Honda Jazz: Playing its own tune
Honda's Jazz is the most versatile and practical small car on the road, says William Scholes
INDEPENDENT thinking is a Honda hallmark, and the company has always been happy to follow its own instincts rather than slavishly copy what other car-makers are up to, writes William Scholes.
The Jazz, the smallest car Honda sells in Northern Ireland, is a case in point.
Its size might make it a rival for vehicles in what is often called the ‘supermini’ class - that’s cars like the Ford Fiesta, Volkswagen Polo and Renault Clio - but the Jazz offers a distinctively Honda twist on their more conventional approaches.
The most striking difference is how it uses space. To make the most of the space available within its modest footprint, Honda has essentially conceived the Jazz as more of an estate car or mini-multi-purpose vehicle, and less of a normal hatchback.
No other small car has an interior that is as versatile and practical as the Jazz’s. Most cars locate their fuel tanks in the area under the back seat and boot.
There are good reasons for this, but nor is there any rule that says the petrol tank must go there.
That’s why Honda put the Jazz’s 40-litre petrol tank towards the middle of the car, under the front seats, thus liberating a bundle of space.
To take advantage of this, it fitted its so-called magic back seats. Rather than tipping forward as back seats do on every other car when they are folded, their trick is to flip backwards, thus revealing a floor-to-roof cavity.
The rear bench is split 60/40 and for further versatility, the seats can also fold in the conventional way, creating a boot floor measuring 1,505mm long.
The front passenger seat can also fold flat; so configured, the Jazz can take cargo up to 2,480mm long, which rivals many a family SUV.
You can even take advantage of the seats’ contortions to set-up a sort of sofa - recline the front seats to a flat position, get into the back and stretch out…
It all works beautifully, and is lovely piece of useful engineering. It means the little Jazz can carry loads up to 1,280mm tall - ideal for a child’s bike or trips to the garden centres Jazz owners reputedly enjoy frequenting - that many larger cars would struggle with.
Usefulness and practicality are strong weapons, but the Jazz also has epic reliability in its armoury
With the rear seats in place, the boot’s volume is 354 litres; with the seats folded, the maximum volume rises to 897 litres - highly impressive in a car 5mm shy of 4 metres long and just 1.69 metres wide from door mirror tip to door mirror tip.
The back doors open wide and square, and the tailgate is similarly wide and opens to reveal a low load lip.
Beyond the seats’ wizardry, the Jazz’s interior impresses with its sense of airiness. The large windows fill the cabin with light and also help make it easy to place on the road.
The driving position feels more elevated and upright than in other superminis, too.
The seats are comfortable - not always a given with small cars - and the space available, particularly to rear passengers, would shame cars in larger size classes.
The interior feels robust and well put together from pleasant materials, but it lacks the polish and air of quality that distinguishes something like a Volkswagen Polo.
Usefulness and practicality are strong weapons, but the Jazz also has epic reliability in its armoury.
Indeed, few other cars are as utterly reliable as a Jazz. It routinely tops surveys measuring dependability and MOT success rates, for example.
The relentless focus on versatility means the Jazz isn’t clothed in bodywork or blessed with a stance that could ever be called sporty, which in turn has traditionally limited its appeal to younger supermini buyers.
Engines with modest power and torque outputs confirm that the Jazz is less about pace than it is space.
The seats are comfortable - not always a given with small cars - and the space available, particularly to rear passengers, would shame cars in larger size classes
An all-petrol line-up starts with a 1.3-litre with 101bhp and developing 91lb.ft at a revvy 5,000rpm. A 1.5-litre engine with 128bhp and 114lb.ft at 6,600rpm can also be had with the Jazzy, but only with ‘Sport’ trim.
Both engines can be had with either a six-speed manual gearbox or a continuously variable transmission with seven artificial ‘ratios’.
Unless you really must have an automatic gearbox, the unpleasant CVT is best avoided. In any case, the manual gearbox is a delight to use - another part of the Jazz that reflects the depth of Honda’s engineering.
Overall, the Jazz is a leisurely performer, which feels completely in keeping with its character. If you want a taut handling supermini grin machine, look elsewhere...
In keeping with its sense of mechanical quality and engineering depth, the Jazz is not the cheapest small car either.
Prices start at £14,600 for S trim, rising to £16,100 for an SE, £17,600 for an EX and £17,640 for a 1.5-litre Sport.
Honda will show a new Jazz at the Tokyo Motor Show, which starts at the end of October. The new car will be available with a hybrid drivetrain.