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The Honda Jazz is a super-practical supermini that’s a doddle to drive and own, but lacking in excitement

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Revolutionary, cutting edge, high performance are words that can’t be attributed to the Honda Jazz.

And yet the Honda's continued sales success means that for thousands of buyers, arriving at a destination in an unflustered, undramatic fashion is far more important.

The Honda Jazz is a pragmatic choice, as opposed to one driven by passion

We’re not sure whether the old adage ‘If it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ translates well into Japanese, but Honda’s engineers must have uttered the local equivalent when designing this model.

So while it is almost entirely new, the Honda Jazz's focus remains on practicality and versatility, with tweaks to the exterior dimensions and promised improvements to the dynamic repertoire.

The greatest single change is Honda’s attempt to sharpen the styling to appeal more to younger, more image-conscious buyers.

The Honda Jazz comes with either a 1.2-litre or what Honda calls a 1.4-litre petrol engine (despite it displacing only 1339cc) or as a Honda Jazz hybrid. Honda's 1.2-litre model is only available with a five-speed manual, while the 1.4-litre is also offered with an automatic CVT gearbox. The hybrid is auto-only.

Unlike rivals, there’s no eco-diesel model or diesel. Honda prefers to take the hybrid route using much of the mechanicals from the Honda Insight - a 1.3-litre petrol engine working alongside an electric motor through an auto gearbox.

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It’s a mild hybrid, though, so it won’t travel on battery power alone, using the extra power to take the strain off the petrol motor or to boost power. Emissions are disappointing, not managing to duck below the 100g/km mark.

By any comparison the Honda Jazz is an expensive small car, especially the hybrid version, but you do get a reasonable kit list and a reputation for reliability that seems well founded judging by its lofty position in customer satisfaction surveys.

DESIGN & STYLING

Honda Jazz badging

Simple ideas, big results. The fuel tank fits beneath the front seats, meaning the Honda Jazz offers an impressive luggage storage area, bettering many from the class above, although the hybrid system eats into space in petrol-electric models.

The Honda Jazz also offers versatile multi-folding seats, but by stretching the exterior dimensions slightly over the previous generation car - length by 55mm, width by 20mm and wheelbase by 50mm - it offers even more space.

The beauty of the Jazz is that it is so easy to live with

Honda really does have it licked when it comes to interior flexibility. Flip the rear seatbases up to get a bike in behind the front seats or fold all the back seats down to turn the Jazz in to a small van.

Then there is the novelty of a multi-position parcel shelf, or ‘double trunk’ in Honda speak, which divides the boot space to your specific.

Designed by the man responsible for the European Honda Civic, the Jazz apes that car’s raised central bonnet section and uses more angular lines than its predecessor. Extending the length and width, while keeping the height unchanged, has made the Jazz appear (slightly) less functional and boxy. This effect is helped by the more steeply sloping rear roof line and optional panoramic roof.

There’s never been any sign of a sportier three door Jazz, with Honda sticking to the supermini-cum-MPV styling that has served it so well over the years - the Jazz is a constant among the best-selling superminis.

INTERIOR

Honda Jazz dashboard

The Honda Jazz owes plenty to the larger Honda Civic’s spacecraft-style cabin, with design themes apparent in the steering wheel, swooping dashboard curves and chunky ancillary controls.

Fortunately, and probably thanks to the Jazz’s conservative customer base, the Honda Civic’s rather eccentric and occasionally confusing interior styling has been greatly toned down for the Jazz.

You’ll struggle to find a more capacious supermini

The result is both easier on the eye and more sensible for daily use than the Honda Civic’s fussy interior.

It is leagues ahead of the previous Jazz’s plasticky, unimaginative dash layout but still lags some way behind the most imaginative interiors in the class - the quality of materials errs on the side of hard-wearing rather than luxury.

One of the most distinctive features of the old Jazz was its space-efficient interior packaging. The new car moves this to new levels. In the boot (as long as you include the underfloor well), the new Jazz has a seats-up luggage capacity of 399 litres, which comfortably outsizes anything in the supermini class, and even beats the 396-litre boot of the Ford Focus.

Hybrid models are slightly less capacious though, but with more than 300 litres of space, it can hardly be called small.

The Jazz also does some very clever things with its seating. The rears not only fold flat at the pull of a lever, but the squabs can also be locked vertically, turning the rear seats into a tall extra luggage compartment. Even in their conventional positions, there’s a generous amount of legroom.

Storage space in the front of the car isn’t quite so clever, but there’s plenty of it - twin gloveboxes and big door bins.

In general, the Jazz’s interior is an object lesson in practicality, usability and space efficiency. In fact, the only real criticisms we can level at the interior are the slightly brittle-feeling plastics of the handbrake surround and lower centre console.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Honda Jazz front quarter

It’s rare that a car can fool its occupants into thinking the engine has stalled because it’s so quiet. It’s even rarer for it to happen in the supermini class, yet we recorded the Honda Jazz 1.4 idling at just 36 decibels from inside the cabin.

This is barely louder than the ambient noise at our test track and means the Honda's engine is rendered all but inaudible in busy town streets. The other engines are similarly quiet, but we’d stick with the 1.4 for its blend of performance, economy and purchase price.

The Jazz is a paragon of refinement

The 1.4-litre Jazz’s 99bhp is a respectable output for an engine that displaces only a little more than 1.3 litres, and although it’s a Honda unit with i-VTEC, don’t be fooled into thinking that those things make it a high-revving screamer.

If you do ask a lot of the Jazz you’ll find it reasonably brisk for its class. Any 1.4-litre supermini that ducks comfortably under 11sec for 0-62mph, but the Jazz wants 11.9 - or 12.8 with a CVT ‘box - but the Jazz’s 1.4 spins smoothly and willingly.

The hybrid takes a little over 12sec to reach 62mph and the 1.2 is only half a second slower, mainly due to its relative lack of mid-range punch. Despite the performance deficit, you’d have to drive the 1.2 and 1.4 back-to-back to spot the difference.

All major controls are easy-going, linear and predictable. Honda might say that the Jazz is targeted at a younger audience this time round but its engineers certainly haven’t neglected buyers whose joints operate with, shall we say, less fluency and precision than they once did.

The Jazz is a doddle to drive and its short, snatch-free gearshift is among the sweetest in production. As you’d imagine, the automatic versions are popular, but do put a dampener on proceedings.

It's fine at a sedate pace, but open the throttle, and the engine screams loudly. And a Sport mode in and automatic Jazz is as pointless as it is incongruous.

RIDE & HANDLING

Honda Jazz cornering

The first Honda Jazz was one of those cars that was easy to recommend to people who - and if this sounds damning, it isn’t meant to - didn’t care much for driving. “I just want a reliable, practical car to get me from A to B,” they might say. “Buy a Honda Jazz then,” you might reply.

Although Honda is targeting, somewhat inevitably, a more dynamic audience this time, and while the firm’s senior engineers would like to do a hot version, the Jazz remains one of the more staid cars in this market to drive.

Don’t expect driver thrills; Jazz buyers want peace and comfort

Where a Ford Fiesta gives an incisive turn-in and athletic poise, the Jazz gives light, slow-geared steering and an excellent 9.48m turning circle.

Being enthusiasts, we like a little more fizz and pizzazz from our superminis, but it would be churlish to overly criticise Honda for making a car that will match most of its customers’ dynamic needs to the letter.

The Jazz’s secondary ride is compliant, at the inevitable expense of some softness and loss of body control. And although slow-geared and light, its steering is accurate enough. There’s an underlying soundness to the chassis balance, too.

But there is a dearth of excitement when piloting a Jazz. Moreover, despite changes to its suspension and more aggressive appearance, the Jazz Si - the closest Jazz does to a hot version - is no Ford Fiesta Zetec S. Yes, it gains a little composure in the bends, but consequently loses some compliance. Similarly, while bigger wheels and tyres lend the Jazz Si greater grip thresholds, they do thump over broken surfaces more noticeably.

Ultimately, the limited scope of the Si modifications are manifested in the driving experience; it simply isn't that different to a standard Jazz.

The Jazz’s tendency is to understeer at its limit - exactly as it should - which is kept soundly in check by the stability control system (VSA) that’s standard on all models. However, VSA can still be switched out completely, and in the wet the Jazz displays a wider dynamic range.

The Jazz is a fine car but we’d hoped it would display a little more vim and if Honda really is serious about attracting a more youthful buyer, we have a nagging feeling it needs to.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Honda Jazz

The Honda Jazz isn’t a cheap supermini. In fact some versions, especially the hybrid - which comes perilously close to £20,000 - are positively expensive. Other running costs are reasonable, if not outstanding.

CO2 outputs, and therefore miles per gallon figures, are nothing to write home about. The hybrid is a particular disappointment - with most rival ‘minis offering a sub-100g/km model, you might expect a hybrid to better that. Sadly not.

The Jazz regularly tops customer satisfaction surveys

Neither of the two petrol models are especially frugal or efficient, either. In fact, we only managed an average of 35mpg in our tests of the 1.4 against an official average of just over 50mpg. By comparison, official figures for the 1.2 and hybrid are 53mpg and 62.8mpg respectively.

What will make a difference to your bottom line, should you buy a Jazz, is the lower-than-average insurance rating. Strong residual values also (the Jazz should retain 52 percent of its value over three years) make the Jazz a tempting way to spend your own money.

List prices may be high, but you’ll enjoy a decent level of standard equipment - all models with the exception of the 1.2s get air conditioning - and you’ll find powered front and rear windows, electric mirrors and Bluetooth connectivity standard across the range.

Honda servicing will set you back slightly more than average, but once you’re out of warranty you shouldn’t have to spend much on repairs - the Jazz has a strong following due in part to its reliability. Dealers are renowned for offering excellent customer service, too.

VERDICT

4 star Honda Jazz

The Honda Jazz delivers things to enjoy; the action of the rear seats will impress engineering enthusiasts and the drivetrain is sweet.

It is as close to pain-free, trouble-free motoring as you’re likely to get - everything works with slick, simple precision and you’re unlikely to suffer reliability woes. But as with choosing a fridge or double-glazing, there’s little to get emotional about when buying a Jazz.

It might lack dynamic vim, but its all-round talents are deeply impressive

For enthusiasts that’s disappointing, but when the Jazz fulfils its intended role with such spectacular aplomb it would be harsh in the extreme to criticise. It’s an excellently packaged, competitively refined and seemingly well constructed car whose merits will be well appreciated by those who buy it.

You have to pay for it, though - the Jazz isn’t a bargain to buy and not as cheap to run as many of its rivals.

The hybrid is a particular disappointment, too - it’s expensive and doesn’t live up to its eco billing.

You’ll have more fun in a Ford Fiesta, a Volkswagen Polo exudes greater quality and a Fiat 500 is a good deal more stylish, but we would understand entirely anyone’s decision that the Honda Jazz was, in fact, a sound and sensible option.

Steve Cropley

Steve Cropley Autocar
Title: Editor-in-chief

Steve Cropley is the oldest of Autocar’s editorial team, or the most experienced if you want to be polite about it. He joined over 30 years ago, and has driven many cars and interviewed many people in half a century in the business. 

Cropley, who regards himself as the magazine’s “long stop”, has seen many changes since Autocar was a print-only affair, but claims that in such a fast moving environment he has little appetite for looking back. 

He has been surprised and delighted by the generous reception afforded the My Week In Cars podcast he makes with long suffering colleague Matt Prior, and calls it the most enjoyable part of his working week.

Honda Jazz 2008-2015 First drives