Several years ago, Honda launched a hatchback in India. It was called the Jazz, and it was a very nice car indeed – it was spacious, it looked great and it was really practical. The media drive was held in Goa, right at the beginning of the monsoon, and everyone who drove the car was confident that Honda had a winner on its hands. Shortly thereafter, its price was announced, and it would be an understatement to say that Honda took a shotgun to both its feet – the car cost more than some sedans, and predictably it didn’t fly off the shelves. In another self-goal, Honda later slashed prices dramatically, which led to a spurt in sales but which simultaneously pissed off those buyers who had paid full price – it was a bit of a fiasco all around, to sum things up.
Fast forward a few years and I found myself in a déjà vu situation – another Jazz and another media drive in Goa, in the rains. To begin proceedings, I thought that as an evolution in design, it was attractive enough – but it wasn’t quite as unique looking as its predecessor, which is still memorable. I had thought this a couple of years ago, when I first saw the new Jazz in Japan, and my view remained – the new car was very much in keeping with Honda’s current design philosophy, which meant that it was a sort of amalgamation of the Honda City at the front and the Honda Mobilio in profile. It will certainly get you attention on the road, especially in a new shade of orange that Honda has come up with, and there’s enough chrome on the outside to keep the average Indian buyer happy.
The old Jazz’s cabin had been a thing of wonder, because you could move the rear seats around in a variety of ways to create a ton of storage space. You can still do that in this car, but in the top-end variants only, which is a bit of a mystery – surely peoplewith less money to spend have unique cargo needs? On the plus side, the front passenger seat’s backrest now reclines completely flat, meaning that you can literally put your legs up and relax in the back seat – which also has an adjustable backrest angle. This is undoubtedly the largest cabin in its class, with plenty of head, elbow and leg room. Better under-thigh support would have been welcome, though, and I personally found the rear cabin’s floor (which slopes upwards, to accommodate the fuel tank just ahead) a tad uncomfortable over a long drive. That aside, there’s little room for complaint with the rather City-like cabin – you get touchscreen infotainment (the lower-end models have a smaller, dial-operated screen), a touch-operated panel for climate control, a whopping nine cup-holders, steering-mounted controls for audio and phone functions and a host of other stuff.
Crucially, you will now have the option of a diesel-powered Jazz – the same 1.5-litre unit from the City and Amaze sedans does duty here, with 98.6 bhp and 20.3 kgm on offer. It’s a tried-and-tested powerplant, and in the Jazz it provides the same low-end useability that it does in the other two cars. It’s a little noisy, however, and you’d be best off not revving this engine too hard, since it’s quite happy operating under its 4000 rpm red line – it’s a relaxed unit and acquits itself well with regard to highway cruising. For those who absolutely must have petrol, a 1.2-litre engine with 89 bhp and 11.2 kgm of torque is on offer, with both manual and CVT transmission options. The CVT is an absolute boon in city conditions but struggles on highway runs, although using the paddle shifters livens matters up; the manual transmission is the most fun of the entire lot. Dynamically, the Jazz is about as middle-of-the-road as you can get – it feels stable at higher speeds, feedback from its steering wheel is adequate, it handles all but the most vicious potholes competently and it’s very easy to pilot in pretty much any conditions. Should you buy one? The answer has to be a fairly enthusiastic ‘yes’, especially if space is of primary importance. Don’t worry about sticker shock, either – Honda has learnt its lesson, and my bet is that the new Jazz will go head to head with Hyundai’s i20, when its price is announced by the time you read this.