Road Impressions – Honda Jazz Sport

The business of motor makers is to sell cars. This we know. In order to do that, they use emotive wording such as ‘Sport’ as a descriptor to entice and intrigue buyers; a word often misused in auto marketing efforts and one that potentially can turn around to bite them in the rear.

The Honda Jazz is something of an enigma on the local market. It has been around for quite a few years and comes with the enviable Honda ethos of superior build quality, refinement and reliability – yet, where it should have been a shoe-in for corporate fleets as well as company car and allowance buyers, it just never quite cracked the nod.

Admittedly, not being a local manufacturer meant Honda South Africa was fully immersed in the currency game, trying to dodge the effects of a devaluing Rand and keep its pricing competitive. Not an easy task.

The Jazz then became a favourite among female buyers, particularly private buyers, because of all those good traits – but it also began to get the reputation of being a ‘girly’ car.

Enter the Jazz Sport.

Known as the Jazz/Fit RS in some markets it is the car that was popularised in the Gran Turismo 6 Video Game and gained an almost cult-like status in the process.

In South Africa, the Jazz Sport is the new flagship of the range, replacing the Dynamic derivatives and is powered by new engine, although available only with an upgraded, specially adapted Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT).

The Jazz Sport has a wider, lower stance thanks to substantial, aerodynamically inspired styling changes front and rear.

The new front-end of the Jazz Sport features a sleeker grille design with gloss piano black and chrome elements, framed by slim LED headlights with LED daytime running lights. Gloss-black exterior mirror housings are standard.

An all-new, sculpted front bumper is home to integrated fog lamps with black surrounds, while a new, more prominent front splitter with red pin striping adds further, Type R-inspired appeal.

The aerodynamic theme continues with smoothly sculpted sill extensions between the front and rear wheel arches, while the 16-inch Berlina black alloy wheels, shod with 185/50 R16 tyres, also serve to emphasise the Jazz Sport’s character.

The rear has also been reimagined with the addition of a bold rear spoiler, as well as a three-strake diffuser with an upper trim line mirroring the same red detailing as the front splitter.

The Jazz Sport’s black-hued cockpit has been revised to match the more extrovert exterior treatment.

The Type R-inspired red accent theme is carried over to the interior, encompassing red stitching on the seats, the console-mounted armrest and the leather-trimmed steering wheel.

Sport pedals are fitted as standard, while the upgraded audio system features six loudspeakers. Also reminiscent of the Type R is the pushbutton start system and smart, keyless entry system.

The ‘Magic Seat’ system remains a vital feature and is central to the Jazz’s space utilisation and overall versatility. The 359-litre boot can be extended to 889 litres by folding the split rear bench seat down.

As the new flagship of the range, the Jazz Sport features an extensive array of standard luxury, convenience and safety features. A new, soft-padded dashboard adds a touch of sophistication to the interior’s sporty aura.

Comprehensive instrumentation is augmented by a seven-inch touchscreen display that controls the infotainment system – including a CD receiver with six loudspeakers, Bluetooth-driven hands-free telephony and USB and HDMI connections. It is also linked to the rear-view camera.

Also standard are multifunction controls on the leather-trimmed steering wheel, a centre armrest, height-adjustable driver’s seat and electrically adjustable and folding exterior mirrors finished in gloss black.

The Jazz Sport is fitted with power windows front and rear, as well as cruise control, automatic air-conditioning, a tilt and reach-adjustable steering wheel and rear parking sensors as standard.

No question then that it looks the part, that is looks like it owns the ‘Sport’ descriptor.

The four-cylinder, dual overhead camshaft 1,5-litre engine is exclusive to this model in the Jazz line-up, and makes use of direct injection and intelligent variable valve timing and lift. Maximum power output is 97 kW at 6 600 r/min, with an accompanying torque peak of 155 Nm at 4 600 r/min.

Interestingly, the power output is identical to that of the Ballade 160i DOHC, 160E and CR-X performance models of the 1990s.

The retuned suspension with revised damper settings, a more rigid steering rack and additional body reinforcement result in a handling package that is more responsive without compromising comfort, while uprated braking system features rear discs instead of the drums fitted as standard to other Jazz models.

 Does it deserve the ‘Sport’ descriptor?

Let me deal with the negative first – I am not a fan of CVT gearboxes at all and certainly not in a car wanting to be a sporty performer. Modern auto box technology has moved so far, it is difficult to understand the corporate thinking behind this decision.

That said, it is a perky little thing and rushes about enthusiastically when asked to do so. For more serious press on motoring, drivers will probably (need to!) opt for manual mode using the paddles on the steering to get the best out of the car.

Moreover, it has much to offer – handling like a go-kart, it points accurately into corners and there is always the feeling it would really like to go much quicker. The tweaked suspension keeps all four wheels firmly planted even with rapid directional changes, while the rear disc brakes add a vital confidence factor to stopping the car from pace.

The Jazz Sport has anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution (EBD) as well as Emergency Stop Signal (ESS), Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA) and Hill Start Assist (HSA).

Passive safety is served by an Advanced Compatibility Engineering (ACE) body shell that ensures optimised crash safety and passenger safety cell integrity, augmented by six SRS air bags comprising front, side and curtain air bags.

The price tag includes a 5-year/200 000 km warranty and a 4-year/60 000 km service plan, as well as a three-year AA Roadside Assistance package. Services are at 15 000 km intervals.

The Jazz Sport is a lot of fun and I enjoyed my brief time with the car – just that CVT gearbox!

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