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2016 Honda Jazz VTi long term review

By Byron Mathioudakis, 23 Mar 2016 Car Reviews

2016 Honda Jazz VTi long term review

Time to paint the town with Honda’s redesigned 2016 Jazz light hatchback

Hondas and I go back decades. Even when I was a kid, my favourite toy was a 1:43 scale Z360. In high school the original City and CRX played starring roles in my demented daydreams, while the uni years had me yearning for an NSX (while also quietly coveting the low bonnet line of the exquisite Prelude 4WS that won our 1987 Car of the Year award).

But now I’m over all the old Honda nostalgia. I’m tired of the inevitable disappointment when a new model is tested and doesn’t live up to expectations. I want to live in the here with a Honda. I want to move forward and make memories in the now.  

After the brilliant Kuga Trend TDCI long-termer loaded with advanced driver assistance tech, swapping into a base-model B-segment hatch is exactly what this inner-urban dweller craves. I cannot resist a clever city car. Like the Z360.

The third-generation Jazz is a gentle evolution of the revolutionary original. The famous rear “Magic Seats” and high roof remain, only now the wheelbase is some 30mm longer, the body’s been stretched 76mm and the torsion-beam rear end is more compact, all for an unprecedented 1492 litres of available space. As both humans in my household are cyclists and Romy the Labrador prefers a low floor to gingerly step into, everybody should be happy with the Jazz’s genius packaging.

Honda Jazz Rear

Infuriatingly for my desire to see Honda in a fresh and progressive new light, however, the preceding model’s rear discs give way to drums and the 88kW/145Nm 1.5 single-cam i-VTEC is unchanged. Honda NZ offers a 1.3 as well as an all-new direct-injection 97kW/155Nm 1.5 (with a six-speed ’box), so why can’t the local mob? Perhaps because ours come from Thailand instead of Japan.

At least the CVT transmission – in lieu of the standard five-speed manual ’box – is efficient enough to lop almost an entire litre off the official fuel consumption average (which is now 5.8L/100km).

In line with a complete redesign, much else has changed – a more aerodynamic body, a stronger yet 60kg lighter platform, overhauled electric steering and suspension – and the value equation has been improved. It may only be a base VTi, but our Jazz includes a reversing camera, modish touchscreen multimedia system, LED lighting, and integrated Bluetooth phone/audio streaming (at last) with 12-volt/USB/HDMI/MP4 outlets, six airbags, stability control, cruise control, reach and tilt adjustable steering, air-conditioning, a trip computer, electric windows and remote central locking.

Let’s see if the latest Jazz also comes with all that old-school-Hondas-are-better baggage. I have six months to find out.

UPDATE 1

Seems not everybody digs Jazz

No-one heard or saw anything, but it would have made a pretty loud noise judging by the damage left behind.

After just six weeks in my care, Honda’s new Jazz VTi suffered an underground car park hit-and-run. Since it involved the left-hand rear door and wheelarch, the damage wasn’t even discovered for at least a day. I was away on assignment, leaving my partner to haplessly chance upon the carnage. It’s the second dent-and-dash I’ve copped in as many years. What is the world coming to?

More importantly, this is the first blemish on my experience with 518-TXQ, for in the preceding weeks, Honda’s Thai-built hatch hadn’t put a wheel wrong. It still hasn’t.

The Jazz is already proving to be the most incredibly convenient car for the inner city since my long-departed Nissan Leaf long-termer, thanks to its tall, boxy shape and wide doors that allow for unencumbered entry and exit.

These attributes were comically underlined when my arachnophobic friend Iona, a sassy Scot not prone to suffering fools gladly, was sat comfortably in the middle-rear pew, admiring the general vastness of space the Honda is famous for ... until a huntsman casually crawled from the map pocket by her knee. Even before I could completely stop, she had scrambled over boyfriend William and was out of the car like a shot, screaming.

Honda Jazz Rear side panel damaged

She couldn’t have bolted from a small room any easier. Don’t worry, the spider was removed very gently.

Further urban-friendly virtues include a commanding driving position, light steering, a tight turning circle, great forward vision and that big centre screen for the crystal-clear reversing camera. The 175/65R15 tyres also manage to soak up your typical street blemishes effortlessly.

The combination of Honda’s 88kW/145Nm 1.5-litre single-cam four-pot petrol engine and new CVT transmission makes for lively step-off acceleration – ideal for rapid yet silky point-to-point commuting. This is backed up by robust fuel economy figures, especially considering the heavy suburban-traffic commuting the Honda has been subjected to.

However, even taking into account the Jazz’s youthful city-car runabout positioning, I could certainly live with much more steering weight and feel, a common observation with current Hondas.

Still, the whole household is mightily pleased with just how seamlessly the Jazz has slipped into our everyday lives, including Romy the Labrador Retriever, who happily steps onto the low floor afforded by the folded rear seat.

It may not be as endearing as my ’77 Civic, but the Jazz simply didn’t deserve the car-park pummelling it was subjected to.

UPDATE 2

Jazz hits a sour note again after yet another attack

Living in the city ain’t for the fainthearted, but two assaults in as many months would test anyone’s patience. And paranoia.

A fortnight after returning spotless from being repaired following a car park hit-and-run assault, 518-TXQ copped a sizeable scratch on the front-right mudguard. This time the perpetuator lost his load of piping as the Jazz ambled by a work site. So back to the panel-beater it goes.

In the three weeks between repair shop visits, the Honda undertook a couple of country runs to help it escape the inner-urban warfare.

Though I initially felt the front seats would be too flat to offer much support over longer journeys, they proved up to the task.

Indeed, as an open-road cruiser, the Jazz was unexpectedly adept, its engine working away quietly at the national limit with the tacho barely ticking over 2000rpm, aided by the standard-fit cruise control and a commanding view forward.

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Even the CVT continuously variable transmission – forever derided in every car it’s ever appeared in for droning endlessly at speed – responded quickly and with barely any flaring during overtaking manoeuvres. And there’s enough torque from the Jazz’s ageing 88kW/145Nm 1.5-litre single-cam i-VTEC petrol four to make country cruising relatively effortless.

On the other hand, the cruise control’s inability to maintain its set speed on inclines, some tyre noise over coarser bitumen, and an occasional propensity to sway a little during stronger crosswinds were the only real negatives.

Watching the overall fuel consumption average on the trip computer helps wile away the time, according to my 200cm-tall partner, who fits with space to spare behind the Jazz’s natty little wheel. One 410km round trip to Lake Bullen Merri in Western Victoria saw the amazingly accurate readout tumble 0.5L/100km to 6.3L/100km. Not bad for a boxy city runabout loaded with two geologists, their paraphernalia and subsequent (heavy) rock samples. Ah, yes, the rock lifestyle…

Along with the massive bicycle-friendly cavity that results from folding the rear seats down, one of my favourite features is the easy-to-use Bluetooth audio. Not only does it stream everything from Billie Holiday to Dizzee Rascal with no fuss, the system pairs seamlessly with my iPhone’s Siri voice interface to compose and send text messages completely handsfree. That’s another handy thing to pass those long road-trip hours while still watching the road ahead.

Maybe my particular Jazz would be happier living in the country. It’d certainly be safer from random mindless damage.

UPDATE 3

A voice of dissent in the league of keen drivers

Month four has been a tough one for my Jazz long-termer, though mercifully not because of any unexpected damage or breakdown. For a change.

The fact is, to look at, sit inside and drive, the Thai-built Honda supermini is the very opposite of a driving enthusiast’s car, and it is constantly berated for it. Every Wheels Magazine journalist who’s driven the latest Jazz has moaned about how fussy the styling has become, how lifeless the steering feels, how loud the suspension is, and how jittery the ride can be.

I can totally see what they mean. I always find myself ironing out the silly ugly creases in my mind’s eye, longing for more feel and precision behind the wheel, and wishing for a quieter and more supple chassis. And it’s not just after driving the latest Mazda 2 or Volkswagen Polo, either. Even old-timers like the Ford Fiesta and Suzuki Swift highlight the Honda’s dynamic deficiencies.

An extended drive along one of my favourite ride and handling test routes only magnified the deadness of the steering while at the same time exposing other issues, including poor wet-road braking on the eco-centric Bridgestone Turanza 175/65R15 tyres (or do we blame the switch from rear discs to drums?) and doors that actually flap in their frames over rougher surfaces.

Honda Jazz Interior

Whatever happened to the all-pervasive Honda engineering of the past?

Yet I remain a fan of my Jazz, reminding all the doubters of its world-leading packaging versatility, strong, smooth and efficient drivetrain, seamless around-town operation, decent air-con, excellent storage, superb all-round vision,  high resale, low running costs and – by no means least – incredible value for money.

To live with the Jazz is to really learn to appreciate its many plus points. After a long, hot day, you can just sit back and enjoy the sensory deprivation experience that is the effortless Honda’s forte. Like a dose of Panadeine Forte, soon the commute headache just fades into the distance. You don’t even notice the tyres droning or the busy ride after a while.

So, mindful of its disappointing dynamic limitations, I remain a lone voice when it comes to extolling the VTi’s virtues. 

PING THE DONKEY

If, like me, you’re prone to speeding without realising it, the Jazz’s initially annoying but now reassuring audible speed warning is a licence saver. I admit I can’t figure out how to switch it off, or change it from the 60km/h setting, and I won’t check the owner’s manual until I figure it out myself so the chime will most likely stay, but I don’t care. This annoying little gadget has saved me hundreds of dollars in fines already. Probably. Thanks, Jazzelle.

UPDATE 4

Modern family heads out in the ever-flexible, ever-practical Honda Jazz for the silly season

Santa could do worse than trade his sleigh for a Jazz. Wide doors, huge hatch opening, tall ceilings, cavernous cargo capacity, hardy plastic trim, easy manoeuvrability, diminutive exterior dimensions for tight city rooftop parking corners.

With the little hatch our main family transport over the Christmas break, the Jazz sure racked up the kays, including a 400km run to Apollo Bay chock-a-block full of a week and a half’s worth of food, bedding, bevvies and pressies – and that was just for the dog.

The so-called Magic Seats are the key to the Honda’s extraordinary flexibility. When recessed deep in the well that is the home for the fuel tank in every other rival (this is known as Utility Mode), the folded rear backrests turn the supermini into a pseudo panel van. Owners ought to be allowed to park these in Loading Zones. Or at least have access to Sandman-style curtains. Honda could make a mint offering a fitted futon bed on the options list.

Byron Mathioudakis sleeping back of Honda Jazz

Anyway, even when weighed down with all our holiday gear, the Jazz hummed along just fine, taking advantage of its ageing but still strong 1.5-litre single-cam i-VTEC’s plumpy torque spread, to provide suitably punchy performance, particularly when passing slower vehicles. And there are plenty of those at Christmas time. 

That it also averaged 6.7L/100km over the month of fairly hard driving with the excellent air-con blaring was an added bonus. But the truly unexpected benefit of the heavily burdened Honda was how planted it felt on the back roads around Dean’s Marsh. The extra mass over the wheels helped compress bumps a bit better while making the car less prone to crosswinds (a typical tallboy hatch catch).

But the flat seats, remote steering feel, rattly rear doors (over even mildly bumpy roads – what a disgrace, Honda) and omnipresent road drone didn’t take any holidays this season, undermining what could have been a brilliantly broad-spectrum supermini talent.

Byron holding Honda Jazz hub caps‘Rally speccing’ the Jazz makes it look a lot more butch, though we were surprised at just how flimsy the crappy wheel-covers are.

On the flipside, even five months in, we’re still impressed with just how much Jazz you get for your $16,990 – including the functional, fuel-efficient CVT transmission, panoramic reversing camera, cruise control and Bluetooth phone with audio streaming. No competitor offers more for the cash.

Which neatly brings us to what we learned about the Jazz during our Christmas break: it’s got the features, power and versatility to cut it as a little load-lugging panel van. If Santa owned one, he would probably call it Dasher.

MODE ABODE

You might already be aware that the Jazz’s rear cushions tilt up to provide a (somewhat useless) walk-through feature dubbed ‘Tall Mode’, but little is known about ‘Refresh Mode’ – where the front passenger seats are slid as far forward as possible with their headrests removed and the rear backrests reclined a few degrees. Wonder no longer. Here’s our narcoleptic stupormodel, Jinx Mathioudakis, demonstrating the Premium Economy-style lounging experience complete with his very own poof!

UPDATE 5

The Honda Jazz, the baby of the Japanese carmaker's line-up, has crept under Byron’s skin

To paraphrase the legendary Prince (via Sinead), as I write this, it’s been seven days and 15 hours since Honda took 518-TXQ away and, well, nothing compares to living with the latest Jazz.

Like an earworm, the Vivid Sky Blue Pearlescent VTi burrowed deep into my daily routine, and made itself so harmoniously useful there’s now a 4m x 1.7m x 1.52m gap in my existence.

This realisation dawned on me the moment a last-minute supermarket dash, just before dinner during a rainstorm in my inner-city suburb, highlighted how easy it all used to be. Usually, before even thinking about it, I’d be seated in the Jazz, unimpeded by the usual supermini obstacles like small doors and low roof, zipping to the shops and back in no time at all, aided by excellent vision, darty performance and a tiny turning circle. Once I did it inside the 5min 58sec duration of Blur’s Coffee & TV, as it was still playing on my return. Woo-hoo!

Not now, though. Compact and manoeuvrable most rivals might be, but now they all feel cramped and restricted, especially by their urban-unfriendly, modishly slot-like windows.

The point is, the Honda’s unique space-creating packaging has made it pretty much perfect for easy and effortless commuting. The Jazz was always our short-haul transport of choice, even when five of us needed to get somewhere quickly. And, as a makeshift panel van, those tuck-down ‘Magic Seats’ always surprised and delighted.

Likewise, the Honda impressed on the open road for its responsive performance, relatively unobtrusive CVT, leggy cruising ability, consistently low fuel consumption and comfortable front seats.

Honda Jazz side

In six months in my care, not a single item broke, rattled, failed or fell off, even after two unsolicited assaults from foreign objects waylaid it for a few weeks.

I can’t believe how much respect I have for 518-TXQ right now.

But love? The Jazz’s steering is too light and remote for that sort of intimate connection. Previously, I’ve also whinged about road noise intrusion on some highway surfaces, though after Wheels' supermini Megatest (Wheels, March 2015), the Jazz ain’t so bad, especially compared with the Mazda 2, Toyota Yaris and Holden Barina. Read the full small car comparison review here.

Of more concern is Honda’s decision to drop the previous models’ rear discs for drums. While no braking issues arose, consider that this company used to make taking the technological high road its mantra. Safety cost-cutting is a disgrace.

And that’s a curious thing because it’s not as if the Jazz is grudgingly equipped. Indeed, our $16,990 VTi CVT is staggeringly well specced, coming with a reversing camera, cruise control, Bluetooth telephone and audio streaming, a trip computer, audible speed warning, power windows all round, touchscreen multimedia system (albeit with annoyingly fiddly ‘capacitive touch’ for the volume), HDMI ports and two USB outlets.

Note, though, that the six-month servicing requirement rather than 12 might be an inconvenience for some.

In the final wash-up, the drum brakes sore point, along with the fact that the team at Wheels put a strong emphasis on dynamic capability and driving pleasure, means the latest Jazz would be a top buy for thousands of people, but not for me.

Honda Jazz front

What we have here is an outstanding-value everyday car for the realities of today. But Honda used to make outstanding premium vehicles for the dreamers of tomorrow. The world has changed and the company has adapted. At least there’s still enough differentiation in the Jazz to make it packaged like no other supermini. 

And that’s why I miss it. Rushing to finish this piece before darting out yet again to purchase the ingredients for dinner, nothing can chase away the blues I’m feeling now that my Jazz has gone away.

SHAKE THAT BODY

The project leader of the (Jazz-based) Honda HR-V, Naohisa Morishita, told Wheels the rear-door shaking we experienced testing our hatch over rougher surfaces might be an early Thai-build manufacturing defect affecting a small run, rather than an inherent issue. Claiming he’d never heard of such a thing, the worried engineering veteran promised to look into it immediately. If your Jazz’s back doors jingle over rough roads, our advice is to drop Honda a line straight away.

PRELUDE TO A REALITY CHECK

Buying and living with a halcyon-days Honda while testing the Jazz to see if it lives up to the brand’s 80s hype was misguided in hindsight, like trying to compare Beyonce with Like a Prayer era Madonna. However, that my ’89 Prelude auto feels slow, clunky and hard-riding compared to the VTi is shocking, since the former boasts double-wishbone suspension. As for the old four-wheel steering, it feels artificially gloopy and disconnectedly spooky. Still, the Prelude kicks arse for class.