Honda Jazz still making the right noises

The Tardis-like Honda Jazz is an excellent biggish car disguised as a small car, with a clever-clogs hybrid system and bombproof build quality. But William Scholes still can't shake off the feeling it's a car for the more mature motorist...

The Honda Jazz isn't thrilling to look at - the clever stuff lies beneath the rather dowdy exterior

I FELT tired just watching Paul McCartney leaping around the stage at Glastonbury on Saturday night, writes William Scholes. Perhaps the vegetarian diet deserves some of the credit, but I'm not sure that fully explains how a gentleman who celebrated his 80th birthday just a week earlier was able to play for nigh-on three hours and was still going strong after midnight.

I, on the other hand, am in my 40s and dream about getting to bed before 10pm. I'm not a vegetarian.

As the world's wealthiest musician, McCartney could buy any car he wants. He has owned Aston Martins and Lamborghinis, but he's also travelled the long and winding road in more prosaic machinery, including Minis and a Land Rover he and late wife Linda affectionately called 'Hell on Wheels'.

I'm don't know what McCartney drives these days - probably something electric, though one imagines he gets driven more often than not - but a good shout for an octogenarian with an eco-conscience would be a Honda Jazz.

Honda Jazz

He would surely appreciate the musical reference in the Tardis-like Honda's name. But it's also true to say that in the 20-odd years a Jazz has been with us, it has tended to be favoured by the older motorist who prefers to proceed slowly and with zero fuss.

The Jazz has never been what one would call an exciting car, but it has always been a resolutely sensible and practical one.

It also has bomb-proof dependability, routinely topping polls of 'the most reliable cars' on sale.

These are admirable qualities which have earned the car a loyal following, so it is entirely unsurprising that Honda, with the fourth generation of Jazz now upon us, hasn't attempted to alter a winning formula. Don't expect any Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band-style experimentation, in other words.

That being said, the Honda's drivetrain is interesting. The Jazz is hybrid-only these days, with a set-up that includes a 1.5-litre petrol engine, two electric motors - one a generator, the other for propulsion - and a small lithium-ion battery.

The Honda Jazz's clever-clogs hybrid drivetrain includes a petrol engine, two electric motors and a battery

The car can drive short distances in 'EV mode', but typically the car works in 'hybrid mode' with the petrol engine feeding power to the generator motor, which in turn supplies the propulsion motor. Driven thus, the petrol engine isn't directly turning the wheels; that happens when, for example, you accelerate hard and a fixed-gear transmission drives the wheels via a lock-up clutch.

It's a complex enough drivetrain, in other words, but in practice the juggling of drive modes is sorted out by the car's computers - you simply drive the Jazz as if it were an ordinary automatic.

The hybrid system's preference to use electric as much as possible means this is a very smooth, quiet and relaxing car to drive. It's also real-world frugal - I averaged around 60mpg without trying - and there's a certain fascination in looking at the little graphic on the digital display showing how the car is deploying and regenerating energy.

The instant thrust allowed by an electric motor compared to a conventional petrol set-up means the Jazz is probably swifter than you imagine, at least if judged on its rather dowdy looks.

Honda quotes a 0-62mph of a little over 9 seconds, which is quick enough for a supermini, and its rolling acceleration is decent too.

It doesn't like to be driven with too much gusto, however. The Jazz's habitual serenity is shattered by engine noise if you lean too hard on the throttle. Nor does it feel entirely happy being driven with vigour along your favourite back road.

But that's OK... The Jazz is built for comfort, and let's face it, that's what you demand from a car like this.

That quiet hybrid drivetrain is a big factor in making this a nice car in which to travel, but it also rides nicely and has a cabin so airy and spacious that it feels like it could come from a car at least a size up.

The driver's seat feels set quite high, which in combination with slim windscreen pillars and deep glass gives a tremendous view out. There's lots of adjustment for the seat and steering wheel and the seats themselves are comfortable items.

The Jazz's instruments are clear to read and it controls easy to operate. There's a great view out too.

The centrally mounted infotainment screen is a step forward for Honda in terms of clarity and speed of response, though there are rival manufacturers with better systems. Similarly, the digital display in front of the driver is perfectly acceptable.

I did like the solid-feeling knobs for the heating controls - nice to operate, and far more intuitive than a touchscreen. There is an abundance of storage too, including two gloveboxes. Everything feels solidly built, as one might expect from a Honda with a reputation for reliability.

If the Jazz is nice and spacious up-front, the back seat accommodation is verging on limousine standard. There really is an abundance of legroom, putting the Jazz into an entirely different league to the relatively cramped Ford Fiesta, Volkswagen Polo and the rest in this class. The back doors open usefully widely; it would be a doddle strapping children into the back.

Then there's the so-called 'magic seats', as Honda calls its trick folding back pews. These allow the seatback to be flipped forward in the conventional fashion, but also offer the facility to fold the seat base up against the seatback, thus freeing the rear floor for load-carrying duties. It's a brilliantly useful arrangement.

There are acres of space in the back of the Honda Jazz, plus the smart 'magic seats' arrangement

Behind the seats, the boot offers a volume of 304 litres (or 1,205 litres with the seats folded). It's not an especially deep boot - a trade off for the generous rear passenger space in a small car - but is tall.

The Jazz range starts at £20,860 for SE trim, though you'll probably want to stretch to the more nicely appointed SR at £22,375. There's an EX range-topper - from £24k, which feels expensive, though you can spend as much as £26,410. There's also a rather odd-looking 'Crosstar' model (from £25k) which has a jacked ride height and roof bars; I'd tend to avoid it on the basis that it doesn't appear to add anything of substance to the standard Jazz.

Jazz prices are similar to those of the Toyota Yaris, also a hybrid, but more expensive than obvious rivals such as the Vauxhall Corsa, Fiesta (though the Ford website says that car can't be ordered new at present...) or Polo. The Peugeot 208 is another strong contender.

None of them, however, can match the Honda's acres of interior space or its clever-clogs hybrid system. The Jazz, then, is an excellent biggish car disguised as a small car. But I still can't quite shake off the sense that it's a car for the more mature motorist. Maybe I'll see things differently When I'm Sixty Four.

Honda Jazz

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