Road Test - And all that JAZZ!

Honda’s nippy little Jazz is bursting with amazing features and has oodles of space. It’s well made and lots of fun to drive too.

There are two major features of the Honda Jazz DSI CVT that are definitely worth mentioning. First is its exceptionally efficient use of space, and the second is the transmission. Starting at the front end, the short, angled bonnet hides a very compact transverse 1.4 litre direct-injection petrol engine that drives the front wheels. This leaves the rest of the chassis free for passenger and luggage storage. There is a fairly huge amount of space for this, despite the car’s relatively small footprint. It’s a spacious car that doesn’t take up a lot of space.

The rear passenger seating defies logic in its versatility. Not only do the two backrests fold forward and down to a nice flat packing surface, but the seats can also fold upward and back to provide a deep, broad space behind the front seats for large, tall objects like big pot plants. And that still leaves the rear ‘boot’ space available which can be packed to the ‘ceiling’ of the passenger cabin.

All that low-slung space makes you wonder where the Honda designers hid the fuel tank… It’s actually stowed beneath the front seat area.

The other big feature I like about this particular Jazz is its CVT transmission. The acronym stands for Constant Velocity Transmission, Honda’s idea of an automatic gearbox with brains. It’s supposed to keep the engine revs at a constant rate even while accelerating, and it manages to do this quite easily on a level road. Firstly, the standard D (Drive) Mode has seven forward speeds that enable the Jazz to accelerate comfortably without that rising crescendo of engine rev noise and the slight push in the back during gear changes. In fact, with a conservative foot on the accelerator, the car merely hums a constant engine note as it accelerates to cruising speed. You have to be patient, though. It’s only a 1400 after all. If things are happening too sedately, you might be inclined to boot the metal a little harder. That chucks the quiet constant velocity feature out the window and the Jazz becomes a regular revving auto again.

The S (Sport) Mode simply lets the CVT box rev higher between shifts, while the L (Low) Mode locks the box in a low ratio. The 7-speed (manual shift) Mode is available in D and S modes, and is activated by an M button on the steering wheel. In this mode, the driver changes gear using F1-style paddles slightly behind the steering wheel. The right paddle changes up; the left changes down. There’s a certain thrill in seeing the number ‘7’ digit in the gear indicator display.

It’s an idiot-proof system. If you forget to change up while accelerating, the computer will do it for you each time the engine revs hit the red line limit, all the way up to seventh. And if you forget to shift down when slowing, the computer automatically resets the box to 2nd when you eventually stop. Pressing the M button or moving the gear lever instantly disengages manual shift mode.

The Jazz is certainly easy to drive and will happily harvest speeding fines if you really want some. But don’t expect fireworks in the top-speed and sporty-handling departments. It’s not that kind of car. The Jazz is more a shuttle-the-kids or dogs-to-the-vet kind of car.

Access into the Jazz is good. The driver seat height is adjustable and passenger seats are within comfortable range for wheelchair transfer. The open rear cargo door will require a nylon strap loop to enable a wheelchair user to pull it down within reach for closing.

It’s got a rather good sound system with very handy radio channel and volume repeater controls on the steering wheel. The aircon is reasonable; there are front airbags and a dual level cubby hole. All windows and outside mirrors are electrically operated. The interior rear-view mirror seems a bit small, though. This particular version of the Jazz is fitted with beautiful 15-inch alloy rims shod with 185x55 Bridgestones. The spare wheel, located under the floor of the boot, is a bar top coaster! All in all, it’s a capable, versatile, vehicle of superior quality at an attractive price. The Honda Jazz 1.4 i-DSI CVT retails for R142 600.00.

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