Bland Style Marks Another New Honda
By Andy Bannister
A classic case in point is the latest version of the Jazz small hatchback (called the Fit in other markets including North America), which is doubtless a fine small car, carefully improved in every way. Stylistically, though, it takes no risks, being only a timid advance on its predecessor.
In fact, the outgoing model was still selling strongly to the end, so in some ways it’s hardly surprising that the same basic formula has been maintained, albeit in a slightly bigger and smoothed-out package which makes even more of the commendable interior space.
That begs another question: Could Honda have saved itself a small fortune and kept the original car going a little longer than the usual model cycle and taken time to think more creatively about a replacement?
The lack of flair demonstrated by the new Jazz/Fit is even more true of the latest European iteration of the Accord (smaller than North America’s), which has been around for a few months now but is so nondescript I’ve yet to positively identify one on the road.
Few people are even aware that Honda has a flagship model in Europe, the Legend (Acura RL in North America), which is principally notable for the fact that it makes the VW Phaeton look slightly interesting by comparison.
Of course, plenty of other makers are reluctant to change a winning formula in terms of taking risks with a best-seller‘s appearance. The second-generation models from both Mini and Smart are a case in point, although this duo can perhaps be excused a little on the grounds that they want to preserve the slightly quirky, one-of-a-kind appeal of their first-generation models.
Yet, once in a blue moon Honda can amaze people by pulling off a dramatic new shape. The obvious example is the current European Civic hatchback, a vehicle with such a bold look that even people who normally can’t tell one car from another recognise it instantly.
Nearly three years on, though, it now looks disappointingly like a one-off move, rather than heralding any form of new style direction for the company.
Incidentally, I’m not sure quite the same effect is evident on the very different North American version of the Civic, having seen a few examples of the sedan, sold in Europe only as a hybrid.
No doubt the thoroughly inoffensive latest Jazz/Fit will be at least as successful as its predecessor, which has put Honda on the small car map over the last six years. Interestingly, here in the UK it is firmly entrenched as the number one car of choice for elderly drivers, with the average age of buyers being well over 60, unlike most rival small hatches, which have a decidedly younger demographic.
Those buyers will no doubt be quite pleased the spirit of the 2002-vintage styling hasn’t been messed with too much, and should be happy to pay higher-than-average prices for a car made in low-cost Thailand but with apparently peerless reliability.
An acquaintance of mine insists that Honda must offer all sorts of unusual accessories to score such a hit with elderly consumers. Pension-book pockets in the sun visors, walking stick holders, incontinence warning lights, and all manner of such things… Unfair and unfunny, many people would say.
Joking aside, though, cornering the market among grandparents is likely to mean most younger people will take more convincing than ever to head to a Honda showroom, and in the longer term that must be a concern for the company in markets like the UK.
Honda’s other offerings here aren’t much better from an aesthetic point of view. The six-seater FR-V is probably the best looker of the bunch, which isn’t saying a great deal. The CR-V has sold well but more recent rivals like the VW Tiguan and Land Rover Freelander can run rings round it in the style and desirability stakes. The ageing S2000 roadster has many merits but drop-dead-gorgeous looks aren’t among them.
Models like the Element, which looks like an interesting vehicle from this side of the pond, simply aren’t sold in Europe.
Ironically, the most radical ever version of the Jazz was the now-forgotten first small car to wear the badge, sold only from 1984 to 1986 in Europe, and based on a baby hatch called the City back home in Japan. It had daring looks for its day, together with really clever packaging, and won numerous plaudits from motoring journalists.
Unfortunately, though, it was ahead of its time and never really caught on, so was a resounding sales flop here. Maybe finding that winning formula and clinging to it through thick and thin is understandable after all.
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