Keep in mind the design target for the Jazz - one size down in exterior dimensions but almost the next size up in interior dimensions. For the internal cabin measurements, Honda's published figures are 1835 X 1385 X 1280 vs 1865 X 1380 X 1170 for the Jazz and Civic respectively. So internally the Civic is 30mm (>1") longer but the Jazz is actually about the same width as well as being taller !
Honda additionally published 3-dimensional diagrams for each model on their web-site where more size informations are available. In terms of the seats sizes for e.g., Honda's figures listed in the 3-dimensional diagram for rear seat width are 1240mm and 1215mm for the Jazz and Civic respectively - the Jazz actually officially has the wider rear seats ! Surprisingly, the front seats are also wider in the Jazz; 520mm vs 510mm for each front seat. Vertical space superiority for the Jazz is of course expected given its much taller design; 945mm vs 915mm from rear seat to roof and 1005mm vs 990mm from front seat to roof for Jazz and Civic sedan respectively. An important measurement would be the depth of the seats and here the Jazz is again comparable to the Civic; 500mm vs 505mm for the front seats and 450mm vs 475mm for the rear seats. Remember, all these are official Honda measurement data !
So as the comparisons above shows, Honda very clearly met their objectives admirably - it is clear that interior-wise, the Jazz is almost as large as that of the Civic, the representative 'next size up' car ! Looking at the 3-dimensional diagrams (bear in mind the two diagrams are not to the same scale), the machine-minimum philosophy is also very clearly seen - compare the engine bays of the Jazz and the Civic in relation their overall lengths. Now, the deeper the engine-bay relative to the car's length, the shorter will be the internal cabin space. The Jazz's engine bay can clearly be visually seen to be much smaller relative to the car's overall length than that of the Civic's.
Looking now at the other areas, it is probably justifiable to say that the most important aspect of a car is it's safety, or more accurately, how safe it keeps it occupants. In this aspect, the Jazz is state of the art. As with all modern Hondas, the Jazz is built upon the G-CON platform. Simply put, the concept of G-CON is to cocoon the occupants in what can be called a 'crash-cage' which exploits collapsible body-parts and stress distribution structures to absorb and dissipate the huge energies involved in the unfortunate occurrence of a collision. In this aspect, Honda's philosophy of 'man maximum' comes right to the forefront because total focus is on the safety and well-being of the occupants and the car is literally designed to 'die' in order to ensure the occupants lives through a bad collision. To further ensure the safety of the occupants, the Jazz is equipped with Dual-SRS, air-bags for both driver and front passenger. Front, side, and rear impact bars surrounding the main cabin is of course a given.
But prevention is of course way way better than a cure so the Jazz is well equipped to avoid a collision too. It's equipped with Anti-Lock Braking for maximum control, even in a skid, which is again reinforced by Electronic Brake Distribution (EBD). The Jazz is equipped with front brake discs and rear brake drums. In an FF car, the static weight distribution already exceeds 60% on the front wheels. During braking even more weight is placed on the front wheels due to weight transfer so drums for the rear brakes are more than sufficient for all foreseeable (and sane !) situations where emergency braking may be required.
For Malaysia, Honda markets the Jazz as an SUV but personally I see it as much more than just an SUV - the Jazz is really flexible enough to satisfy a large variety of lifestyles from the more domestic utility duties right to the hard-core enthusiast's requirements !
Looks-wise the Jazz is fine looking car, especially with the optional bodykit and 14inch rims. A good bodykit is especially valued by enthusiasts and 'stock' bodykits for Honda cars are designed and manufactured by their wholely owned subsidiary Honda Access. They are high-quality P.U. of course and designed to fit without any mods. A lot of thoughts goes into the design of the bodykit, not only for the looks but for practicality as well. Ground clearance is almost as good as stock with the bodykit on and other examples of the finer details includes the supplied rubber strips used for sealing the gap between the side-skirts and the body of the car. The quality of the bodykit is really exemplary and the only problem with it - if it can be called a problem - is supply; the bodykit is apparently so popular worldwide that there's a shortage in supply and this is really causing Honda Malaysia a lot of headaches in meeting deliveries on their heavily backlogged orders !
Honda Access offers two bodykit versions for the Jazz; Type YY and Type ZZ. The bodykit combination that Honda Malaysia brings in for Malaysia is the Type ZZ combination (though the side skirt & rear lower lip are common for both versions). The rear tailgate spoiler is also an item in the catalog by itself. The kits are fully imported by Honda Malaysian from Honda Access in Japan. The 14inch rims though are made locally by Enkei. With the bodykit on, the Jazz I had on loan looked exceptionally good. Eventhough I was expecting them, I was still surprised by the number of appreciative stares the Jazz gardnered while on the road. The optional leather seats which are equipped on this unit are also fully imported from Japan, Honda Malaysia offering three choices of either a combination of Gray & Black or Red & Black (as used in this unit) or all black.
Since its launch in Japan, the Jazz (Fit) has been very popular with car enthusiasts. Besides its great looks, a lot must be due to the famous ultra-seats (often called 'magic seats') as well. A very imaginative folding design allows the Jazz an extremely flexible carrying capability via 3 modes; utility, tall, and long. This feature is great for the those trips to IKEA or for carrying pots of flowers home for e.g. And it's also a god-send for the enthusiasts ! All Honda enthusiasts are DIY fans to some extent - our regular haunts are the spare-part shops, the speed-shops, the body part shops and here in Malaysia, our all-time favourite, the 'junk-yard'. For us enthusiasts, our 'projects' on our beloved cars are never ending - there will always be more mods to put in - and of course we are forever searching for new things to try. Many enthusiasts will know first-hand the joy of finding that JASMA-approved MUGEN twin-loop exhaust in near mint condition from the junk-yard as well as the headache trying to find a way to take it back for fitting. With the Jazz ? No problem ! The Jazz's L-mode fits 8-feet long objects. When we are going for a good time at the race track, carrying that set of 4 slick tyres is another common headache and here the Jazz's U-mode handles this issue without breaking into a sweat. What about that Mugen bodykit we just took delivery of from the speedshop ? Front & rear bumpers, front grille, side skirt, the whole set will fit into the Jazz with no problems, even that pair of Recaro bucket seats ! Indeed, other than a half-cut, the Jazz will probably be able to handle practically everything we are likely to get - including that complete K20A Spec-R engine with the 6-speed close-ratio gearbox ! Little wonder then that the Jazz has firmly established itself with the true motor-enthusiasts in Japan as well as in other markets where it is sold.
I think I have covered quite a bit about what makes the Jazz the superb well rounded package it is. I will not endeavour to cover everything in this article, - readers will have way more fun checking it out for themselves at their nearest Honda showroom. For Malaysia, Honda Malaysia maintains a dealer philosophy that all Honda dealers should have a showroom car. I am confident Honda maintains this for its other markets/countries as well. I think many of the Jazz's unique strengths cannot adequately be described, so only a first-hand look can really do it justice which I very strongly recommend.
It's time then to get on to the key issue of performance of the Jazz. The question about the Jazz's performance is intimately tied to its engine, a L13A which displaces 1339 c.c and classified as a 1.4l here in Malaysia. It is of the new generation intelligent Dual and Sequential Ignition (iDSI) design, a state of the art SOHC 8-valve design that uses two diagonally opposite placed spark plugs and a very high CR of 10.8 for optimum fuel economy coupled with reasonably good power output. Running such a high CR is prone to detonation and with previous technologies, high octane oetrol (fuel) is needed. But the L13A is amazing here because it runs at 10.8 CR but requires only RON 91 petrol !! The key to controlling detonation here is the iDSI system, which allows extremely retarded firing of the primary (or first) spark plug and still ensure optimum pressure build-up (for power & economy) by using the secondary (i.e. the second) spark plug to speed up the combustion. The two spark-plugs fires at varying intervals, either sequentially one after the other or simultaneously, depending on engine rpm and load to ensure as complete a combustion of the air-fuel mixture as possible. After the primary spark plug has ignited the air-fuel mixture, at a calculated optimum interval later, the secondary spark plug ignites the opposite side of the mixture (hence why the diagonally oppostie placement is emphasized). The result is the entire air-fuel mixture burns (and generates maximum pressure) much faster which means the ignition timing can be very retarded. The very late firing of the spark plugs helps to prevent unwanted detonation. The diagram below, taken from the 'Honda Japan' website for the L13A clearly shows the dual sequential ignition concept in operation.
The 8V layout is also a key design feature of the L13A, to promote swirl in the intake air-fuel mixture flow. This same principle has been exploited in the famous D15B VTEC-E engines used on EG Civics and culminating in its peak in the superb D15B 3-stage VTEC engine on the EK3. Swirling helps to ensure complete and even mixture of the air and fuel which promotes stable, even and complete combustion. The end-result ? Good specific power output and more importantly very good fuel economy ! The SOHC configuration is another key feature of the L13A as it allows a small cylinder head. The Jazz features a very small engine bay which is key to it's relatively large interior size. As the L13A is tranversely mounted, therefore it's 'thickness' will be an important factor in the absolute size of the engine bay. Honda spent a lot of effort to make the iDSI 118mm (~4.75 inch) 'thinner' than the D15B. This is yet another example of the 'man maximum-machine minimum' principle in action again.
I plan to cover the L13A engine in a special series on the iDSI technology in the future. I have submitted some technical questions to Honda about this engine and once I receive the answers, I should be able to write up a more complete explanation of the new technologies exploited by the iDSI/L13A engine. But the core point is 'exploitation of new technologies'. The SOHC and 8V is a key component of the iDSI design and the many attempts to judge it as 'old-technology' really just shows ignorance. Modern technology does not mean only 'DOHC' or variable timing. The iDSI engines are designed for maximum fuel consumption with reasonably good power output and the smallest physical size possible so the technologies exploited are specifically for these design objectives. The iDSI engine is not meant to be a powerhouse nor is the Jazz a performance car. For outright performance, Honda has plenty of DOHC and VTEC/iVTEC engined models; Integra Type-R, S2000, and the NSX-R just to name a few.
In terms of specifications, the L13A is a slightly undersquare design and spec'ed for a max power of 83ps at 5700rpm. Redline is at 6000rpm while max torque is 119Nm which comes in at a low 2800rpm (partially due to the 8V design). For Malaysia's Jazz, the L13A is mated to a CVT gearbox and this should contribute to very preppy performance based on personal experience. It is also equipped with an Electrical Power Steering system which uses an electrically driven servo motor for power steering assist instead of the hydraulics driven power steering pump. The actual objective of EPS is so that steering assist can be finely controlled - light steering at stationary and low speeds, heavier steering at higher speeds and also the amount of steering is independently variable (not linearly variable) according to vehicle speed. In operation, an EPS system also has the advantage that it can deliver just the required amount of assist and so does not have power wastage and additionally doesn't suck power from the engine for its operation.
The combination of CVT gearbox and EPS is important to the performance of the Jazz. Honda's CVT gearbox (Multimatic in Japan) uses only 1 viscous coupler and no torque-converter. This means it has way lower power losses than a conventional torque converter equipped automaic gearbox. Combined with the EPS system, the actual power available at the wheels for the Jazz can actually be almost as good as that from a manual gearbox but with the superior driving ease of an automatic. This means the traditional method of pre-judging the 'go' of the Jazz using its specified max power of 'only' 83ps is most definitely going to be a wrong one based on lack of experience !
I have ample experience with (and extremely high regards) for the Multimatic gearbox, which is what the Jazz's CVT gearbox is called in Japan. So I was really expecting good things from this review and the Jazz didn't dissapoint ! To me, any test of performance must take into account the original design objectives of the vehicle. In this case, the Jazz is meant to be an all-rounder, not an all-out performance car. So we must cater for this in our expectations from the Jazz when it comes to its performance. I've often wrote that if I really expect top-notch performance from the Honda I am test-reviewing, I would be chosing a proper performance model. Honda actually has plenty of them - most with the legendary R suffix ! So here I want to emphasize again that what I am test-reviewing is the Jazz.
Immediately upon taking 'delivery' of the Jazz, I took a route which got me into one of the most hilly part of K.L. (the Bangsar/Pantai area for readers from Malaysia). With two adults, the Jazz performed very well here. Some of the slopes that I had to take must have approached 30 degrees at many places and to compound the difficulty, there are many speed-breakers even up-hill. A CVT gearbox is perfect for such roads because we are able to select (via throttle position) just the right gear-ratio for a smooth climb up the road. Bearing in mind the L13A is 'only' 1.4l and 83ps, I approached the first speed breaker, placed right in the middle of a long up-hill climb, slowed to clear it and then simply applied increasing pressure on the throttle. The CVT gearbox responded by increasing the effective gear-ratio (with engine revs increasing correspondingly) and the Jazz simply clears the hump and surges uphill without any fuss - with two adults in the car.
On the next day, I drove the Jazz to my usual saturday afternoon meet-up with my group of buddies and subsequently volunteered to drive them out for a drink. With four adults in the car and again going up-hill, it was again relatively easy for the Jazz - not more than half-throttle was needed to get out from a junction to merge into main-road traffic (going up-hill) and thereafter, I would say around 15-20% throttle to maintain about 60-70kph going up a road with maybe a incline of 15-20 degrees. Even when we got caught behind a van struggling up the hill, I was able to coast slowly behind it (the road has double lines forbidding overtaking) with only partial throttle and the engine sounding smooth,quiet and relaxed.
For normal driving, I think Honda intentionally re-designed the operating characteristic of the Jazz's CVT to give it very preppy performance for general driving around town and for highway travel. In terms of partial throttle operations, the Jazz behaves much like the 1.7l Civic RX that I reviewed recently and thus like the typical 'continental' car. When cruising at light throttle positions, the CVT endaevours to hold engine revs around 2500rpm irregardless of speed. When the throttle is gently squeezed (not WOT), the engine-CVT responds by increasing the engine revs up to ~4000rpm. The L13A has a torque peak around this rpm region (2000-4000rpm, peak torque is at 2800rpm). So any stab at the throttle will produce a pleasing surge from the Jazz. One unusual characteristic of the CVT gearbox that I couldn't get used to was it holding the revs up for a short period upon applying throttle pressure, even after easing off the throttle. I think this behaviour is so that if throttle pressure is applied again immediately after the initial easing-off, the car will surge forward again, giving practically instantaneous throttle response. Of course if throttle pressure continues to be eased, the revs will eventually drop back down, but only after a period of a few seconds. The down-side is the engine braking effect during this 'holding' period becomes quite over-pronounced due to the higher than normal gear-ratio that is maintained.
With the assurance that the Jazz performs very well (for its design objectives) for normal driving - even in relatively demanding conditions - it's time to check out the performance limits of the Jazz. This is of course intimately tied to its showing under WOT conditions. Here, I found that Honda has also changed the operational characteristic of the CVT/Multimatic gearbox somewhat. Now, bear in mind what I wrote above about expectations above - the Jazz is not a performance car !
On Multimatic Civics, WOT immediately brings engine revs up to red-line afterwhich the car surges forward. This gives the highest possible acceleration for whatever speed the car is travelling at but has the downside that there's a noticeable delay between when the throttle is floored and when the car surges forward. With the Jazz's CVT, WOT will bring the engine revs up to only 4,000rpm afterwhich it is fixed at that rpm and the car surges forward. This has the advantage of giving the car more immediate response to throttle input but compromises the ultimate acceleration. This happens in both D-mode and S-mode. The car surges forward and easily reaches up to 100-110kph without much effort. The typical overtaking manuevre is well taken care off with this since it will typically involve overtaking a slower moving vehicle which would be travelling at maybe 50-60kph and should be completed with the car reaching around 110-120kph. Thus engine revs would have been at ~4000rpm for the whole maneuvre. However, if we continue to hold WOT after the Jazz has reached 110-120kph, the engine revs starts to climb again, with the car still accelerating. So now the CVT is partially transmitting drive to the front wheels and partially slipping the gear-ratios to allow engine rpm to climb faster. In D-mode, the revs reaches 5000-5500rpm while in S-mode, it reaches 6000rpm. Once at the respectively 'red-line', the revs holds steady there and the car surges forward again.
The WOT driving experience that this operational characteristic gives is rather unusual. Upon WOT the Jazz surges forward, picking up speeds with an effort that belies the 1.4l engine size. Once it has reached around 110kph, the car now seems to run of out of 'steam'. It's as if the engine has reached a flat-spot with acceleration slowing down significantly - the car hardly seems to increase speed anymore. Meanwhile the engine revs is climbing. This is due to two factors. First is the fact that the CVT gearbox is now slipping the gear ratio and so is transferring only partial drive to the front wheels. Secondly, the peak torque point of the L13A is at 2800rpm so by 4000rpm and after, the torque curve is dipping downwards. So the effective 'drive' at the front wheels will be dropping very quickly. Humans are very sensitive to relative changes, so from the relatively good pickup when engine revs were fixed at 4000rpm to now where pickup slow-down drastically, the sense of 'running out of breath' is quite pronounced. Now if we continue to maintain WOT, engine revs eventually reaches 6000rpm (in S-mode) and the Jazz suddenly surges forward again. Again from having only partial drive at the front wheels, now all available engine torque will be transmitted to the front wheels and via the maximum possible gear-ratio (since engine revs is fixed at 6000rpm). So now it's as if the engine has suddenly found a 'second wind'. The speed would be around 130kph and the Jazz would now be running with near max-power (83ps) and highest possible gear-ratio with full drive to the front wheels. So once having reached this '2nd wind', the Jazz's acceleration picks up nicely again. In practise, Honda fans who are used to the constant relentless pull that is a characteristic of Honda engines, especially those with VTEC, will be dissapointed once speeds exceeds 100kph. Indeed most casual non-enthusiasts will even ease off the throttle after 120kph (and no doubt quite a few will even complain of 'lack of power' due to this characteristic). But those who presevere would be rewarded with the '2nd wind' once engine revs reaches 6000rpm where acceleration would be quite pleasing again. Detractors will of course quickly put-down the Jazz as having "no power" once it is in the 110-130kph zone. This is not accurate of course, it's just an operational characteristic of the Jazz. Remember, the Jazz is not a performance car so the initial midrange pick-up is more important than relentless acceleration. In addition, the national speed limit is at 110-120kph and this holds true in most countries other than in the legendary Autobahns.
Because of this, 'extended' overtaking popular with Honda enthusiasts (where we overtakes several vehicles in one go) or overtaking in tight conditions (small gaps between incoming traffic or overtaking uphill) can be relatively unsatisfactory. Also highway 'chases' where we want to follow another car at high speeds. This is because the 'virtual flat spot' in pick-up is at 100-130kph which especially for a high-speed 'chase' is unfortunately quite awkwardly placed. As an good illustration, in one case I was tailgated by a Volvo during an entry into a highway. As it was a 9-series model, I knew it would be futile to block its way. Still I have rather low tolerance for such annoying things so it occured to me that this would be a good first test of the absolute performance of the Jazz. Yes, there is no way the Jazz is going to keep up with the Volvo, but how badly is it going to fare ? Upon entering the highway, I kept on the middle lane and let the Volvo pass with the idea of chasing it from behind, to see how far the Jazz can keep-up/get left-behind the accelerating Volvo. In the distance a lorry was speeding very fast but I swerve out anyway. At WOT, the Jazz kept up pretty well - the Volvo was only slowly leaving me behind. Unfortunately 100kph quickly came up and I hit the 'flat-spot' (where engine rpm starts to climb from 4000 to 6000rpm) causing the initial pickup to slow drastically. Indeed the slowing in pickup was drastic enough that now the speeding lorry actually caught up with me and it proceeded to tail-gate me ! Engine revs hits 6000rpm and the Jazz's '2nd wind' cut in and I quickly left the lorry behind. However in the meantime, the Volvo had already dissapeared into the traffic up ahead !
So the WOT operating characteristic of the Jazz's CVT gearbox is clearly designed to allow easy overtaking for normal circumstances - to overtake just that 1 car ahead or for merging into general highway traffic travelling at legal speeds. But for those 'extended' multi-car overtaking maneuvres popular with Honda enthusiasts, a bit of planning and preview of the existing traffic conditions will be necessary. And while its high-speed performance is not embarassing, it will still not fare too well in a high-speed 'chase' - the Jazz will get left behind once it reaches the 'flat-spot' between ~100-130kph and by the time the '2nd wind' cuts in, the 'chase' will probably be over (and lost)!
While at the topic of the Jazz's highway/expressway performance, my test of the Jazz's high-speed ability involved taking the expressway for a seafood lunch on a saturday afternoon. I wanted to test two things: how the Jazz handles highway speeds and how fast I can push the Jazz without taking undue risks. Our national highway speed limit is 110kph with a 10kph 'allowance'. However, some parts will have a lower limit of 80 or 90kph. So I tested the Jazz's cruising performance at 90, 100, 110, and 120kph. The Jazz passed with flying colours here. To my surprise, it was very difficult to keep the Jazz below 90kph. I had to make a very concious effort to maintain tension on my feet in order to keep the throttle pressure light enough so the Jazz won't creep above 90kph. Trying to maintain a steady 80kph was really tiring on the feet. 100kph was much easier however. The best cruising speed for the Jazz was actually around 110kph where I could rest the right foot lightly on the throttle, which indirectly maintained sufficient pressure to keep the Jazz at that speed. I also tried to cruise at 130-140kph for short periods of time and it was relatively OK and just only partial throttle is needed. I had initially expected to be cruising in the middle lane but in the end actually had to spend most of the time in the fast overtaking lane because the most comfortable cruising speed for the Jazz is a bit faster than what the general traffic was moving at in the middle lane. In the short spurts of high-speed tests, I could easily reach 165kph with just a couple of km of straight road, even when the road was up-hill, and again with 2 adults in the car. I could have went even higher but I had conciously decided beforehand to do the high speed test without 'undue risks' so I only tested at the straight sections which were at most 2-3km long, braking back down to below 120kph once the road turns. In any case, my original intention was not to exceed 180kph - a speed I have no doubts the Jazz will reach if I had decided to push hard. I do not like to drive at very high speeds on public highways even in my Integra because of the obvious dangers inherent at such speeds.
Coming away from pure straight-line speed to handling, I feel the Jazz's springs to be a bit soft but with hard absorbers. This combines to give the Jazz a rather firm ride but which can be a little bit 'bouncy' on very badly uneven roads. I also found the Jazz's rather high stance to be a bit hairy at high speed cornering (>120kph). The car felt stable no doubt and the suspension is firm enough so as not to lean too much but still I did not feel 100% confident in exceeding much above 120kph for high-speed turns. Flicking the Jazz left and right quickly at low speeds was also handled well with little body roll. The firmness of the shocks helps here but I really feel the springs are too soft. In one tight corner, I got caught by a big depression on the road and the shocks actually bottomed (hit the bump stops) ! Despite that, the Jazz still took the corner without drama. The turning circle of the Jazz was exemplary though and I could do tight U-turns at traffic lights into a 2 lane road which would tax the typical medium sized sedan without any effort.I think I have described the Jazz's performance pretty comprehensively. I have been trying my best to clinically describe the Jazz's performance without any judgement so that readers can have a clear & accurate picture but here if I might close by giving a personal evaluation, I think I can honestly say that while the Jazz may be powered by 'only' a 1.4l engine, in terms of normal driving performance - for in town driving, or for highway travelling at around legal speeds - it drives as well as a typical 1.6l auto ! This view is fully concured by a Jazz owner from my club who uses it as his family car. And for those who are wondering, his 'fast car' is an EG-Civic with a B18C Spec-R.
The Jazz is equipped with a fuel consumption computer which displays fuel consumption in km/l. This computer is called up via the trip-meter, pressing the trip button will toggle between a trip mode, cummulative mileage and the fuel computer display. By holding the trip button, both the trip measurement and the consumption computation are reset to zero. The ECU knows exactly how much fuel has been fed into the engine of course since the injectors are under its direct & total control. So it's simple to calculate the average 'trip consumption' by dividing the accumulated trip mileage by the amount of fuel it has fed into the engine during the same interval. Reseting the trip counter will also involve reseting the amount of fuel fed to zero and the consumption computation can be redone again for the new 'trip'.
The L13A engine is focussed almost totally for fuel economy so I spent some time checking the Jazz's fuel consumption using the supplied computer. Well, one thing I can confirm is that the Jazz can really acheive fuel economy of 20km/l and above - at least according to the onboard computer. The first time I used the computer, I travelled in a highway with quite heavy but smooth flowing traffic (the Federal Highway on a non-working saturday morning, for readers from Malaysia). The general cruising speed was a constant 70-80kph with very little braking required. When I finally exited the highway (about a 8-10km drive), the fuel computer was reading 21km/l !! This of course quickly fell once I was in the stop & go traffic outside the highway but I was still surprised that even after several hours of such travel, the fuel computer was still reading between 13-14km/l !!
During the expressway 'high-speed test', the fuel computer showed between 14-18km/l depending on the speed I was cruising at (I reset the computer everytime I changed the cruising speed). But even after several high speed sprints (up to 160kph & beyond) the computer still did not dip below 13km/l !! Actually the only time I dipped below 13km/l (to as low as 10km/l) was unexpected when I was letting the car idle for a very long period of time (while chatting with a friend). It of course is logical - at idle, the engine is constantly running, consuming petrol but the car is not moving at all, so the effective average fuel economy starts to drop. The fuel computer reminded me of many logical but often overlooked habits with regards to driving economically. Idling for too long of course wastes petrol but another petrol-wasting habit is driving too slow. There is an optimum speed range where the car cruises with very minimal throttle pressure. When we are in this range, fuel consumptions can reach and exceed 20km/l as proven above. But below this speed, fuel economy does not necessarily improve as the car is operating below its optimum condition. When dilly-dallying on the road, or when stuck in a slow moving trffic jam, I found fuel consumptions to be around 'only' 14-16km/l instead.
For normal in-town driving, amongst steady-moving moderately-heavy traffic, e.g. a working day rush-hour traffic (part traffic jam, part moving traffic) and normal weekend traffic (moderately sparse traffic moving steadily at 80kph or so), the fuel economy I acheived was consistently above 15km/l, very good result indeed.
I also briefly tested the Jazz with 1 fill-up (around 30 litres) of RON92 petrol (the Jazz is officialy spec'ed for RON91 petrol) instead of RON97 which I was using. The Jazz basically run fine with the RON92 petrol. With RON97, the engine was just a tad smoother but I think 99% of owners will never notice this trivial difference.
Just as with the CR-V, when it came time for me to return the Jazz to Honda Malaysia, I had grown very fond of it. Now, even a few months after returning it, I still miss the Jazz's unique blend of flexible utility and preppy performance. While it's nowhere near my Integra in absolute performance (it's also much slower than the EK3 Civic which I have to remind readers has 55% more power), it was still a lot of fun to drive.
For the Japan Domestic Market, Honda also markets the Fit 1.5T which uses a 1.5l VTEC iDSI engine with 110ps and a CVT with the 7-speed mode as found on the new City. This version is also being sold in many export markets; Australia, U.K., etc so I am now eagerly looking forward to Honda Malaysia bringing that in for sale here in Malaysia. In the meantime, for those who knows how to value the Jazz for it's unique strengths, bearing in mind that it's fully imported and made in Japan, this 1.4l version is highly recommended. Indeed many of the members of my club who are driving high performance sports coupes (like the EP3 Civic Type-R) are now buying this 1.4l Jazz for their family car.
© Temple of VTEC Asia
My thanks to Honda Malaysia for the loan of this great car for test-review.