Honda’s much-loved supermini has always been the right kind of size for young and newly qualified drivers, with dimensions making it easier to manoeuvre, lower insurance and cheap running costs. Over the years, it’s mainly proved a hit with the older generation, though, who love its extremely practical and reliable image. Honda has shaken things up with the new, third generation Jazz, which has a much more futuristic and edgy look like the Civic and its other family members, helping it shout out to younger drivers at long last, definitely in our test car’s Attract Yellow paint job.
From the front three-quarters and the side profile, the new Jazz actually looks quite athletic and sporty and the rear light clusters are bang up-to-date, too, although their design is a bit Marmite and you’ll either love them or hate them. The car’s overall impact is striking in the supermini class and looks especially snazzy in EX trim with 16-inch alloys, fog lights and very dark tinted windows. Some younger drivers understandably prefer automatic gearboxes, particularly if they live in congested areas with stop-start traffic a daily chore, so we spent a week with the CVT ‘automatic’ version of the new Jazz to see how it stacks up, with Honda reporting that it has been slightly outselling the manual version since sales began not that long ago.
It’s true what people say about the Honda Jazz being like the Tardis, its pint-size external proportions masking an interior that’s like a cave, with plenty of space in the front and back. The new, third generation model has grown 95mm in length and the space between front and rear seats has been increased. Starting off with 345 litres of boot space with the back seats raised, the Honda’s luggage capacity increases to 884 litres when the seats are folded, and even the front passenger seat can fold completely flat, opening up a whopping total of 1,314 litres. For young drivers who are into sports like mountain biking, golf or cricket, or who often carry a lot of stuff around for whatever reason, the latest Jazz leads the way in the supermini class – all thanks to Honda’s ingenious ‘Magic Seats’ system.
The new Jazz feels as solidly screwed together on the inside as it does on the outside and is pretty classy in places, like the steering wheel, dashboard, various buttons and controls, and the large 7-inch Honda Connect touchscreen infotainment system. Okay, some of the plastics feel much cheaper lower down the car, such as the door pockets, but they still feel built-to-last. I just found it a little odd than the storage compartment under the front arm rest is small and awkwardly-shaped and the glovebox is nothing special, making the car brilliant for large loads but weirdly less practical for odds and ends.
In EX Trim, the Jazz is like a spoilt child, lacking nothing, with Bluetooth, keyless entry and start, a rear view camera, cruise control, decent music system, AUX, USB and HDMI sockets, Android smartphone-mirroring, Honda apps, heated electric wing mirrors, and automatic headlights and windscreen wipers. It won’t take a University Challenge contestant to figure out that the ‘Navi’ bit of the test car’s spec’ refers to sat nav, which in the Honda’s case is a GARMIN system that is generally really easy to use thanks to having nice big buttons and logical menus. Accessing recent destinations and finding points of interest could be more straightforward, but it’s otherwise one of the best GPS around.
Young and newly qualified drivers will love the new Jazz’s excellent visibility, making it feel a safe car to take to the road in, and the driving position is generally really comfortable with the various controls where you’d expect to find them. The front seat doesn’t push far back enough for tall drivers, though, and it’s quite easy to unintentionally set off in or shift the gearbox into sport mode, or accidentally knock it into neutral if you’re not careful. Driving an automatic is still much more relaxing for newbie drivers who suffer from low confidence or nerves, though, and the Jazz is a doddle to manoeuvre around town thanks to its tiddly dimensions, superb visibility and excellent reversing camera. Compared to the new Suzuki Baleno we tested last week, the new Jazz’s steering is weighted more lightly for low speed negotiation in car parks and other situations that newer drivers find tricky at times, but it firms up at higher speeds and provides a tiny bit more feedback than the previous model did. The new Jazz doesn’t glide over speed-bumps and through potholes like a swan on a lake but neither does it make a clattering mess of them, and the car’s comfort, quietness and decent suspension mean it’s a relaxing car for journeys of all lengths.
The new 1.3 i-VTEC petrol engine from Honda’s Earth Dreams Technology series is really hushed while it ticks over and when the car’s pootling around town or cruising at moderate A and B-road speeds. We won’t bore you with how CVT gearboxes differ from other types of ‘automatics’ but during hard acceleration they typically produce an unpleasant sound like a washing machine on full spin – and it’s no different for the Jazz. Even as a car insurance firm that encourages safe, smooth and efficient driving from our young customers, it’s still fair to say that the 1.3-litre engine with its 102PS of power and 123Nm of torque feels like a tortoise because of the CVT gearbox, meaning it’s hard to fall in love with, unlike Suzuki’s 1-litre Boosterjet engine. To make the acceleration experience slightly more bearable, the flappy paddle gear-shifters can be used, although it feels odd in a supermini like the Jazz. If you’re someone who does a lot of overtaking, the Jazz 1.3 CVT’s sluggishness could be an issue, but once it reaches high speeds it’s fortunately pleasant to drive and its average fuel consumption doesn’t sink like a stone in water even if you drive with a heavy right foot (which we always advise against for safety and efficiency reasons). After around 375 miles of mixed driving, I averaged 52mpg, which stacks up pretty well against its ‘on paper’ figure of 57.6mpg. The new Jazz in EX Navi CVT trim is placed in band C for road tax, costing a reasonable £30 per year. At £18,205, the top of the range model tested might sound pricey but rivals like the Ford Fiesta and SKODA Fabia tot up to roughly the same by the time you match their equipment levels.
The Honda Jazz is as practically ingenious as ever, the Magic Seats system coming with Tall Mode, Utility Mode, Long Mode and even Refresh mode with reclining rear seats to lounge back in or fold flat for carrying boxes back from uni or something. It’s also the safest supermini around, which should make young and newly qualified drivers with the budget stand up and take note. The new Jazz has won more awards than Michael Phelps, from Best Small Hatchback at the 2016 Telegraph Cars Awards and EURO NCAP’s Best in Class award in the supermini safety category, to What Car?’s Car of the Year Safety Award for 2016. It was kind of always destined to excel in safety, though, fitted as standard with driver, passenger, side and curtain airbags, brake assist and City-Brake Active System, with forward collision warning, intelligent speed limiter, lane departure warning and traffic sign recognition included in the Drive Assist Safety Pack that is available on all Jazz trims except for entry-level ‘S’.
Ordered with the CVT automatic gearbox, the new Honda Jazz is never going to be a supermini that appeals to sporty drivers, but it’s an excellent choice for drivers who have recently passed their test or who are aged 18-30, thanks to its impressive safety kit, modern and futuristic styling, fuel consumption that’s light on your wallet or purse, a relaxed ride and a deceptively huge interior for such a small car.