The Jazz was the closest car to perfection: small outside, roomy inside, practical, versatile, highly efficient, and very enjoyable to drive regardless of road and traffic conditions
In my almost 18 years in the motoring beat, one car has really made a huge impact in everyday mass motoring. Something relevant to 99% of all motorists on the road, and crucially, something we can all afford. Few cars can lay claim to being able to do it all, but the Honda Jazz comes very close.
Unveiled in 2001 in Japan and other key markets, the Honda Fit (or Fitto as it was pronounced by the Japanese, and known as the Jazz) was a 5-door B-segment subcompact hatchback or supermini. And while Honda never imagined it to have a massive cult-following worldwide, a revolution ensued, with Honda being the Japanese artisans of small, fuel-efficient yet highly enjoyable cars.
My earliest memory of the Honda Jazz was doing a photo-shoot when I was the Consumer Editor of BBC Top Gear Philippines, under my section called ‘Wrong Car, Right Car.’ In this section, I accompany people looking to buy a new car and matching a suitable automobile depending on their needs and preferences. I was taking a friend, restaurateur and Autohub Group director Mike Cua around to look at the newest cars back in 2004. Mike and I were both big guys. And when we arrived at the Honda Cars Pasig dealership, my eyes were set on Mike trying out a Honda Civic, but Mike was curious to try out the then-new Honda Jazz. I looked at the Jazz back then incredulously, thinking whether Mike and I (we’re both XXL sized) would fit, together with our photographer and someone from the dealership to accompany us for the test-drive.
With no choice but to go in for a short drive and for some photos, I held my breath, tucked in my then 46-inch waistline (I’m proud to say I’m now down to a 39!) and got in the front passenger seat beside Mike, who was going to drive it. The initial fear and embarrassment of close physical contact was immediately replaced by mild shock as we actually both fit comfortably and so did our rear passengers who fit in fine. The rest as they say was history.
Our family ended up buying the first GD generation a few months after this, and the second generation GE Honda Jazz when it came out, in 1.3 iDsi and 1.5 i-vtec trims respectively. The GD in particular became my family’s favorite car: even my Dad, who was used to driving large SUVs and luxury sedans loved the GE as we could pile-in, drive to the mall, have lunch, watch movies and do groceries with five of us seated quite comfortably. The MPV-like roofline, coupled with the short but tall doors and the small over-all footprint meant the Jazz would fit almost anywhere with ease. For tall people, it made getting in and out easy, without needing lots of room for clearance on either side, and without banging your head on the window frames of the door if you’re clumsy like me. And it supped fuel like a miser: 10km/liter in purely short distance city driving from the 1.3 later engine was impressive, but over 22km/liter on the highway at a steady 90-100km/h with three adults on-board was truly amazing. An American friend once slyly commented that he’d never seen an engine the size of a sewing machine when I popped the hood of our Jazz. Ironically, he ended up buying one in the Philippines when he settled here. The ULT seats were also impressive. I’d load up oodles of car parts, wheels and tires inside of it with ease while rearranging the seating configuration, and even the engine of my Toyota Supra which had the mechanics worrying if the car could support that massive iron-block inline-six. But it swallowed everything with ease and always went to the shop on my car parts run brimming with excitement. So when the new GE Jazz came out, my Dad said we should get that because he felt the slightly bigger, more handsome and more powerful 1.5-liter engine would suit our needs better. It improved on everything the first-generation GD had, and the bigger engine and sharper driving dynamics made it even more enjoyable.
Ah yes, the driving. The Jazz taught me the finer elements of driving. It is blessed with perfect balance: the chassis, powertrain and suspension all work so well, it drives so sweetly, so beautifully. Very tactile, very feel-some and very linear and progressive. Not one aspect of the car dominated the entire driving experience. Rather, everything just gels together beautifully, regardless of whether you’re driving for fun, or commuting on your daily grind. No other car ever gave a driving experience as rich and as rewarding as the Jazz considering its price.
The Jazz was the closest car to perfection: small outside, roomy inside, practical, versatile, highly efficient, and very enjoyable to drive regardless of road and traffic conditions. And of course it was comfortable, and supremely reliable in a way Honda knows how to make them. No wonder a massive following for the Jazz popped up all over the world, not just in the Philippines.
Sadly, the third generation Jazz will be the final act, the curtain-call for the model, replaced by the all-new City hatchback. I won’t question the wisdom of Honda for doing this as I’m sure their numbers and data support this change. But I mourn the passing of a companion which has stayed beside me in my career since 2004. I feel like a part of me will also be going away. Godspeed, Honda Jazz. You will be missed, and you will not be forgotten.
A car enthusiast through and through, Botchi Santos believes that different people have different needs. He tries to find the best car for a specific audience, and spruces things up by delving into car culture, helping make the local car community vibrant and enjoyable for all. His passion for motoring is built around a belief that cars are among the top three life purchases.