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Honda Jazz-based Vezel SUV on plan for Australia

Honda has unveiled a new SUV based on the popular Jazz city car, expected to go on sale in Australia late next year and face off against the Nissan Juke, Peugeot 2008, Holden Trax and coming Ford EcoSport.

The Honda Vezel -- as the car at Tokyo motor show is called, although it may not keep that name here -- is the showroom-ready version of the Urban SUV concept from Detroit motor show earlier this year.

Honda says the baby crossover combines the "dynamic qualities of an SUV" with the "functionality of a minivan" and the "elegance of a coupe". The SUV body features sharp character sculpting and the streamlined roofline of a coupe, with the interior aiming to offer a versatile and roomy space.

The Vezel was revealed in Tokyo with a hybrid drivetrain but will also have a conventional petrol variant. Both drivetrains are from the coming third-generation Jazz line-up: a 87kW/144Nm 1.5-litre four-cylinder for the petrol car, and the next Honda Jazz Hybrid's Sport Hybrid i-DCD (intelligent dual-clutch drive) -- a combination of 80kW/134Nm 1.5 litre i-VTEC Atkinson-cycle engine and 22kW/160Nm electric motor working together through a seven-speed DSG transmission to deliver a total 100kW and 170Nm, and drawing charge from a lithium-ion battery pack.

Honda Australia is keen on getting the Vezel here and have already put their hands up for it. "We really are excited about it," Honda Australia director Stephen Collins says. "It’s definitely on our plan at this stage. We’re just trying to firm up timing but I think it’s a bit more than a year away."

As expected, we're unlikely to see here the hybrid drivetrain the Tokyo car is carrying, with the Jazz, Civic and CR-Z hybrids the main proponents in our market. "At this stage we are still finalising the engines but are looking at petrol and diesel at this point. There is a hybrid going into the Japanese market but it’s not on our plan," Collins says, adding that the local focus would be on a two-wheel drive version. "We see it very much as an urban vehicle."

Honda hasn't failed to notice the booming small SUV field, and believe it will dovetail well with the rest of the family. "There is huge growth in this segment and we think it will sit really nicely under the CR-V, Collins says. He's not concerned about cannibalising from the larger sibling, seeing customers moving over from passenger cars instead. "We think there will be minimal cannibalisation impact on the CR-V," he says.

"What we’re expecting is bringing incremental sales and some buyers moving from small cars into small SUVs, so there might be some impact on the Civic Hatch rather than the CR-V. I think it just gives people looking in the small hatch segment another alternative.  We forecast that in the next few years small SUVs will be doing similar volume to medium ones."

However when the baby SUV arrives here, it may well be sporting a different name. "The name has been announced for Japan at this stage only. And I can’t tell you what the name means --  in all honesty I don’t know. But at this stage it hasn’t been announced for other markets so we’ll be having those discussions," Collins says.

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