Deceptively large interior
Honda's compact Jazz has been something of a sleeper hit since its original launch. It might have lacked the 'wow' factor of some rival but it easily compensated with its capacious cabin and modest footprint. Keen to maintain its sought-after status, this generation includes a raft of welcome improvements.
Most of the main manufacturers have an entry in this segment of the market, with some efforts being significantly better than others. And then there's the Jazz, a car that looks small but rivals its larger Civic brother for space and versatility.
The Jazz is well made, spacious on the inside, refined, comfortable, affordable, easy on the eye, reliable and classy. That it's been Honda's best selling car speaks volumes for its broad appeal. Whether it's your first car, the family's second car or just something for the commute into work, the Jazz oozes quality and performs admirably.
Recently, critics have commented on the car's firm ride and the lack of a CVT gearbox. The latter was replaced by an automated manual transmission in a bid to reduce emissions and fuel consumption, but subsequent owners weren't impressed. With CVT technology now much improved the continuously variable 'box is back, along with subtle changes to ride and comfort plus a new hybrid model offering a similar experience to that of Honda's Insight.
In hybrid guise the Jazz borrows heavily from its Insight cousin. That said, in real terms it behaves every bit like the conventional petrol-powered models. For those interested, that is a very good thing. There are no quirks or compromises to be had here, although the hybrid's 104g/km CO2 rating might disappoint some. Honda's argument is that, if it was to chase that sub-100g/km goal, refinement might suffer and the car could lose its trademark (but bulky) folding rear seats.
Honda has a reputation for listening to its customers and, with this Jazz, the various improvements are most welcome. From its sharper looks to its more compliant ride, there's a lot to like. On a practical note the car's flexible seating and cabin put rival superminis to shame, while the hybrid variant is a good effort.
While the Jazz isn't the cheapest option in the supermini market, the combination of its solid performance, durability, versatility and above average levels of kit and refinement should count for something. Factor in the improved engine range boasting increased efficiencies and your wallet can be spared some of the usual horrors. Opt for hybrid and, being above the magic 100g/km CO2 threshold, it misses out on congestion charge concessions.
Although pitched as a small car, you'll be surprised by how big the Jazz is on the inside. Sit in the front and you will be impressed with the space allocated to each passenger – it's a similar feeling when sat in the rear. The car's 'magic' rear seats boast an impressive level of flexibility, and can be positioned to accommodate cycles and other awkward objects, resulting in a flat load bay.
A boost in quality throughout the car has also led to improved switchgear. That aside, the basic Jazz layout is largely the same as before. All controls and dials are chunky and have a solid, connected feel to them. The layout of the stereo controls on the dash is straightforward and simple to fathom, while the main instrument binnacle is backlit. The CVT gearlever is easy to use, and the steering wheel paddleshifters are a useful addition.
Improvements to ride comfort and overall refinement have done much to silence critics of the previous generation car. Even at motorway speeds the Jazz's interior is now a more relaxing place to be despite the hard work being done by the engines. Supportive seats and light-action controls complete the picture.
At this end of the scale there isn't much to talk about. Apart from the usual remote central locking and imobilisor package that's pretty much your lot. The car's sturdy rear load cover does ensure prying eyes are warned away, though.
The Jazz is a solidly constructed car and comes with a good range of safety kit. Airbags aren't in short supply and the electronic stability control is also present for added peace of mind.
The Jazz was never designed for keen drivers but this generation of car has been treated to a revised suspension set-up, which has noticeably improved agility and ride comfort. The various engines perform well, and the return of the CVT gearbox is a welcome one. It delivers a smooth experience and is rarely troubled even by steep inclines. The hybrid Jazz behaves just like its petrol cousins, which is high praise indeed.
Most superminis fail at this hurdle but, thanks in part to the Jazz's spacious cabin, flexible seating and modest running costs it's a capable alternative to something larger. Hardwearing fittings dominate the cabin – another reason to make it onto your shopping list.
There's no question that the Jazz would make an ideal first car. It's easy to drive and hardly a performance fireball, making it a great low risk option. With its lofty driving position and low running costs it's a solid choice for anyone seeking a practical car that's one step above the traditional novice runabout.
Europeans still regard Japanese cars as passion-less white goods designed for getting people from A to B, but the jazz offers a little extra welcome sparkle in the way it looks and drives. The cabin is built to a high standard, which also helps.
With its elevated seating positions and generous door apertures, access to the cabin is easy. In reality, only those rear adults passengers over six feet tall will struggle for headroom but that's not uncommon in cars like this. At the rear, the wide opening tailgate allows for equally easy access to the boot.
The standard fit system boasts good sound quality. Steering wheel-mounted audio controls are a welcome inclusion, and the unit's position in the fascia makes the display easy to read at a glance.
There are no rough edges or untidy seams to be found – you'll be in a pleasant and high quality cabin. Bold exterior colours help lift the Jazz's appeal, and do much to counter the perception that it's a car exclusively targeted at older drivers.
The car's assisted steering is feather light and makes parking a piece of cake. A generous amount of glass and a nicely elevated seating position make the Jazz a delight to park.
A tyre mobility kit is fitted as standard.
Petrol engine options – 1.2-litre (90bhp); 1.4-litre (100bhp); 1.2-litre petrol-electric hybrid (88bhp). Transmission options: 5-speed manual transmission, CVT auto (hybrid and optional for 1.4 variants). Trim levels: S, ES, EX. Hybrid trim levels: HE, HS, HX