Honda sharpens up Jazz RS hatch
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One of the highlights of my previous working life as a motorcycle reviewer was my frequent encounters with each new generation of the iconic Honda CBR1000RR Fireblade sportsbike.
What has this to do with this comparatively meek and mild, newly revised Honda Jazz RS hatchback? Well the RS version of the Jazz is the four-wheeled Honda that most reminds me of the scalpel-sharp Fireblade, and not just because the $25,200 manual model (seven-speed CVT: $26,600) and the $27,995 superbike inhabit similar pricing territory.
Now, before you demand a drug test for this commentator, let me explain. It was the 1.5-litre engine and six-speed manual gearbox powertrain that first encouraged this personal comparison between the two philosophically similar but physically diverse Hondas.
In these days of rev-restricting turbochargers, it’s rare to find a motor willing to go beyond 6000rpm, and the naturally aspirated, direct-injection 1.5 inline-four of the RS will stretch to 7000rpm.
It also sounds inspiring while snuggling up to this redline, emitting a coarse metallic rasp that I found lovable. As for the six-speed, it offered the same number of ratios as the sequential box of the bike, and snicked through the gears with similar precision and ease, courtesy of short lever throws and one of the lightest, most easily manipulated clutch pedals in all car-dom.
Shades of a Type-R here. Now a Jazz RS will be mutilated by the bike in a drag race, the 92kW generated by the car engine a mere fraction of the 141kW pumped out by a 1-litre bike engine that can extend itself to 14,000rpm.
A 0-100km/h time of 8.7 seconds is at least 5.7 seconds slower than the two-wheeler even though the Fireblade isn’t yet getting into its full stride by the time it reaches 100km/h in the first of its six forward ratios.
However, there is another measure of performance where the two Hondas are on par: their fuel use. Ride the bike enthusiastically and it’ll consume petrol at a rate of 6.5litres/100km, roughly the same expected of the car when driven considerately.
The first time I tipped the RS into a corner with any enthusiasm, the exercise validated the impression of it being the Honda hatchback in the showroom with the biggest dose of Fireblade DNA.
The new steering box allows the hottest Jazz model to dart about in response to light flicks of the guiding wheel, making it one of the most agile and accurate hatchbacks when cornering.
At slower speeds, things aren’t so satisfying, as the turning circle is rather ordinary, making parking more ponderous than it has to be in a car this small.
But get the RS above 15km/h and that sporty precision and feedback magically returns, the steering uncorrupted by any lane-keeping software. The revised suspension is another enabler of increased driver appeal, providing supple ride quality while maximising contact of the grip-friendly Dunlop tyres with the road.
The new Jazz RS isn’t just a car that looks more sporty thanks to its new F1-inspired body styling and glossy black 16” alloys. It definitely feels more sporty to drive. That’s a refreshing contrast to many rivals that warm up the sports appeal through looks alone, but are less engaging to drive.
Honda’s revision to the Jazz range for 2018 hasn’t added many driving aids except autonomous emergency braking back-up when driving at urban pace.
There’s no blind-spot monitors, no radars, and while the reversing camera now shows guide lines that adjust to steering wheel angles, the screen still looks low-res.
However my inner driver appreciated that dynamic improvements were made a priority in this upgrade to the Jazz RS.
The $28,500 Suzuki Swift Sport (coincidentally the S-badged hatch that comes closest to the company’s GSX-R1000 superbike) has a more serious and credible Honda rival. Don’t buy one without first sampling the other.