Honda is not your ordinary car company and the Jazz is not your ordinary supermini. This is a manufacturer that doesn’t believe in following the herd.
It does what it thinks is best and in many cases, turns out to be right. This is the thought process that gave rise to the Jazz. While other superminis are intent on being sporty and dynamic, the Jazz adopts a boxy shape and builds-in practical MPV design features. While rivals campaign with vast sprawling model ranges, Honda has assembled a small and simple one. Many people won’t understand the Jazz but it’s a car that rewards closer inspection.
The 1.4-litre model that we look at here is the range-topping variant in the Jazz range. The other option is a 1.2-litre petrol engine. There are no diesels. There’s one bodystyle – a somewhat frumpy five-door. Many manufacturers would mark this down as commercial suicide in a supermini market increasingly obsessed with coupe-like three-door shapes and economical diesel engines. This is what Honda does though and while some rivals have both a supermini and a supermini-based MPV, the Japanese marque spans both sectors with a single model.
There aren’t too many superminis these days that have a 99bhp engine as their range-topper. It means the Jazz is rather lethargic against the watch in comparison to the alternatives. The 0-60mph sprint is an 11.8s affair - or 13.9s if you specify the i-Shift automatic gearbox. This doesn’t tell the whole story though.
The 1.4 i-VTEC engine is one of the very best 1.4-litre petrol units around. Like all Honda petrol powerplants, it’s extremely eager to rev and the best performance is only obtained higher up in the range. The engine is very refined at normal cursing speeds and takes on a sonorous high-pitched note when you hold the gears longer. You rarely find yourself being caught out with too few revs on the board or banging into the limiter and needing to grab another gear double quick. When the engine is asked to work hard, on the motorway for example, the noise can become tiresome and there’s also a lot of sound generated by the wind at high speed.
"The Jazz is a definitely an unusual supermini but we didn’t really expect anything else from Honda"
As befits the MPV-look of the exterior, manoeuvrability is very good on the Jazz thanks to the wide range of visibility, short overhangs and the tight turning circle. There’s plenty of adjustment in the driving position and it shouldn’t be a problem for most people to get comfortable.
The packaging brilliance of the first generation Jazz was made possible because the designers moved the fuel tank from beneath the rear seats to a position under those at the front. This approach is continued with the MK2 model and as before, it liberates the floor of the cabin and allows the seats to be folded into all sorts of permutations.
The car features the Honda Magic Seating system through which the back seats can fold down in one fluid motion into the footwell with the headrests in place. What’s more impressive still is that this action doesn’t involve scurrying around the car to manually slide the front seats forward, it can all be accomplished from the rear door thanks to a convenient set of levers.
Sports fans will appreciate the fact that if you then recline the front passenger seats, there’s enough room inside the diminutive Jazz for a pair of 240cm long downhill skis! Garden centre shoppers meanwhile, will love the way you can lift up the rear seat cushion against the rear seat back creating a tall protected space in the rear seat footwells for items like plants. Meanwhile, you can also load up the surprising spacious Double Trunk boot which can divide its 399-litre capacity into four different configurations for carrying different loads. Fold the rear seats and there’s 883 litres of space.
Honda traditionally prices its products a shade higher than equivalent mainstream models and the Jazz is no exception. The 1.4-litre engine is offered with the two higher trim levels badged as ES and EX. The price differential between two grades is a hefty £1,300 but the EX does come with a whole heap of equipment. Most buyers will still settle for the ES.
Standard safety equipment looks very generous with dual front and side airbags, plus full length curtain airbags on all models. There are also five three-point seatbelts with reminders for the belts in the front and the back. Honda’s VSA stability control system is available as an option on all models.
By leaving the sporty end of the supermini sector for others to fight over, the Honda Jazz is left free to concentrate on economy and its advanced petrol engines do a grand job. The 1.4-litre manages a 54.3mpg showing on the combined cycle, with 123g/km emissions making it one of the cleanest units of its kind.
There’s also an SLI Shift Light Indicator on manual models that shows the optimum time to change up for improved fuel economy. Fit the i-Shift 6-speed gearbox to the 1.4-litre engine and emissions actually drop to 120g/km. Insurance is in group five and residual values are strong, helping to offset those higher asking prices.
The Jazz is a definitely an unusual supermini but we didn’t really expect anything else from Honda. It’s at the top of the class for practicality, even trumping some small MPVs, while the petrol engines are highly efficient and the driving experience is ideally suited for urban areas. The car is also very well built and should prove reliable if Honda’s customer satisfaction record is anything to go by.
Still, some buyers just won’t get Honda’s take on the supermini genre. Unlike most of the alternatives, it isn’t sporty to look at or drive. Refinement can be an issue on longer journeys and the ride is on the firm side. Aspects of the dash design will also be an acquired taste. Honda has manufactured a great little car that goes against the supermini norms and caters for a particular type of buyer. If the values of the Jazz happen to tally with yours, there’s no better supermini out there.