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All jazz on the inside

india Updated: Jun 14, 2009 01:34 IST
Sumant Banerji
Sumant Banerji
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

It’s raining hatchbacks in India. By the end of this year, the number of premium hatchbacks is set to double, with cars such as the Hyundai i10, Chevrolet’s Spark and Aveo and Maruti’s Swift rolling on the roads.

Last week, Honda too, entered the premium hatchback segment with the Jazz. But will this much-hyped car end the Indian obsession with sedans? We find out.

Exteriors: City redux?

With the very first look at this vehicle, you know it is Japanese. (I promise I ignored the prominent ‘H’ on the front grill.) The car has chiselled features with just the right amount of flab.

With a lot of cues taken from the various generations of Honda’s flagship car, the City, the Jazz is not afraid to show where it is coming from. It isn’t drop dead gorgeous, or even revolutionary like the Swift, but you can take this car home knowing that your neighbour will definitely notice it, and perhaps even envy you the next morning.

Honda Jazz vs Skoda Fabia

Launched in January 2008, the Fabia was the first car to take a crack at the premium hatch space which was till then occupied by Swift and Getz. This car promised higher features of safety and luxury, but it was the price of Rs 5-8 lakh that really indicated that they were trying to woo sedan buyers.
Fabia has tremendous road handling and
stability at high speeds and has one of the most refined 1.2-litre petrol engines. However its low local content ensured that the cost of spares and servicing remains as high as ever and its low ground clearance means it is good only in urban areas.
Fabia did pretty well initially, selling 2,600 units in just three months, but the the sales tapered to 5,800 units over 2008-09.

Large clear headlamps seamlessly give way to the unobtrusive grille and the short bonnet gives it a snubby, cheery demeanour. The roof slopes down to the back again highlighting the aero dynamism. Yet, it does not compromise on headroom either in the front or at the back.

Interiors: Making space

The interiors are clearly the car’s strength. One rarely comes across a package where every ounce of available space is so cleverly utilised. And it’s not just the large windshield and windows that give the illusion of roominess — the car is a warehouse of space also because of the genius of its design.

There are as many as 10 bottle holders in the car, and a few have been cleverly placed in front of the AC ducts to keep that can of Coke cool. The quality of plastic is top notch. And the leg, shoulder and elbow room at the rear is adequate.

You’ve probably read enough about the Jazz’s ‘magic seats’, (in case you haven’t already, we can assure you that this won’t be last time you’ll be hearing about them), but it’s just not possible to move on to the next section without a word on them. Besides the 60:40 split, the rear seats can be folded in several ways to uncork more space for luggage. The seats can even fold completely to reveal a flat bed at the back in which you can even park a mountain bike (as shown at most Honda showrooms).

Power: Quick off the mark

Due to the skewed duty structure in India (which rewards gasoline engines less than 1200 cc in size), Honda could not bring the 1.3 litre and 1.5 litre engines to the country. Its R&D lab had to develop an engine specifically for India.

This may have delayed the launch of the car by a year, but it looks like it was time well spent. With a maximum output of 90 bhp, this is one of the most powerful 1.2 litre engines around. And it shows right from the time you switch the ignition on. The engine is quiet but potent, and the car is quick to get off the mark.

Economy: Needs more miles

Delivering good mileage has always been Honda’s forte. This time though, consumers may be disappointed. According to the Automotive Research Association of India, the Jazz should deliver 16.1 km per litre, but even on the highway we only got 13 kmpl. It’s not bad per se, but certainly below par— especially if you know that the City, with a bigger 1.5 litre heart, gives at least 15 kmpl.

The problem is that the Jazz has the same shell as the City (60 per cent of the parts are common). Which means it has more load to carry for every horse that it has at its disposal. Still, it is not a guzzler by any means and it should be possible to make the car run 15 kms for Rs 50 often enough.

It’s all down to money

Ahh, the worst part. Honda’s catch line for the Jazz —‘One life. Why so serious?’ - is pretty apt. Almost everything about this car makes one smile. Except, that is, for the price: a whopping Rs 7 lakh.

And unfortunately, in Indian markets, that’s the one thing that matters the most. Elsewhere, the Jazz is priced higher than the City and yet manages to find more takers. But in India that’s unlikely to happen.

There are a few things that I expected from car that it did not have — alloy wheels, mud flaps and fog lamps, for example. Even with all of these, it would have remained expensive but would’ve at least somewhat justified the price. This car is Rs 50,000 too costly. At Rs 6.5 lakh, I would not have hesitated to announce it a winner. But at Rs 7 lakh plus, it’s not going to be a cakewalk over the sedans.