By: Graham Eagle
Having earned accolades such as “the most left-brain vehicle in the segment” and “the smartest B-segment hatchback ever” – yes, those are actual things – the Honda Jazz has chiselled a strong reputation for itself. With global sales exceeding five million vehicles, its rational appeal is unquestioned but with the new model, Honda has focussed on improving its more emotive attributes – styling, driving performance and technology – to further expand its appeal.
Honda SA reckoned the changes justified a new name and decided on Honda Fit – the name already used in other markets like the US. The recent press launch provided us with the opportunity to confirm whether the new vehicle delivers in line with that promise.
Honda was never going to deviate from the established configuration which maximises interior space and versatility, meaning that the characteristic monoform profile is retained. That said, a forward leaning tailgate and D-pillar have addressed the boxy look of the rear-end, while the lower roofline and larger, horizontal taillight clusters make the vehicle appear much wider than before. Up front, the short bonnet rolls down neatly to the slim grille aperture while the prominent headlamps include wide U-shaped daytime-running lights. Stylish 16-inch alloy wheels come fitted to all.
Settling into the supportive driver’s seat, first impressions are of space and airiness, emphasised by the uncluttered sweep of the new flat-topped dash which features a seven-inch TFT instrument cluster and soft-touch materials on the cabin-facing surfaces. This is complimented by the same two-spoke steering wheel fitted to the Honda e electric vehicle which has a pleasing, quality feel and includes menu controls for the instrument cluster. A nine-inch central touchscreen infotainment system, fitted to all but the entry Comfort grade, is both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible with connection via wireless or the four USB ports front and rear. Sensibly, Honda has reverted to easy-to-reach control knobs for volume and ventilation controls, as opposed to touchscreen buttons.
A Jazz signature, the unique rear Magic Seat configuration is retained, providing more rear legroom and load space than many larger crossover vehicles.
The primary drivetrain is a new 1,5-litre DOHC VTEC petrol engine, an evolution of the previous engine, offering a broader torque curve and improved fuel efficiency. Combined with CVT only, it is offered in Comfort, Elegance and Executive trim. Marking Honda’s re-entry into the hybrid market, the e:HEV range-topping model adds the Honda Sensing suite of safety features which includes adaptive-cruise control, collision-mitigating braking along with lane-keep assist and road-departure warning.
The new e:HEV hybrid drivetrain features a 1,5 petrol engine combined with two electric motors – one acting as a generator and the other as the drive motor – and a lithium-ion battery, all controlled by an intelligent power controller. Depending on driver demand and road conditions, it seamlessly switches between EV Drive and Hybrid Drive, with the engine driving the generator which powers the traction motor, and lastly Engine Drive, where the engine connects directly to the driven wheels via a single-speed transmission. The battery is recharged by the generator that’s driven by the engine or through regenerative braking.
Driving rain and strong winds on the launch drive kept speeds in check but highlighted the abilities of both 1,5 Elegance and e:HEV models in difficult conditions. Improved visibility provided by slimmer A-pillars was quickly confirmed, while responsive steering allowed precise corrections in gusting crosswinds. Overall noise levels and refinement were up with the best in class, while ride quality and bump absorption on rough road surfaces was particularly impressive.
The improved 1,5 engine/CVT combination provided class-competitive performance; with careful use of the throttle allowing brisk acceleration while limiting CVT drone. With its electric motor providing instant torque, the e:HEV was responsive, operating near-silently in EV mode in low-speed traffic. As speed increased and more acceleration was required, the petrol engine seamlessly engaged to generate additional urge, while at highway speeds the drivetrain felt entirely conventional with the engine running continuously.
So, is the new Honda Fit indeed fit for purpose? Despite only a brief acquaintance, we would say most definitely. It retains its practicality, offers built-in-Japan quality and is more rewarding to drive, while claimed consumption of 3,70 L/100km provides the e:HEV with a strong case for consideration.
HONDA FIT PRICING:
1.5 DOHC i-VTEC Comfort CVT – R319 900
1.5 DOHC i-VTEC Elegance CVT – R359 900
1.5 DOHC i-VTEC Executive CVT – R389 900
1.5 DOHC i-MMD e-CVT Hybrid – R469 900
All prices include VAT as well as a four-year/60 000km Service Plan.