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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Review: 2012 Honda Accord and 2012 Honda Jazz

On any other day, it’s like comparing apples to oranges, or more appropriately in this case, comparing a bottle of Gold Eagle to Stella Artois. They’re both brewed from the same combination of cereal, barley and wheat but the end result couldn’t be further apart. Yet, you cannot deny that the fundamental ingredients are the same. The same could be said about driving two cars from the same manufacturer, in this case, Honda. At first glance, the sub-P800,000 hatchback Jazz and the sub-P2-million Accord may seem worlds apart, but they do have the very same basic ingredient: superb engineering. And that’s the basis of this back-to-back drive.

 Honda Jazz: King of Space

When the second-generation Honda Jazz launched way back—hard to believe—in 2008, it was carrying a lot of weight on its shoulders. Whereas the first-gen Jazz simply rekindled the Filipino’s liking for the hatchback configuration, the second-gen model had loftier targets. And it delivered. Of course, as time went on and other car makers went into the hatchback genre, the Jazz soon had its luster fade. So what’s Honda to do? Refresh it of course.

The 2011 model, especially in 1.3-liter guise may not seem all that different from the model launched three years ago. On darker hues such as Crystal Black Pearl, the reshaped front and rear bumpers tend to blend itself and look ordinary. But if you squint hard enough, you’ll notice the more aerodynamic front and back ends. The alloys too have changed, gaining an additional five spokes, though the measurement remains the same: 175/65R15. And over at the back, the 2011 model turns one of the most popular aftermarket accessories of the Jazz into standard equipment: LED brake lamps. These cosmetic changes to the Jazz aren’t exactly earth shattering, but the refresh does lend it a sleeker silhouette.

Inside, the changes are equally minimal; after all, why fix if it isn’t broken? Aside from the slight tweaks in color combinations, the cabin you’ve come to love and enjoy remains the same. And when I mean “the same”, I mean: the best driving position in the sub-compact lot, excellent ergonomics with clearly marked knobs and buttons; and interior space that rivals larger, more expensive crossovers. All of this, despite the Jazz’s three year old age and much newer competition. Only in the Jazz do you get a tilt/telescopic steering wheel. Only in the Jazz do you get both an average and instantaneous fuel consumption meter (in an orange backlighting which I don’t personally like). Only in the Jazz do you get a USB audio interface across the line. Only in the Jazz…well, you get the drift.

Mechanically, the Jazz remains largely unchanged from when it was first launched. Powering it is still a 1.3-liter mill with 100 ps and 13.0 kg-m of torque. And though there were rumors that Honda would revert back to a CVT transmission for the Jazz, the five-speed automatic stays put. Since there are no changes to the drivetrain, expect the same perky acceleration and double-digit fuel economy (11.2 km/L in this test). Perhaps the biggest and most welcome change to the Jazz is the noticeable improvement in ride comfort. The 2008-2010 model was heavy criticized for its choppy ride, but the 2011 model rectifies that and behaves much more compliantly, even on EDSA before it’s re-blocked. This makes the Honda Jazz much more suitable as a daily driver or even the occasional long-distance trip companion.

Honda Accord: King of Power

Launched also in 2008, the Honda Accord faced a much tougher market reception than the Jazz. Aside from its already tough rivals, the Accord faced the threat of increased market segmentation where choices from low-end European luxury cars to “bang for the buck” crossovers and SUVs were beginning to chew away at the large Japanese luxury sedan market. Though the Accord’s sales figures remained steady, it peaked at no more than three dozen units per month. So what does Honda do to boost the Accord’s market share? Do a makeover, of course.

Just like the Jazz, the Accord’s exterior receives a subtle nip and tuck. It’s so subtle in fact, you’ll have to do double or even triple take on the brochure to spot the difference between the 2008 and 2011 models. Changes to the Accord’s front are limited to the grille which receives a twin-blade design, and if you have the 3.5-liter V6 model, a bumper with extended under spoilers on each corner. At the back, there are no LED brake lamps to be found, instead there’s an additional chrome strip on the garnish to improve the overall proportions. Overall, the exterior changes are way too conservative considering designers had three years to sculpt some new stuff. Then again, perhaps this market segment isn’t too privy to change.

Whereas the Accord featured some minor changes outside, inside there are no visible changes. The biggest news is the loss of the beige and black scheme of the old 3.5-liter. Now, both the 2.4-liter and 3.5-liter models share the same black on black interior with dark wood and metallic accents spread around. It makes the 2011 Accord look younger, much more dynamic and definitely less tacky than its beige and bright wood equipped rivals. As you’d come to expect from an Accord, the driving position and seating comfort are perfect. And thanks to the 8-way powered driver’s seat with memory, finding it is an easy task. The instrumentation’s generally fine, especially the gauges which have a metallic accent, but the integrated A/C and audio display needs some work. They look too much like a 1980’s fluorescent calculator. For 2011, the 3.5-liter V6 model also gains a Bluetooth hands-free phone system. Located on the driver’s A-pillar, the integration doesn’t look nice, but the operation is good, providing a pinpoint accurate voice-activated dialing feature that’s lacking in most cars.

Just like the Jazz, the Accord enters into the second half of 2011 with no mechanical changes, not that it needs it. Under the hood remains the powerful, yet fuel-efficient 3.5-liter V6 with 275 ps and 34.6 kg-m of torque. Equipped with Honda’s i-VTEC and VCM which deactivates up to half of the cylinders during certain scenarios, the Accord still manages to eke out a commendable 7.5 km/L in city driving despite mashing the throttle quite a few times. Despite the Accord’s large size, it remains easy to drive thanks to a variable geometry steering rack which lessens the turning radius and new front corner sensors for tighter areas like parking.

Both the Honda Jazz and Accord may be facing much newer competition than they did three years ago, but despite that, they remain highly competitive in their respective segments and remain true to Honda’s aim to produce highly engineered vehicles. The subtle changes and minimal changes to equipment levels may turn off some potential buyers, but if you look beyond the cosmetic and into things like matter such as build quality, comfort and engineering, then both of these cars have you covered.

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