The undoubtedly popular Honda Jazz has become somewhat synonymous with sedate, grey-haired drivers boasting pensioner discount coupons and comical seating positions while behind the wheel. The Japanese automaker believes that this has had an adverse effect on the intended freshness of their product. Enter the Honda Fit to our local market, a rebranded Jazz sporting some futuristic new tech under the bonnet and polite aesthetics to rejuvenate their appeal to those filled with youthfulness. We spent two days with the modest looking model along some Cape Wineland roads to determine if it would find the right fit in the fiercely contested market.
I remember watching a Top Gear episode as a teenager which featured the modification of a Fiat Multipla to better suit the needs of the elderly who were, unfortunately for other road users, still capable of driving. If you have seen the episode you will immediately be able to recall the alterations which were completed to the car, if not let me refresh your memory. It was equipped with a simplified cloth interior, substantially sized radio buttons, large rear view mirrors and comically oversized bumpers to name a few. While that was apparently hilarious to me at the time, I have come to realize that since that episode, Honda seems to have used that Multipla as a rough mould in developing every subsequent generation of the Jazz on. Just a little better looking.
Take nothing away from a fantastic car, one that my own retiree-relatives carefully navigate around suburban roads and a car that I call upon in desperation whenever I am left stranded without a set of wheels. It was however lacking appeal to the younger generation, devoid of vigor and excitement… until now.
First thing is first, why is this new Honda Fit called a Honda Fit and not a Honda Jazz? The logic by the decision makers in Tokyo was to introduce the fresh model with new hybrid technology and a funky attitude under a different moniker which would appeal to a younger market without divorcing completely from their senior buyers. Vice versa has been done in other global markets that have previously used the Fit nameplate.
The most important feature in the new range of Fit models is the reintroduction of hybrid technology which is only available on the pricey, top spec e:HEV derivative. It is the first time Honda have dabbled in hybridization since the discontinuation of the CR-Z in 2016. The technology, which would even get a grimace from a rocket scientist can be summarized as Honda’s advanced 2-motor hybrid system which utilizes the electric motor for normal driving while high speed scenarios seamlessly switch to the 1.5-litre direct gasoline engine. This is unlike traditional hybrids, where the electric motor only assists the engine. This means that the e:HEV achieves 80kW and 253Nm of torque, which is noticeable in sprint acceleration.
It is Honda’s realistic approach to emission reduction in the present age since its fuel-efficient hybrid system returns an economy figure of just 3.7l/100km and produces only 88g/km of C02 emissions. Formula 1 inspired regenerative braking and placing the gear shifter in the B drive mode aids with battery charge at the expense of added rolling resistance to the electric motor. Their approach also seeks to achieve carbon neutrality with both product and manufacture by 2050 for the environmentally conscious consumers out there.
If however, your preference is still the conventional combustion engine or the e:HEV is too far out of your price range, the alternative powertrain is the trusted 1.5-litre VTEC motor connected to a CVT. The revy 4 cylinder is good for 89kW at 6600rpm and maximum torque rating of 145Nm at 4300rpm. The traditional petrol powered derivative is also just under 100kg lighter than the flagship hybrid model with efficiency claimed as low as 5.5l/100km, which we came close to achieving despite doing our utmost not to!
While the styling may seem elegantly demure and reserved, typical of a traditional Jazz – the drive experience was not! In the presence of serene country roads and mountain passes the suspension and chassis felt stable and planted while the powertrains in both derivatives were sufficient to entice more energetic driving. The CVT mated to the petrol model yielded a lamentable experience when clipping apexes and flooring it towards the next bend but was resolute in all other driving conditions. It was difficult to believe that this has built on the placid legacy of the Jazz!
On the inside, saying that the interior is a step up in terms of comfort and refinement levels would be an understatement as the plastics are pleasant to the touch and there is an utterly beautiful steering wheel which has been nicked off of the Honda E model. It is also equipped with Honda’s new and far improved HMI infotainment system which has been employed for the first time to the newcomer and comes with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.
This is all compliments of the ‘Yoo no bi’ philosophy of clean and minimal design, focusing on contemporary practicality and functionality. However the infotainment system and air conditioning dials are frustratingly not aligned with the center console and seem to angle slightly towards the passenger.
The 7-inch full TFT instrument cluster on the other hand is well positioned and in full view of the driver, despite being basic in user interface. The new A pillar is also crucial in enabling greater visibility which has been improved from 69° to 90° – something which is immediately apparent when jumping into the front row of seats.
The standout feature on the inside is the vast amount of space available to all occupants in the cabin, with consistently good arm and legroom. While the Jazz remains synonymous with practicality, the new Fit builds on that legacy by retaining the Magic Seat system which can be used in several configurations. The boot is also equipped with a sufficient 309l of volume while the hybrid version comes with 290l (the battery replaces a spare wheel and raises the boot floor slightly).
The petrol powered Fit, ranging from R319 900 to R389 900 in 3 derivatives includes a 5 year/200 000km warranty, while the range topping e:HEV model comes with an 8 year/200 000km warranty and will cost a whopping R469 900. A 4 year/80 000km service plan is standard on all derivatives.
Despite the name change, modernisation to the powertrain and improved interior tech, I am just not sure I would be enticed enough to have this placed at the top of my B-segment hatchback list if I was in the market for one. It still lacks the confidence of a youthful hatchback which has its speakers permanently maxxed out and a perpetual fuel warning light on. That being said, it should still be a winning proposition for our more senior members of society boasting frugal consumption, proven reliability and comfortable driving. Most importantly, this modern, hybrid technology will begin to filter in other models in Honda’s lineup!