Hyundai raised the bar in the premium hatchback segment last year when it launched the Elite i20 and since then it has comfortably ruled the roost without any serious challenge. No offense to the Volkswagen Polo, it is no doubt a solid product, but high maintenance being its Achilles heel, it has failed to achieve any serious numbers. The Elite i20 will finally face a genuine contender, the Honda Jazz, which was the pioneer of this segment. Both these cars are like chalk and cheese as they are built on two different schools of thought -- Honda's conservative yet practicality approach against a more driver focus luxurious Hyundai DNA. We pitch the Spartan Jazz against the Roman Elite i20 and find out whether the challenger can dethrone the king.
The Indian Car of the Year, the Elite i20, is one of most attractive looking cars on road, thanks to the new Fluidic Sculpture design. The massive trapezoidal front grille and the big swept back headlamps give it an aggressive stance. A lot has been said about the i20's angular tail lamps, which are a rip-off of an Alfa Romeo, but it has only enhanced the sporty nature of the car. The top variants come with an impressive 16-inch alloy wheels while the entry and mid level trims get puny 14-inch wheels.
The Honda Jazz, on the other hand, retains its tall boy MPV-ish design to ensure that there is plenty of cabin space. Honda's new 'Crossfade Monoform Exterior' design gives the Jazz a more contemporary look with a chunky black front grille that merges with slim Honda City like headlights. There is a well defined character line running across the doors all the way to the LED tail lamps. The Jazz gets an all new 15-inch alloy wheels, which look small when compared to its body. In terms of design, the Jazz is easy on the eyes, but it lacks the oomph the i20 has and therefore, the Hyundai remains the crowd puller.
Don't judge the book by its cover,yet, in this case the car. Step inside the Jazz and you realise how spacious the cabin is. It is easily class leading as four over 6-feet adults in height can easily sit in the car without any complaints as the overall passenger space has increased by 139 litres. The seats are comfortable, but the rear seat squabs, in particular, feel a bit flat and lack thigh support.The cabin layout looks all too familiar as it is designed like the City. Personally, we would have liked Honda experimenting with the interior design and make it more unique for the Jazz. Its cabin is available in two trims -- beige for mid-level range and all black for the top variants.The Jazz comes with a lot of features like a 6.2-inch touchscreen audio visual navigation system, which is not available in the i20. It also comes with a touch panel A/C control, like the City, which is also a first in this segment. Parking is always a hassle, therefore the Jazz is equipped with a rear camera.Jazz continues to be equipped with flexible seats or 'magic' seats. The rear seats can be split 60:40 or completely folded into the floor, increasing the luggage space. The seat squabs can also be folded up so that you can keep a tall object upright. Apart from an option to recline rear seats, the front passenger seat can recline all the back to the rear seat to become a cushy sofa. Another feather in the cap for the Jazz is that it has numerous cubby holes and storage space, including nine cup holders, quite impressive.
The i20's dual beige-black cabin makes you feel special with a neatly designed dashboard. The fit-and-finish and the quality of the plastic used are better than the hard plastics used in Jazz. The i20 is the king features rear parking camera, which has a display screen on the rear view mirror. This is positioned in a strategic location where you can see the rear view mirror, when required, and the sun doesn't reflect on the screen. Though it has a 2-DIN audio system with 1GB storage and 8 speakers system, the small blue display looks very old school and kills the mood. This is where the i20 is left wanting. Giving attention to details is Hyundai's forte as the i20 also comes with rear AC vents. This is definitely a boon as we face long summers in India. Coming to cabin space, i20 too has generous shoulder and leg room, but nowhere near the Jazz. Keep convenience in mind, the i20 has a keyless entry feature and comes with a start-stop ignition button, which sorely lacked in the Jazz. The i20 has a spacious 285 litres of boot, but the Jazz not only has more space, 354 litres, but its loading bay is also low and wide.
Let's now get down to the matters of the heart. The Jazz is powered by 89bhp, 1.2-litre i-VTEC petrol, which is available in 5-speed manual transmission or an automatic CVT. It now also comes in diesel, which is same 1.5-litre, 98.6bhp, i-DTEC in the City, Mobilio and Amaze. The petrol is extremely refined and has a linear acceleration, but the mid range is where it is happy to cruise at. The CVT is roughly 16% lighter than the manual gearbox and according to Honda, it is also more frugal, 19km/l compared to 18.7km/l. The gear shift is smooth and effortless, as expected from a petrol Honda car. The impressive thing about the CVT is that every time you shift up, it responds quickly and hardly any lag can be felt. The 1.2-litre is ideal for commuting in the city as long as you don't expect it to burn some rubber when you step on the gas. The diesel variant remains the same -- noisy and unrefined. Within 1,800 rpm, you hear the engine noise in the cabin. It isn't one of the most pacy engines in the market, but according to Honda, it has a class leading figures of 27.3km/l.
Coming to the Elite i20, it has the 1.2-litre Kappa petrol engine and the 1.4-litre diesel. The Kappa engine is refined, fairly responsive and is always eager to give you a little more power. This 82bhp petrol engine is an all-rounder as it has more than enough power for negotiating city driving conditions and at same time stable and composed on the highway. It is certainly not a scorcher, but has more than sufficient power. The diesel, on the other hand, has a healthy torque of 219Nm, which helps propel this 89bhp powerplant. But the downside is that the power rush can only be felt after 2,000rpm, so a certain amount of lag keeps you hanging when you step on the gas. The NVH level is also impressive as most of the diesel sound and clatter is absorbed and very little is audible in the cabin.
So do we have a kingslayer in our midst? Not quite. The Honda Jazz has unbeatable cabin, comfortable seats, handles well in corners and has a fairly long list of features. But it doesn't feel too premium from the inside, lacks rear AC vents, which is a cardinal sin, and for a premium hatchback, it should come with keyless entry. The 1.2-litre petrol is a predictable yet a has enough punch to drive to drive in the city. The diesel is still noisy and needs to be pushed to make the ponies gallop.
The Elite i20 still looks like a million bucks. And of course, Hyundai has loaded this hatchback with plenty of features - with important ones like like rear AC vents. Both cars come with all the standard media and wireless connectivity.
When it comes to handling, the i20 sets the bar high as takes on corners with ease and gives you full confidence. But, yes, the steering continues to be lifeless as there is no feedback. When it comes to fuel efficiency figures, the i20 is not too far behind the Jazz. Hyundai claims that the petrol engine offers 18.5km/l, while the diesel returns 22km/l.
If space and practicality is what you're looking at, then choose the Honda Jazz, but if you want a premium hatchback that looks great, makes you feel special when you're in the cabin, has decent power and handles well, then it has to be the Hyundai Elite i20.