What is it?
This is a pre-production version of the next-generation Honda Jazz supermini, known as the Fit in its native Japan.
The current Jazz - a firm Autocar favourite - has been around for seven years, during which time around 2,000,000 have been sold across 115 countries. The new Jazz gets its official unveiling at the Tokyo motor show in October, and is due to go on sale in 2008.
The new car is 55mm longer (3900mm), 20mm wider (1695mm) and has a 50mm longer wheelbase (2500mm), which helps improve cabin space, especially rear knee clearance. It isn’t any taller, but rear headroom is 10mm better due to a revised layout for the central fuel tank.
In Japan two engines are available, a 1.3 and a 1.5-litre petrol. Both are revised versions of the existing units, but with the latest SOHC i-VTEC system added to improve power, fuel economy and emissions. There's no word from Honda UK on the engines we'll get here, but expect revised versions of the existing 1.2 and 1.4 i-DSi units. The latter is in fact the same as the Japanese 1.3, but it's dubbed a 1.4 to differentiate it from the 1.2.
The 1.3 generates 99bhp at 6000rpm and 98lb ft at 4500rpm, and the 1.5 packs 118bhp at 6300rpm and 108lb ft at 4800rpm.
For Japan, a continuously variable transmission is standard, powering with the front or optionally all four wheels. A five-speed manual is available on the 1.5 version. UK cars are likely to have a manual 'box as standard, with CVT optional on the 1.4.
Suspension is by McPherson struts up front and torsion beam at the rear.
What's it like?
The new model stays faithful to the look of its predecessor, but with enough tweaks to keep it looking fresh. It's slightly larger and feels more upmarket, although the interior looks a little too busy.
As the car is still only a prototype, we weren't allowed outside Honda's proving ground in Hokkaido, but that still means we got to drive the Fit on a winding hill route, a high-speed loop and some suburban-style roads that are pretty close to what you'll find in the UK.
We tried the front-drive 1.5 RS with CVT first. From standstill, it picks up speed respectably quickly, and there's enough shove to help mid-range acceleration, but the roar of the CVT doesn't exactly produce a sporty feeling. We'd stick with the manual version.
The steering is well-weighted and quick to respond. The suspension is firm and body roll well-controlled, but this is no sports hatch.
The ride seems more supple than the old car's, even on the RS's 15-inch wheels. It's helped by comfy seats, shared with the Accord.
The 1.3 (also with CVT) is even better. Its lighter weight (1010kg versus 1050kg) means that you don't notice any lack of power over the 1.5.
The steering is a little lighter, but every bit as involving, and the chassis errs more on the side of comfort, without any appreciable loss of agility, only a slight increase in understeer.
Should I buy one?
On first impressions, we reckon Honda's on to a winner again. The new Jazz builds on the strengths of the old car, plus adds a more upmarket feel and a more comfortable ride. If the price is right – we reckon it'll come in at around £9500 for the 1.2 and £11,000 for the 1.4 – it deserves to sell well.