Honda finds its mojo

They say, “When you’re on a good thing, stick to it.” Honda has followed that formula since launching the first Jazz back in 2001. And why not? It’s worked wonders for the automaker so far.

Now manufactured at 10 plants in eight countries, the Jazz – Fit in the US – has sold more than 4 million units. The second generation, released in 2007, essentially followed the original’s design with bolder headlights and grille, and maintained the car’s central fuel tank layout and dimensions. But according to the third generation’s 2015 chief engineer, Makoto Konishi, “It’s time for a big change. That ‘good thing’ needs to get better.”

He rallied his R&D team by urging them to create the “Super Cub” of the car world. The Cub was a 50cc motorcycle launched in 1958 that became the biggest seller ever (60 million in 50 years).

At Honda’s Takasu Proving Ground in Hokkaido, the car looks great. The front end is bolder. It appears to take design hints from the Clarity fuel-call car, the CR-V, and even the new NSX.


Design boss Toshinobu Minami says that in designing the new exterior, he wanted to make a strong connection with a market smitten with smartphones and the Internet, a market fascinated by new gadgets.

“We had to give the new model a significantly new face and stronger road presence while maintaining its dimensions,” Minami said. The face, especially, had to exude ‘new.’ That is why Honda opted for a more solid face with an “exciting edge design.” said Minami.

Senior handling and ride quality engineer Terumasa Kotada told us Honda benchmarked the Jazz/Fit on a certain Volkswagen.

“In upping our game, we wanted to make a stronger international competitor, so we benchmarked our Jazz/Fit on the Polo. The moment you get in the Polo, you notice how low you sit in the car. This instills confidence. And then when you drive the Polo, you notice how low its roll center is and its huge stability levels, instilling even more confidence. To get our desired result, I tested the car extensively on the autobahns in Germany,” he said.

To give the Jazz/Fit better road feel, feedback, and stability, Kotada says the car’s suspension geometry was redesigned by adding a new H-beam torsion rear suspension setup and a revised front strut. Taking hints from the Polo, toe control and caster angle were revised. The electronic power steering was modified to give the car a more natural steering feel.

In a strange way, the Honda actually feels bigger and more substantial on the road, and turns in like a charm with almost no understeer and loads of feedback. It rolls less while going into corners, and is more stable at speed, gripping the blacktop while the rear follows neatly and cleanly. Under heavy braking, the car resists nosedive as the back end stays absolutely planted. “Rear end stability is just one major result of our Polo-inspired suspension redesign,” adds Kotada.

The cabin is filled with a sporty exhaust note that has been tuned and silenced — with sound-absorbing felt — to delete all human-unfriendly sounds. While the dash design is simple yet functional, it is not in the same class as the Polo when it comes to interior trim, materials, and quality.

When you benchmark a car on another, you expect to see significant improvements in all major areas, upgrades that put the new car in the same class. Honda says we can expect to see further refinements inside the car before it goes on sale in Europe and elsewhere early next year.

Designer Minami commented that he would have liked Honda’s announcement of a return to F1 with McLaren to come a year earlier. That way he could have incorporated some McLaren design hints into the car. As it is, he seems happy enough, but does admit that some people may find its looks over the top.

Honda seems to have found its mojo again. It’ll be back in Formula 1; a new NSX is coming out soon; a smaller sports car is on the way; a new Accord hybrid will travel more than 800 miles on a tank of gas; and a new Civic Type R will soon challenge the Megane RS for the fastest lap by a front-drive car at the Nurburgring. If anything, this car is a reflection of the company’s newfound corporate confidence.