This began as a straightforward contest featuring two popular Japanese B-segment hatchbacks slugging it out tooth and nail. With almost identical prices tags, powered by similarly-sized engines (1.5-litre), even showing up for our test in the same hue, it was always going to be hard to choose a winner. But instead of being two peas in a pod, the contest turned out to be an intriguing contrast in ideology and approach on how best to win over a B-hatchback customer.
Honda Jazz 1.5L V
If there’s another car that offers as much interior space from such a compact footprint as the Honda Jazz, I haven’t seen one. Take for instance its 363-litre boot volume, not only does it trump its peers, it bests many that are one class above. The legroom and headroom are similarly generous, and don’t forget about those clever “Ultra” rear seats. Look no further if your priority is loading people and cargo into a compact hatch.
To only harp on practicality alone would be selling the Jazz short for this is also a pleasant car to drive. Haters of CVT should try this iteration of the step-less transmission; if the elimination of the slipping clutch-sensation doesn’t make you a believer, the absence of CVT drone on initial acceleration most likely will. It’s responsive, and it doesn’t feel laboured doing it. And then there’s also the manner how the Jazz tolerates nasty roads, it’s not every day one can describe a Honda as having a supple ride, but the Jazz has this covered.
In short, everything kind of works in the Jazz, even the touch controls for the air-con, feared to be tricky to operate when the car is in motion, turned out to be a case of acclimatisation, though we still think twisting a rotary dial is safer, just not as sexy as touch I guess. However, having no vices doesn’t mean the Jazz is boring or dull as sheer competence is no less valid a defining character.
Drawbacks? The styling is unnecessarily fussy, but typically Honda in that it tries to be something for everyone. On the one hand, the Jazz’s profile is clearly optimised for pragmatic purposes but then it has elements that attempt to suggest otherwise, such as those large bumper cut-outs and deep gouges on its sheet metal. Shod with the optional Modulo aero-kit (RM4,147), it looks even more contrived, though I’m made to understand that “younger” buyers might find it attractive.
Mazda2 1.5L Skyactiv
The rise of Mazda in recent years have been remarkable. Kodo, Skyactiv may be the buzzwords, but it’s the commitment to building cars with emotional appeal that brought Mazda to where they are today. If getting into the Jazz imparts a sense of comfort and space, getting into the Mazda2, it is a sense of anticipation and promise.
It doesn’t hurt that the Mazda2 has arguably the most attractive, driver-centric interior in its class. From the seating position to the oversized rev meter, along with paddles on the steering wheel, red double-stitching on leather and that slick infotainment system, you can’t help but feel a wee bit special strapping in each time. The front passengers get the better deal because legroom is merely adequate at the back, despite a wheelbase that’s actually 40mm longer than the Honda’s; trunk yields a paltry 250 litres. Unlike the Jazz’s compact engine bay and upright one-box shape, the Mazda2’s relatively long bonnet and tapered rear hatch negate whatever length advantage it has over the Jazz.
By virtue of its conventional hatchback profile, the Mazda2 was always going to be easier on the eyes. Its distinctive five-point grille is a now familiar sight on other Mazdas, so much so that it can be easily mistaken for the larger Mazda3, which isn’t a bad thing. Next to the Jazz’s busy aesthetics, the Mazda appears almost too lean and devoid of drama, but is ultimately the more attractive one. Did I hear you say Mazdaspeed body-kit?
Being the one that’s sprung firmer (as you can see from our cornering snaps) along with a sharper steering response, the Mazda2 was always going to be more nimble, hence more entertaining behind the wheel compared to the softer-riding Jazz. The sensation of building speed via actual gears (it has a 6-speed auto) is also more satisfying, and it is the slightly more fuel efficient between the two, being manufacturer rated at 19.6km/l against the Jazz’s 17.8km/l for the combined cycle. Do take note that the “sportiness” of the Mazda2 does come with the penalty of a choppier ride and more rolling noise over rough surfaces, something that the Jazz is better at dealing with.
It’s a left brain, right brain quiz
The Honda should be the logical winner in this contest. It’s the more complete hatchback, especially with the standard side and curtain airbags that the Mazda misses out. To parents choosing a compact runabout for their pre-university-bound daughter/son, and to grown-ups choosing an easy-to-operate and spacious hatchback for their aging parents, the Jazz is a no brainer. It is when you choose this car for yourself (assuming you belong to neither of the aforementioned group), the choice becomes less clear. Do you sleep sounder knowing that the Jazz has every angle covered? Or do you stay awake at night thinking about how cool the Mazda2 is? I have a feeling that the Jazz’s all-round strengths will be better appreciated by its owner over a longer period of time, even if the Mazda2 is more impressive at hello. So yes, the Honda Jazz wins this one, but if you chose the Mazda, we know you’d probably have more fun.
Price RM84,363.79 (incl. GST, w/o insurance)
Engine 1.5-litre, 4-cylinder petrol, FWD
Output 120PS@6,600rpm, 145Nm@4,600rpm
Transmission Continuously Variable Transmission
Performance 0-100km/h in 10.5 sec, top speed 190km/h (est.)
Fuel efficiency 17.8km/l
Wheels/tyres 16in alloys, 185/55R16
Safety 6-airbags, Vehicle Stability Assist
Price RM85,466.30 (incl. GST, w/o insurance)
Engine 1.5-litre, 4-cylinder petrol, FWD
Output 116PS@6,000rpm, 148Nm@4,000rpm
Transmission 6-speed auto w/ manual mode, shift paddles
Performance 0-100km/h in 10.0 sec, top speed 184km/h
Fuel efficiency 19.6km/l (w/ idle stop system)
Wheels/tyres 16in alloys, 185/60R16
Safety Dual front airbags, Dynamic Stability Control
Warranty 3-year/100,000km (w/ 3-year/60,000km service package)