Honda Jazz 1.5i Sport
A sporty Honda Jazz? It sounds about as likely as a fuel-efficient Lamborghini Huracan, but in the unlikely shape of the Jazz 1.5i VTEC Sport, that's exactly what we've got. Okay it's largely a cosmetic exercise, but it's hard not to like a small hatch when it looks this good.
First things first. This Jazz Sport uses a 1.5-litre 130PS petrol engine that doesn't trouble itself with turbocharged induction, so don't expect any real fireworks when you mash the throttle pedal. That said, this is not just a spoilers and stickers job. In a manual 'Sport' variant, 62mph can be reached in 8.7s; that's nearly 3 seconds quicker than you'll manage with the lesser 102PS 1.3-litre engine that most Jazz buyers choose. Whichever i-VTEC unit you go for, top speed is pegged at 118mph.
Like many previous Honda i-VTEC units, these two have to be revved quite a lot if you're to get all they've got, an attribute rather at odds with the way typically more mature Jazz owners like to drive. The modest pulling power on offer - 123Nm of torque in the 1.3 and 155Nm in the 1.5 - isn't all delivered until you thrash the thing up to 5,000rpm. To put that into perspective, the 1.0-litre TSI three cylinder turbo engine you'd get in a rival SEAT Ibiza or Volkswagen Polo develops everything from just 1,400rpm. In other words, if you're to push along a bit in this car, you've got to adopt a somewhat different style of driving.
This improved version of the MK3 model Jazz has a slightly more mature, sophisticated look than the earlier car thanks to styling changes that align it more closely with the current tenth generation Civic. It's now just that little bit more... grown-up, which will suit the target market. Go for this 'Sport' version and you'll find a thin red-finished front splitter added beneath the lower grille. More 'Sport'-specific touches reveal themselves once you move to the side - black painted door mirrors, side sill skirts and eye-catching 'Berlina Black' 16-inch alloy wheels.
At the rear, the main change with this facelifted MK3 Jazz lies with the shallower lower corner grille sections, emphasised on this 'Sport' model by a red-trimmed triple-strake lower bumper diffuser. At this level in the range, you get a tailgate roof spoiler too.
At the wheel, there's nothing much of note in the front but the versatility you get in the rear really is impressive, thanks to 'Magic Seat' functionality made possible by the way that the fuel tank has been moved forward to sit under the front seat. That enables you to lift up the rear seat base to accommodate taller items, plus you can push forward the front passenger seat for long items too.
The Honda Jazz Sport could easily be written off as a rather half-hearted top model that does little to remind us of how great Honda used to be at producing sporting cars. Look at it in this harsh fashion and I'd be hard pushed to argue. As a warm hatch, it's not in the same league as the best in the class. Not by a long chalk. That said, this is not a car devoid of appeal. Far from it. The Jazz has developed into a car that's pretty good fun to drive and the Sport will show you a good time on the right road while still offering all the reliable and practicality that Jazz owners have come to depend on.
Better than that, perhaps the Jazz Sport represents a first step, an olive branch bashfully proffered to Honda enthusiasts. Toyota recognised that it needed sportier cars in its portfolio and the delicious second generation NSX model that Honda has now brought us demonstrates that the same feeling may be abroad in Tokyo. And when Honda does sports cars it can be utterly brilliant. One step at a time though.Click here to find out more about our Honda Jazz 1.5i Sport range
Volkswagen up! GTI
I don't remember the original MK1 Golf GTI of the mid-Seventies and I'm almost certain that you won't either. However, Volkswagen tells us that most of what made that iconic shopping rocket truly great is brought back to us by its smallest hot hatch model, the up! GTI. Let's see.
The up! GTI is powered by the most potent petrol engine yet offered in this model range: a turbocharged, three cylinder, 1.0-litre TSI unit which offers 115PS and up to 200Nm of torque. This urge is channelled to the front wheels via a six-speed manual gearbox, and enables the charismatic newcomer to sprint from rest to 62 mph in 8.8 seconds and press on to a top speed of 122mph.
Volkswagen says that's very similar to the kind of performance that the iconic Golf GTI delivered when first it appeared back in 1976. This up! is a bit lighter than that car though, weighing in at only 1,070kg. That should make it an engaging steer, as should a sports suspension set up that sees it lowered by 15mm over the standard car.
Styled inside and out to be an unmistakable member of the modern day GTI fraternity, the up! GTI of course boasts the famous GTI badge front and rear, along with other details synonymous with the GTI such as the sporty honeycomb front grille, darkened side windows at the rear and bright red brake callipers. There are also red trim strips front and rear, bold 17-inch alloy wheels, a chrome tipped exhaust and sporty twin side stripes that are supposed to recall the styling of the original '70s Golf hot hatch.
Inside, this sporty up! is distinguished by both traditional and modern GTI trademarks. The recognisable 'Jakara Red' checked cloth trim on the front sports seats for example; and the GTI gear knob and flat-bottomed three-spoke multifunction steering wheel which is leather-bound and features contrasting red stitching. Plus there's red ambient lighting and a 'Red 2D Pixel' dashpad, all allowing this up! to make its style statement. As with the ordinary up!, there's a 251-litre boot. Push forward the rear bench and the 959-litre total is 50% more than you'd get in the ordinary boot of a huge Volkswagen Passat Estate.
We can't imagine that Volkswagen will have very much trouble shifting as many up! GTI models as it can make to bring to these shores. British buyers love a small hot hatch with agile handling, a perky feel and a bit of heritage. This car ticks all those boxes emphatically.
Ultimately, of course, it's not that fast. But on the right road on the right day, you won't care too much about that. A hot hatch should be about the smile it can paint across your face. This Volkswagen has been engineered to deliver that - just as its Golf predecessor was. Nothing changes.Click here to find out more about our Volkswagen up! GTI range
Suzuki Swift Sport
The Suzuki Swift Sport has long been a car embraced by serious drivers who know a great handling hot hatch when they see it. Though not especially powerful, it's agile, chuckable and brilliant fun for not a lot of money. Few potential buyers know this, so the idea with this third generation model is to widen its appeal with a smarter interior, lower running costs, a little more grunt and even sharper handling. For all that, it'll still be a well-kept secret in this segment, but one loyal buyers will enjoy hugely.
The Swift Sport has never been about pure power. Suzuki could easily shoehorn a 200bhp engine into the thing if it pleased, but that would just make it uninsurable for younger drivers. Instead, and rather sensibly, engine power has been modest, the latest car massaging peak horsepower up from the old car's 134bhp to a still distinctly manageable 138bhp. More important is the news that to achieve this, the old normally aspirated 1.6 has been replaced by a lighter and more efficient 1.4-litre Boosterjet turbo unit. Straight line performance improves marginally and there's 70Nm more torque (230Nm of it), but Suzuki has devoted much of their attention - and rightly so - to developing the Swift's chassis dynamics so it offers even more poise and control.
The suspension set-up has been completely revised in a bid to offer greater driving stability, optimized roll rigidity, and improved dynamic response. And it's all bolted to the much stiffer, lighter 'HEARTECT' platform that underpins the ordinary Swift model. There's a total kerb weight of just 970kgs. To give you some perspective on that, a rival Renaultsport Clio 200 EDC weighs over 200kgs. Which is why this Suzuki can match the performance of that Renault, despite offering considerably less power. Have cake; eat it. Simple.
This Swift Sport features an exclusive frontal design. The front grille and bumper project the nose beyond that of the standard Swift, conveying what the brand hopes is a sense of tautness and imminent action. Muscular shoulders, blacked-out A-pillars and vertically arranged front and rear lamps are brought into vivid relief in this top variant, with black aerodynamic under spoilers spanning the front, sides and rear, and a roof-end spoiler at the back.
Inside, the Japanese designers have tried to create an immersive, interactive sports driving environment, starting with red interior accents and a driver-oriented instrument panel. The main gauges feature contrasting colours, while evocative boost and oil temperature gauges aim to enhance the sports driving experience. Cabin quality can't hope to match that of pricier supermini hot hatch rivals, but it's a big improvement on the previous generation model and the semi-bucket-shaped front seats look good, while the D-shaped steering wheel with dimpled leather gives a secure grip. The chrome-finished shift knob and sports alloy pedals add a final classy touch.
Like many hot hatch buyers at the affordable end of this sector, I'd forgotten about Suzuki's Swift Sport before I checked out this one. Big mistake. Here, you get old-school GTi fun without old-school crudeness. You even get relatively old-school pricing. You won't be moved to buy one after looking at the specs in the brochure but take a test drive down your favourite back road and I guarantee you'll see this car a whole lot differently.
I don't think we should under-estimate the scale of this Japanese brand's achievement here. Bringing a hot hatch up to date usually means increasing its weight, price and complexity. None of which has happened here. Leaving the Swift Sport as a car you buy if you've nothing to prove as a driver but everything to gain from driving it. Please don't change this car Suzuki. Don't make it faster or more hi-tech. It's already the way every real shopping rocket should be.Click here to find out more about our Suzuki Swift Sport range