|Photos by Ulysses Ang and Honda Press (Jam Ramos)|
For those who say that there aren’t any good driving roads in the Philippines, I say you should go out more often. And though some so-called enthusiasts are more than happy pummeling the tires off their cars in a straight line (think NLEX, SLEX, or anything else ending in ‘EX’), real men like it bent. And twisty. And hardcore. Located a mere 15 kilometers or so east of the Ortigas Central Business District is the start of the infamous “Tanayburgring”—a clockwise loop of twisty, mountainous road stretching from Tanay, Rizal looping down to Quezon, Laguna, and Cavite before ending back up in Makati City. It’s a long, arduous route with no fancy pants coffee shop stopovers (at least for the first part) and one that really separates the men from the boys. So like a boy entering into puberty, I took to the Tanayburgring (well, at least a part of it) for the very first time and my weapon of choice: the all-new Honda Jazz.
Typically, carmakers choose routes which highlight the various abilities of their newly launched vehicles. If it’s intended to be a grand tourer, like an executive sedan for example, the route would be more of highway cruising mixed with gentle curves. If it’s something like a sports car, then the race track would serve as the perfect venue to shake them down. So what happened here? As a sub-compact hatchback, the Jazz should have been contented puttering around in city streets. Well, apparently, Honda has such high regard to the all-new Jazz’s engineering that they’ve set out in what’s considered to be the Holy Grail of driving events: barely used mountainous roads. And true enough, the portion of the Tanayburgring played a huge role in giving back my confidence in the Jazz’s drivetrain design. Not only is it a futuristic-looking, well-built hatchback; it’s also planted, solid, and above all, extremely fun-to-drive.
Having spent some seat time already with the Honda Jazz (our review comes out soon), I’m no stranger to the way it performs (at least in the everyday setting). Of course, thrashing and tossing it through corners is a completely different matter altogether. Thankfully, the Jazz comes armed just for that very purpose. Always applauded for its cheeky handling, the all-new Jazz once again sets the standard when it comes to being a fun-to-drive hatchback.
With the engineering goal of “Smooth and Agile”, Honda engineers sought to improve both ride comfort and handling, even if these adjectives are often viewed as contradictory. The ride and handling aspect begins with a stronger and more stable platform. The Jazz uses super-high-tensile strength steel in 27 percent of its body structure resulting in a stiffer shell (less prone to undulations) and a lighter curb weight (some 20 kilograms lighter). This improvement is seen in the way the Jazz is able to absorb ruts and potholes without jarring and shuddering the cabin. There’s also far less crashiness in the way it handles things like Cat’s Eyes and loose gravel. Meanwhile, the longer wheelbase not only contributes to better interior space, but it also adds to ride stability by reducing pitching motions.
The all-new Jazz features an optimized suspension geometry that lowers the front roll center and raises the rear roll center. This effectively changes the weight transfer characteristics allowing it to turn quicker into a corner (noticeably tighter to control than its sedan sibling, the City) while providing a sportier and unified feel. This is one car that loves quick transition maneuvers such as lane changes and S-bends. Indeed, it feels much more accurate and natural yet quick and agile. Finally, through the use of optimized mounting and fine-tuning of dampers and bushings, the Jazz also exhibits great straight-line stability over small and large road imperfections.
With steering feel the most direct point of contact between driver and suspension, the Jazz’s electric power steering system has been upgraded along with the suspension to greatly enhance steering linearity and feel. At low speeds, the steering feels smooth and comfortably light (perfect for tackling bumper-to-bumper traffic) with a good, linear buildup of feel and effort as the speeds increase. These changes complement the handling improvements making the Jazz feel tossable through corners yet confidently stable and secure.
With a carryover 1.5-liter i-VTEC engine good for 120 horsepower under the hood, the all-new Jazz manages to feel quicker than its predecessor thanks to the improved throttle response and more importantly, the Earth Dreams CVT. Using a new torque converter design; it has more urge and has none of the slip and delay commonly associated with belt-driven transmissions. Though I never found the need to use them during the drive, the Jazz also comes with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters that provide instant access to seven pre-determined ratios. These changes make the Jazz easier to control not only because the car responds more eagerly, but more precisely as well.
Having only sampled a bit of the “Tanayburgring”—we looped from Ortigas to Infanta in Quezon and then back, the all-new Honda Jazz is clearly the perfect expression of the idea that small cars can mean great things. The Jazz continues to fulfill its original role as a stylish, fun, practical, and ultra-efficient sub-compact hatchback, the all-new one raises the class bar for dynamic performance in ways that truly translate to real driving enjoyment.