The Honda Jazz is something of a nonconformist in the small-car world.
It’s always felt more like a mini-MPV rather than a traditional, zippy town car such as the Volkswagen Polo or Skoda Fabia. However, what it lacked in nimbleness, it made up for with supreme cabin practicality.
This latest version is no measly refresh; from the ground up it’s all new. There’s a new chassis using Honda’s Global Compact Platform, with new front suspension that’s claimed to improve both ride and refinement – a bugbear of the old Jazz.
It also allows for a longer wheelbase, so the engineers have eeked out even more interior space.
There is only a 1.3-litre petrol to be had, which is new too, but it is available with either a manual or automatic gearbox.
The naturally aspirated engine may be new, but it feels decidedly old-school by today’s standards.
Firstly, it’s not very efficient, with higher CO2 emissions and poorer fuel consumption than the competition, but neither is it that quick. In fairness, none of these cars are, but the problem here is flexibility.
Look at the data and the i-VTEC doesn’t hit maximum torque until a peaky 5000rpm. By comparison, a Volkswagen Group 1.2 TSI engine produces more torque, and serves it up from just 1400rpm.
It makes a huge difference to the driving experience. You find yourself thrashing the Jazz to keep up with fast-moving traffic, and when you do, it’s not particularly smooth.
Still, it means you get the pleasure of the six-speed manual gearbox (a CVT automatic is also available), which has a lovely stubby lever and a positive gate. There’s a decent amount of clutch and brake pedal feel, too, although the accelerator is way too sensitive when you’re pulling away.
You certainly notice the dynamic changes. The Jazz showed plenty of grip and balance and managed to keep body roll within acceptable limits on its leafy Surrey test route. The steering is accurate and linear, albeit without oodles of feel. It’s certainly no Fiesta, but it’s good enough.
The ride is improved, and even with the larger 16in alloys, it never crashed over bumps and shrugged off the challenge of a cobbled street. You feel the odd thud when the going gets really tough, while the dampers allow a bit too much vertical body movement off crests, but that’s about it. Again, not class-leading, but good enough.
Inside, at least from my lanky perspective, there isn’t quite enough rearward travel for the driver’s seat and it could do with more thigh support. That said, these things are to an extent subjective, and you may well find it as relaxing as a well-stuffed wingback.
In general the fit and finish is good, and the chrome accents and gloss-black surfaces help to, well, jazz up the Jazz’s interior. There are still some nail-breaking plastics thrown in, mind, and if you had to choose on cabin ambience alone, you’d vote Polo, every time.
The dash is well laid out, with clear dials that include a TFT screen next to the speedometer to display all your driving data. It’s operated via the standard steering wheel controls, which cover the phone and stereo as well. The only complaint is that the dash buttons for the climate and infotainment systems are all touch sensitive; apart from making you feel like you’ve travelled back to 1985, they’re trickier to hit than conventional buttons when you’re on the move.
There are five trim levels to choose from when speccing your Jazz – S, SE, SE Navi, EX and EX Navi. The entry-level trim comes with cruise control, Bluetooth, and Honda’s magic seat and active city braking systems.
Upgrade to SE and SE Navi and you get parking sensors, Honda’s Connect touchscreen infotainment system and drive assist pack, with the latter also including a Garmin-powered sat nav. The range-topping EX and EX Navi get alloy wheels, front fog lights and a rear view camera as standard, with the latter also getting sat nav as part of the bundle.
The Honda Connect infotainment system is decent enough, with all the menus easy enough to flick through, while programming a destination or pairing a phone is straightforward. The screen is fairly low-resolution, mind, and you have to be ultra-precise touching the on-screen icons, otherwise it’ll simply ignore your commands.
It’s genuinely astounding that a car with the external dimensions of a Fiesta should have this much rear leg and head room. You’ll get two tall adults in easily, and squeeze a third in the back for short trips if needs be.
Then you’ve got those clever Magic Seat bases, which flip up and allow you to put bigger loads across the rear seats; or you can fold then down completely and leave yourself a fully flat extended load deck.
Even without folding the rear seats, the boot is still bigger than those of most rivals – the Skoda Fabia included. And it’s well designed, with useful under-floor storage, a low loading-height and a wide aperture.
All models other than entry S trim will help protect you with a standard safety package that includes a forward city alert, lane departure warning, automatic main beam and traffic sign recognition. Speaking of equipment, when you look at all the other toys you get beyond the safety package, the Jazz, while seeming expensive, is actually good value next to a Polo or Fiesta.
If you want the most grown-up cabin in this class, buy a Polo. And, if you want the best value allied to a thoroughly charming little car, buy a Fabia. However, if you want a Tardis, buy a Honda Jazz.
It really is so ridiculously practical that if your situation dictates the need for small on the outside and big on the inside, there’s little else to touch it.