Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the latest member of our long-term fleet – the Honda Jazz. Our golden-brown metallic Jazz is in ‘proper’ Honda spec, which means there’s no clattery diesel or dull CVT gearbox. This one’s got a petrol engine and a manual gearbox; just the way we like our Hondas. And the old Jazz was one Honda I really liked. I ran one for a couple of months in 2011 and liked it for being so different to everything else around. It had personality. It was practical yet seemed to have a frivolous side too. So, it’s not the Maruti Balenos and Hyundai i20s of the world, but the old Jazz is my benchmark for the new one.
I’ve driven this version of the Jazz several times before, but a long drive was what I needed to really acquaint myself with the car. So, on a rainy day, a friend and I decided to head towards the hill station of Matheran, just about 100km outside Mumbai.
Before I go any further, I should disclose that our Jazz is in the second-from-top ‘V’ trim which means it misses out on the flexible ‘magic’ rear seats and also a touchscreen infotainment system. The first I can live without — the Jazz’s boot is big as is — but the stock audio system just doesn’t do it for me. It’s not very intuitive to use (pairing and unpairing mobile phones should be a straightforward exercise, right?), and navigating through the menus via the rotary control knob isn’t as nice as it should be. A deep sound from the four-speaker setup would have helped change my opinion, but, unfortunately, that’s not the case either.
Anyway, with the audio system streaming ’70s rock from my phone playlist, we started out from Mumbai. A late departure meant we got caught in the thick of morning traffic; conditions I foresee our Jazz spending a lot of time in, in the days to come. Good then that the main controls are light to use; the chunky steering is easy to twirl, the clutch is well weighted and gearshifts don’t need much effort. The Jazz doesn’t need much prodding to close gaps in slow-moving traffic either. But when traffic starts opening up, the Jazz doesn’t cope quite as well. The 1.2-litre VTEC engine has a mediocre mid-range so overtaking other vehicles isn’t just a prod of the throttle pedal away. I found myself downshifting to a lower gear on multiple occasions to get by aggressively driven state transport buses and the like.
Out on the highway too, the Jazz always felt like it could do with a few more horses under the hood. But the Honda felt relatively planted when out cruising and there was a good sense of connect between the steering and front wheels. Just as well, because you need all the confidence in your car when traversing the rain-soaked Mumbai-Pune Expressway that hides pools of standing water like landmines. Off the main highways, the roads progressively disintegrate. The potholes got larger with each passing kilometre, with some big enough to test the Jazz’s ground clearance. But the Honda took things in its stride and soon enough we were at the base of the climb up to verdant Matheran.
It might not be very high up as hill stations go, but the ascent is steep. And it is the climb that once again highlighted the engine’s lack of zing at middle revs. I was forced to choose between tortoise-slow progress in a high gear or driving in a lower gear with the revs soaring.
The return leg was far nicer. We had to be delicate on the way down because of the crumbing road, but from then on it was smooth sailing. A stop for fuel and takeaway coffee brought the Jazz’s efficiency (I managed 14kpl over the drive) and practicality (there are three cupholders and two bottleholders up front) to the fore.
Looking back at the drive, it’s these very aspects that stand out once again. While the majority of buyers shouldn’t have reason to complain, as a fan of the old Jazz, I’m not quite as convinced. Yes, the new car is efficient, practical and arguably the most sensible hatchback on sale, but what it lacks is ‘colour’. It lacks that pull for a single owner-driver who wants their car to be more than a mere mode of transport. And this to me is a sad departure from the old car. I will be handing over the keys to a staffer who has greater use for the Jazz’s five-up space and big boot. But to conclude, I want to paraphrase from the last Jazz’s tagline and ask Honda, ‘Why so serious?’