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Sharper styling, a new hybrid system and a futuristic cabin aim to put musical excitement back into Honda's clever Jazz. It comes to Australia in June with a more daunting task - to equal or better the best sales year in Jazz's history.
Details of the 2014 Jazz - Fit for the Japanese and US market - have been revealed, showing a slightly bigger car with more aggressive styling though retaining smart features such as the “magic seats” cargo concept, sharply raked bonnet and the short front overhang.
Honda hasn't announced any new engine changes except for the hybrid that will become more like the Toyota Prius unit, allowing the car to be driven on battery power alone. The third generation Jazz is expected in Australia by the second half of next year and, says Honda Australia director Stephen Collins, will include the new hybrid. “We're planning on the petrol models and the hybrid,” he says.
“Engine details are still a bit sketchy but we're confident the new Jazz will retain all the virtues of the current model.” Collins predicts pricing will remain “very competitive” and that there will be no change to how and where the car is marketed. But Australia has thrown the next Jazz a major challenge - to equal or better the sales of 2007 when 12,000 of the light cars were sold.
“We're looking to do those sales figures again and to do that we have to make the car as competitive as possible,” Collins says. Honda Australia will source the new Jazz from Thailand, ending a ping-pong shipping route to Australia between Japan and Thailand as natural disasters sequentially affected factories in both countries.
External changes of the new hatchback include dramatic creases in the side panels, perimeter tail lights, a solid grille panel, shallower headlight design and a more slanted bonnet. The cabin is completely overhauled, adding better materials and cleaning up the dashboard with the addition of a central touch-screen monitor.
The new Jazz will include a hybrid but it will be unlike the current model. It will also be the first with a new gearbox that will eventually be adopted by other Honda models. Honda has moved on from its long-standing Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) design that uses a 1.3-litre or 1.5-litre petrol engine assisted by two small electric motors. IMA is currently used in the Civic, Jazz and CR-Z models.
The new hybrid has a 1.5-litre engine - a modified version of that in the current model - and a single electric motor. It is designed for electric-only operation for a short range of about 5km, a feat unavailable on the current car. In a report in “Automotive News”, Honda claims 2.7 litres/100km from the new hybrid under the generous Japanese fuel test cycle. That equates to about a 30 per cent improvement on the current Jazz Hybrid.
It is mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox, replacing the current car's CVT auto, which helps get such a low fuel consumption. News of the dual-clutch box in favour of the CVT auto used in previous hybrids points directly at work on such a transmission for the 2015 Civic Type R - a car Honda says is coming but won't announce a launch date - and possibly extend it for use in other models.
No other details of the transmission are available and Collins can't confirm it. But he says though he has nothing concrete about a new Civic Type R, he wants it. “If and when it's available, we'll be at the front of the queue,” he says. He also says the flagship $76,000-plus Legend saloon is being run out with only a handful left in Australia.
“Production (in Japan) has finished and the car won't be replaced,” he says. Honda Australia finally gets a diesel CR-V SUV, in automatic and manual, later this year. The 2.2-litre turbo-diesel is also sold in the UK and is a bigger version of the 1.6-litre diesel in the Civic.
This reporter is on Twitter: @cg_dowling