METRO Manila people, take note; a couple of hours’ drive away east from the land of broken promises and MRT trains lies a pond. It’s a big one, really. It’s called the Pacific Ocean. To get there means taking some very twisty roads. Which to car guys equates to pleasure.
It’s a point not lost to Honda Cars when it chose to showcase the driving mettle and riding comfort of the new Honda Jazz—launched in June. The company, with race driver George Ramirez, recently plotted a route starting from an Ortigas business center hotel, threaded its way out of the Metro and through Antipolo, then rolled across the Rizal and Quezon parts of the Sierra Madre range before spitting out the convoy of Jazzes near the shoreline of the Pacific.
While the Rizal part of the route is a virtual rally stage for auto enthusiasts, motorbike nuts and even cyclists (well, it was an unpaved rally stage around 15 years ago), the part past Tanay appears relatively undiscovered. Besides native communities, there are little—if at all—commercial spots along the way. The vistas are generic-rural in some places, but then turn spectacular in others. How about a view of the West Philippine Sea at one point? Then cross over another mountain range and, nearing Infanta, it’s the Pacific that comes into view.
Now take this drive in a funky looking car that’s both nimble and peppy. The new, third-gen Jazz is sold only with a 1.5-liter, i-VTEC engine that’s rated to spew 118hp at 6,600rpm and 145Nm of torque at 4,800rpm. There’s Honda’s Eco Assist with Econ mode fitted to the car. The system alters engine, drive-by-wire throttle and transmission responses, and even air-conditioning settings, to maximize energy use. An eco “coaching” light changes color depending on throttle input, encouraging fuel-efficient driving habits. The thing is ideal in city driving but when the roads are lovely, it’s best to the leave this switched off.
The engine is matched to either a five-speed manual transmission or a new continuously variable transmission. On the Pacific coast drive both systems, found underneath the range of Jazzes, saw action.
In the CVT version up- and downshifts were a delight as you can use the steering wheel-mounted paddles to row through the “gears.” Tug at either one of them and the system imperceptibly switches to the “gear” called out, the engine matching its speed with the transmission. There’s no jerking or lurching or anything clumsy; the CVT just wrings out the most of the engine’s modest power output. If tugging at paddles isn’t your thing but still want a sporty drive, then pop the shifter in “S.” It delivers on its billing.
A good drivetrain is one thing, a nice chassis is another. The Jazz got this one covered. With 16-inch wheels wrapped with relatively tame 185/55 rubbers, the car’s stance is nonetheless hunkered down. On some really twisty, undulating roads this setup works, the car remaining planted to the tarmac even at fast clips. The suspension travel is short, helping in keeping the car from rolling from one side to the other while cornering, but it also means it can bottom out on big dips on the road.
Traction is not a concern. The wheels may squeal if you mess up in entering a bend—too fast—but the car can still make its way around it. Anyway, the higher-end Jazz variant, the one with the paddle shifter, gets Honda’s Vehicle Stability Assist. The thing uses the car’s ABS and traction control to monitor steering angle, steering direction, wheel speed and wheel slip. By doing these, it can determine if the car is indeed heading toward the direction it is being steered into.
Of course, driving dynamics isn’t the Jazz’s be all; the car is also comfortable on long-ish trips. The new Jazz’s wheelbase grew 30 millimeters from the last model, and this helps not only in lessening the choppy ride common on most subcompacts but also creates more room in the cabin—which was never a problem with the Jazz, to begin with. With a foursome on board, plus overnight luggage, there was plenty of space for all inside the car, helping ensure the drive is pleasant.
True, most trips out of the Metro are. But one involving mountain roads, seascapes and a Jazz just sounds musical.