The rivalry in the SA supermini market has become more intense with the launch of Honda’s cheeky Jazz, which features a versatile “magic seat” that may just give the Renault Clio and Citroën C3 the blues.

The rivalry in the SA supermini market has become more intense with the launch of Honda’s cheeky Jazz, which features a versatile “magic seat” that may just give the Renault Clio and Citroën C3 the blues.

The little Japanese car, known as the Fit in Japan, has a distinctive look with its short, stubby nose and bulbous teardrop-shaped headlights. The windscreen is huge and steeply raked and the blacked-out B and C-pillars create an impression of sleekness.

According to Honda, the car has similar exterior dimensions to class rivals, but has the interior dimensions of a vehicle a class bigger.

It’s all about space and there’s plenty of that in the Jazz. Honda says the Jazz epitomises the brand’s “man maximum, machine minimum” engineering philosophy, and departs from the conventional compact car design blueprint in a few ways. The manufacturer has moved the fuel tank to under the front seats to create a lower and flatter floor, making space for the “magic seat”.

The Jazz has the normal 60/40 split rear seat, but the “magic seat” allows the rear to be transformed into a compartmentalised van-like load area, rather than just turning it into a hatch with a flat, but high floor. There are so many variations to the seating that it can be transformed from city car to shopping transporter within seconds with the aid of handy little levers.

The rear seat cushions can be pushed up individually against the backrests, creating a tall load area (measuring 1 280 mm from floor to ceiling) between the front and rear seats completely separate from the conventional luggage. The rear seats can also be folded down to create one huge loading area.

Honda says there is 353 litres of boot space under a roller-type tonneau cover, with the possibility to increase that to a maximum 1 323 litres of luggage volume, with a 1 720 mm fore/aft measurement for exceptionally long loads.

The dashboard layout looks sporty with buff chrome finishes on the facia, chunky controls that are easy to reach and use, and bold instrument markings.

Air conditioning, remote central locking, integrated sound system with CD frontloader, electrically adjustable mirrors, electric windows all round are standard. The driver’s seat and steering column are also height adjustable. Including the cupholders (one of which is occupied by a removable ashtray), there are nine distinct storage areas in the cabin - excluding the space under the rear seats.

Safety-wise, Honda says the bodyshell has twice the torsional rigidity of its predecessor (the Logo). The centrally-mounted fuel tank is protected on all sides by additional structures. Dual airbags are standard on South African spec cars.

The Jazz is powered by a 1,4-litre four-cylinder engine with Intelligent Dual Spark Plug Sequential Ignition (i-DSi) technology originally developed for the Insight hybrid car. It is mated to a five-speed manual transmission.

It has figures of 61 kW and 119 N.m and Honda claims an overall fuel consumption of 5,7 litres per 100 kilometres on an urban cycle. Top speed is a claimed 170 km/h and 0-100 km/h is reached in 12 seconds.

The manufacturer also claims that the peak torque of 119 N.m arrives at 2 800 r/min. Drive is to the front wheels via a five-speed manual transmission.

“The Jazz is a modern car for modern needs, and it is going to bring an unprecedented level of flexibility to compact motoring,” says Honda’s automobile division manager, Graham Eagle.

It is priced at R129 900.

Will the Jazz have the right notes?

A road test of the Honda Jazz will appear in the June issue of CAR magazine.