Johannesburg - Despite its groovy name, the Honda Jazz is not the kind of vehicle you’d expect to hear in the same sentence as the word ‘sport’. More likely to come to mind are terms like rational, solid, practical, yes, and perhaps even cheeky.
But since last year there has been a ‘Sport’ version perched at the top of the range, and we recently spent a week getting to know this slightly out-of-character Japanese hatch.
The styling is very much as the badge implies.
You can tell the Sport apart from its regular siblings quite easily, thanks to its bolder front and rear bumpers with red trim elements, as well as its side skirts and rather large rear spoiler that's almost big enough to do your ironing on. You also get 16-inch gloss black ‘Berlina’ alloy wheels, which are colour matched by the side mirrors and the grille, which also gets a sleeker design.
While it’s not the wildest looking car out there, the Jazz Sport does at least manage to look purposeful and you’ll be glad to know that the engine isn’t ‘standard’ either.
While Honda hasn’t dropped its 1.5-litre turbo engine in here, it does get a more powerful 1.5 normally aspirated motor than the 1.5 Elegance model, the uprated VTEC motor also featuring direct fuel injection. It produces a relatively warm 97kW at 6600rpm and 155Nm at 4600rpm, which is 9kW and 10Nm more than the aforementioned 1.5 Elegance musters.
With a kerb weight of just 1066kg you have the makings of a relatively lively package, which makes it all the more odd that Honda chose to fit a CVT continuously variable gearbox, which simply doesn’t suit this car’s character.
Sure, a CVT is a light, rational and efficient gearbox choice, and with more people shifting over to automated gearboxes these days, it’s easy to understand why Honda went this route. And yes it does make for a smooth driving experience, but by keeping the engine at a steady RPM, it also makes for a monotonous drone - it’s the complete opposite of sporty, in fact. Honda did throw in a set of steering-mounted paddles that allow you to shift between ‘fake’ gear points, but it’s not a very responsive set-up.
Here’s the thing. Honda has a very slick manual gearbox and we’re surprised that it isn’t offered in this model, at least as an option.
Honda claims a 9.8 second 0-100km/h sprint time, which might be possible at the coast, but you do lose a bit of pep at Gauteng altitudes, where you could say it’s semi-brisk rather than outright fast.
Ultimately this car feels far more of a comfort hatch with sporty styling than an actual sporty car, but thankfully the interior plays its part quite nicely.
Not only is it versatile and spacious, offering those ‘magic seats’ along with decent rear legroom and a fair sized (359 litre) boot, but it’s quite well equipped too.
Standard kit includes a 17.8cm touchscreen infotainment system with six speakers and a reverse camera, as well as cruise control, push-button start, multi-function steering wheel and automatic climate control.
While you won’t be sinking into any kind of racing buckets, Honda has thrown in a few sporty touches, such as alloy pedals and red inlays on the dashboard and inner door panels. The cabin has a quality feel to it, the materials are decent and Honda has also put some effort into creating a smooth black surface around the centre of the dash, with the touchscreen fitting flush with the black panels that also extend into the climate control area.
Ultimately, the Jazz Sport is best described as a comfort hatch with lukewarm performance and a few sporty touches - that CVT gearbox just doesn’t do it any favours on the passion inducing front. Its price tag of R332 200 is also counting against it - particularly when Suzuki's new Swift Sport, which is likely to be a somewhat more entertaining vehicle, can be had for similar money. But if you're looking for something more practical and the Honda dealer is giving you a better deal then the Jazz could be worth a look.