ATTRACTION OF TRACTION

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honda-jazz-vsa20140722Honda demos road-holding abilities of new Jazz
TOP among the Honda Jazz’s USPs, starting with the original and carried over to the third-generation model, are seats that can fold flat, stow away or flip up to accommodate a variety of bulky, irregularly shaped and outsized cargo. That the car is not much larger, if at all, than other subcompact hatchbacks only makes its cabin a benchmark in clever packaging.

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But Honda Cars Phils. Inc. pitches there’s more to the new Jazz—introduced locally only in late June—than origami seats. Or even an efficient powertrain or a surfeit of techie features, for that matter. In a driving gig held last week, nearly called off because of the typhoon, the company also stressed the car’s safety features, particularly that which allows it road-holding grip. Now given the hazardous roads brought about by the typhoon, the safety-feature demo couldn’t have come at a more opportune time.

Premium-car staple
Highlighted was the Jazz’s Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA), an active safety feature Honda first fitted on some of its models in 2007. It is essentially Honda’s take on the generic electronic stability control, a system that used to be available solely on pricey cars wearing haughty badges. As its name suggests, it relies on computerized wizardry and sensors to help a driver regain control of the car should this lose the ability to turn, caused by poor traction underneath the wheels or poor driving skills from behind the wheel—or both. In any case, it’s obvious electronic stability control is good to have in a car.

In Honda’s VSA, the system uses the car’s ABS and traction control to monitor steering angle, steering direction, wheel speed and wheel slip. By doing these, VSA can determine if the car is indeed heading toward the direction it is being steered into. If the system detects the car is oversteering, where its rear end wants to swap places with the front end while cornering, VSA brakes a wheel to prevent the car from sliding. If the car is understeering, or if it wants to go straight ahead even if its front wheels are already turned, VSA cuts engine power or brakes a wheel to regain grip. Of course, the system can resort to other ABS and traction control functions so the car can get back on track.

Drive it
HCPI’s driving exercises were designed to make sense of the techno-speak, involving low-grip surfaces and deliberate hard braking precisely where the slippery parts are. The purpose was to simulate conditions a driver may unfortunately find in the real world and to show how VSA can make the new Jazz (and its City subcompact sedan sibling) a vastly more controllable car as compared to if it didn’t come with the feature.

The first test called for the Jazz being driven onto two different surfaces—the left wheels on dry tarmac and the right wheels on a strip of linoleum doused with soapy water—then braked hard before getting launched just as hard from a dead stop. The idea behind this was to show how stable the car remains on whatever surface it rolls over, even two completely opposite ones. And from behind the wheel the Jazz did feel controllable, squirming only a bit during ABS-inducing braking as VSA factored the different grip levels of the road surface, with the system also almost instantly killing off wheel spin when the car starts moving again.

The next exercise raised the fear factor a notch. It meant taking a bend at at least 60kph, then braking hard mid-corner. Now any driver with an idea of vehicle dynamics would know that doing such a thing, more often than not, makes the car spin out of control. But with VSA, the Jazz simply stopped in the middle of the bend sans drama.

This was followed by the usual ABS test where a car needs to be steered around cones while its brakes are slammed on. Take away the fancy traction and stability features and the car will simply lose its ability to turn—but not so in this case.

For the last exercise race drivers George Ramirez and Louis Ramirez, who had supervised the tests, took participants on a fast clip around the test track. Upon reaching highway speeds, the pair would deliberately jerk the steering wheel left and right to unsettle the Jazz—which they successfully did. But despite such efforts VSA saved it from spinning out of control, the Jazz managing to stay on its rubber-side down.

Now that’s a USP that should not take a backseat.

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