Disjointed Reality

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Honda Jazz 2009

I recently had the opportunity to drive a new Honda Jazz for a day. This came equipped with Honda's i-Shift, 6 speed automatic gearbox. Although the Jazz gets consistently good reviews in the motoring press, I can honestly say that it is the worst car I have ever driven. Maybe I should be more specific. I know that the Jazz is a great little car, I drive a three year old one regularly and it combines good performance, economy, accommodation and build quality. My main gripe with the new model was the i-shift gearbox. I've never been a lover of automatic gearboxes - I find the lag, and hunting for the right gear at certain speeds annoying. The i-Shift takes this to a whole new level.

The car is equipped with three different methods for changing gear. Full automatic, a gear lever, which is pushed forwards to change up and pulled backwards to change down and the infamous "flappy paddle" controls on the steering wheel, so hated by Jeremy Clarkson.

Starting the engine was my first challenge, mainly because it wouldn't. I had to find the instruction manual to read up on the startup procedure, which involved depressing the brake pedal while turning the key.

Setting off in heavy traffic I found that I was stuck in first gear. My instinctive reaction was to pull the gear lever backwards to get into second, but nothing happened, because to change up, it should be pushed forwards. My next instinctive move was to want to change into third. Tapping the lever to the left and pushing up, I found myself in full automatic mode. Surely this would be more straightforward, until I was able to get off the busy dual carriageway… but no, it was far worse. This small, 1.4 litre car has a six speed gearbox which really didn't know which gear it wanted to be in. Every time there was a gear change, the car seemed to almost come to a halt. There was a two or three second wait before the next gear was engaged, causing drivers behind me to wonder what on earth I was doing, while trying to avoid running into the back of me. Throughout the whole day, I found the full automatic mode to be almost impossible to use, verging on dangerous.

Once off the main road, I decided to give the steering wheel mounted paddle shifters a try. Set off in first, pull the right paddle towards me and up into second, then third. Great, no problem. Dropping back through the gearbox was equally smooth and simple, using the left hand paddle. Wonderful! Finally a method that seemed to work well. I then came to a road junction, I looked both ways - all clear. Turned left onto the main road and stretched out my fingers to change up… No paddle! The paddles had rotated with the wheel so they were now at the top and bottom and not where my hands were, on either side. With the engine revving at high speed in first gear I grabbed the floor mounted gear lever and once again pulled it backwards for second gear. Of course nothing happened.

I know that given a little time it would all feel far more natural, but my initial impressions were the ones that shaped my opinions about the car. I would never get used to the full automatic mode, it was just far too laggy. The pauses between changes felt like missed heartbeats; each time, a slightly disconcerting breathless moment.

I also found the layout of instruments and controls to be rather haphazard and counterintuitive. On the plus side, the car was comfortable and the steering and handling felt tight and agile.

I was certainly glad to hand the Jazz back at the end of the day.

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