A revitalised Jazz range sees the addition of a derivative boasting the Sport badge, but just how athletic is it?
Honda can certainly lay claim to the “Sport” moniker. A multitude of motorsport podiums, generations of exhilarating Type Rs and sweet-handling cars such as the earlier Civics, CRXs and Preludes have garnered it fans across the globe, including a devoted chapter here in South Africa.
In recent years, however, there hasn’t been much for local Honda fans to get overly excited about. Beyond the previous- and current-generation Civic Type Rs – both of which would be outside the budget of most younger drivers – there hasn’t been an accessible performance model from the Japanese brand. It’s a sporty entry point to Honda that has clearly been missing in the local line-up and it’s one the Jazz Sport is attempting to step into. The Sport thus replaces the Dynamic at the top of the local Jazz range. What, then, does this little Jazz possess to earn that new moniker?
On the face of it, a fair amount. The Jazz Sport gets an extra 9 kW and 10 N.m from its new 1,5-litre, naturally aspirated unit (97 kW/155 N.m), a slightly fettled suspension with revised dampers, a more rigid steering rack, rear disc brakes (as opposed to the 200 mm drums on other Jazzes) and, most visibly, Type R-inspired body panels, which include fresh front and rear bumpers, as well as a boot spoiler and diffuser.
It certainly looks the part, but do the mechanical upgrades come to the party, too? Almost, but not quite; you’d be hard pressed to describe the Jazz Sport as a warm hatch, let alone a hot one. The main concern is the transmission, a CVT. Although Subaru may successfully argue the point, mating a continuously variable transmission to any engine – especially a small-capacity one – is never going to result in anything approaching performance motoring.
Certainly an improvement over the previous Jazz CVT offering, the revised system makes for smoother progress in slow-moving traffic. Mated with the reworked 1,5-litre, however, it does feel like it stifles the powertrain. Given that the Jazz Sport is available with a five-speed manual gearbox in foreign markets, it is odd that Honda SA has opted for the CVT.
During our performance testing, the Jazz Sport clocked a 0-100 km/h time of 9,62 seconds, 0,18 seconds quicker than Honda’s claimed figure. Reaching that time doesn’t provide much excitement, however, as most of the time you’re listening to the engine drone as the CVT pushes it into high revs.
Oddly enough, the improved braking system achieved an average 100-0 km/h time of 3,09 seconds, slightly worse than the figure posted by the Jazz 1,5 Dynamic we tested in our April 2015 issue (even though that vehicle was fitted with the same tyres and rear drums). That said, this figure is still good. Criticism of a lack of strong performance shouldn’t detract from what is still an excellent vehicle, though. The Jazz Sport remains a pleasurable drive and, at a cruise, the engine settles down and the ride remains comfortable, despite the suspension having been tweaked to match the racier outer appearance.
Inside, there are handy toys such as a large touchscreen infotainment system, plus a reverse-camera feed linked to parking sensors. An omission we did find odd was the lack of auto-on lights and wipers, a feature that has become common in flagship ranges in this segment.
As ever, though, where the Jazz trumps the segment is in its packaging, with an impressive 1 104 litres of utility space. A generous four-year/60 000 km service plan is a big plus, too.
This Jazz Sport is clearly an attempt to lure younger buyers into the brand by offering them a sporty hatch that does a lot with a little, much like the Honda CRX back in the 1990s. It's a decent value proposition because, in addition to the extra kit, this Sport retains the outgoing Dynamic's price while the revisions have resulted in a better car than the one it replaces.
Unfortunately, despite the mildly tweaked engine, revised suspension and racy body kit, the Sport doesn't quite live up to its billing as a warm hatch. It may look the part but the package is adversely affected by its transmission. The CVT blunts any performance advantage the extra power offers and it is a pity that the Jazz Sport is not available with the option of a manual 'box.
Ignore the badge and its pretensions, though, and you still have a very good car with excellent interior space.
As an aside, it's worth noting that Honda Jazzes have always been a favourite among the motoring press; it's been recognised that, when our peers do actually buy a car, more Jazz models have been purchased than any other vehicle. Indeed, five members of the CAR team have close relatives (wives, sisters, mothers, etc.) who currently own a previous-generation Jazz, and none of these five has given any trouble. How's that for a ringing endorsement?
*From the June 2018 issue of CAR magazine
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