Honda's third generation Jazz supermini needs to have a younger, trendier profile yet still keep the same old practical virtues. Can it deliver? Jonathan Crouch decides
Ten Second Review
An astonishing number of Honda Jazz owners buy another and the third generation version we're looking at here aims to keep them loyal. But the Japanese brand also needs to attract new converts to its clever little supermini, something that will be easier to do with this MK3 model thanks to its smarter looks, better driving experience and optional hybrid power. For very good reasons, this is the supermini that industry insiders most commonly recommend.
How exactly do you better a best seller? Back in 2007 when they launched the second generation version of their Jazz supermini, you got the feeling that Honda really weren't quite sure. Its predecessor, launched in 2002, had after all, offered buyers something unique and unobtainable elsewhere, a revolutionary 'magic seat' interior design that gave supermini buyers the greater practicality of a larger family hatchback. Its replacement delivered more of the same in a smarter package - but not much else. With this third generation model, Honda had to move the game on - and the signs are that they have.
There's a stiffer, more responsive chassis and a much more up to date petrol engine that'll help the brand in its efforts to try and lower this car's traditionally rather aging customer demographic, plus all customers can choose a far more efficiently-competitive petrol/electric hybrid option. And all the 'Magic Seat' cleverness inside continues, versatility that most segment rivals still haven't matched.
The Jazz rides on Honda's new global B-segment chassis and as such is both lighter and more structurally rigid than its predecessor. The suspension is also lighter, with struts up front and a torsion beam rear end combining with a longer wheelbase to better isolate road noise and surface imperfections. The revised dampers also assist in improving ride quality and a redesigned electric power-assisted steering system claims to deliver better feedback for the driver. Yes, you heard that right: feedback. In a Honda Jazz. Things have certainly changed.
Comprehensive soundproofing brings further improvements, and Honda has worked at reducing engine, road and wind noise. Noise paths over the body were forensically scrutinised and aerodynamic covers under the body reduce airflow noise. The volume Jazz engine choice is a 1.3 litre i-VTEC petrol unit with 102PS of power. It's mated to a six-speed manual transmission which replaces the old five-speed 'box, and there's also the option of a semi-automatic CVT transmission. There's no diesel engine planned, but as before, there's a petrol/electric hybrid option.
Design and Build
Honda has changed just about everything possible on the outside but it's a Jazz and you know what? It still looks like a Jazz. Slightly bulbous and unthreatening it remains but some of the detailing is now a bit sassier. At the front, it now features the brand's current 'flowing wing' theme across the grille and headlamps while at the side, there are a pair of cut-in swage lines that rise from the front wheel arch to give shape to the otherwise vertiginous flanks. At the rear, there's a tailgate spoiler and a practical-looking near-vertical rear windscreen.
The interior has come on leaps and bounds with a huge windscreen that imparts a genuine feel of airiness up front. It extends way overhead, meeting the roof panel a good few inches aft of where you'd normally expect that junction. This, along with the large front quarter windows, provides respectable forward visibility. Boot capacity measures 354-litres, with space extending to 884-litres with the 'Magic Seats' folded. The dash is dominated by either a five-inch LCD multi-information display or a seven-inch Honda Connect infotainment touchscreen, depending on model grade. The bigger screen is driven by Android 'phone technology and features smartphone-style 'pinch, swipe and tap' operation. In addition, it offers MirrorLink functionality, which means that it'll replicate the display and workings of your Android smartphone. Those betrothed to Apple will have to buy a clunky aftermarket case.
Market and Model
As before, Honda has priced this Jazz against higher quality offerings in the supermini segment, so expect to be payment Volkswagen Polo rather than Ford Fiesta money for one. Prices start at around £13,500 and there's an £1,100 premium to pay if you want the CVT automatic gearbox. There's a single 1.3-litre 102PS i-VTEC petrol unit on offer and the choice of three trim levels - 'S', 'SE' and 'EX'.
Specifications are generous across the range, with base-grade S models fitted with convenience features such as air conditioning, cruise control with speed limiter and dusk sensing auto lights. Every grade comes with Honda's City-Brake Active to help avoid low-speed accidents. The mid-grade SE model adds front and rear parking sensors, electrically adjustable and heated door mirrors and 15" alloy wheels. Honda's Driver Assistance Safety Pack is also included, giving owners the extra reassurance of five advanced active safety aids.
Customers opting for the SE or EX models will also benefit from the Honda Connect in-car infotainment system as standard. This Android-based system features an app-based 'pinch, swipe and tap' interface accessed on a seven-inch touchscreen in the centre of the dash.
Honda Connect comes with pre-installed apps, with others available for download from the Honda App Centre. These give rapid access to internet-based services such as web browsing, real-time traffic information, news and weather, social media, and internet music stations.
Cost of Ownership
It seems a bit of a shame not to get Honda's brilliant 1.6-litre i-DTEC diesel as an option in the Jazz, but even the petrol engine will get some respectable economy figures. In fact, it's likely to sell more units than the hybrid because supermini buyers rarely cover enough miles to warrant the extra cost of petrol/electric power. It's why Toyota has never really achieved very strong sales with their hybrid Yaris. Maybe that will change in time, but for the time being the petrol Jazz is going to be the prime pick. Expect fuel and CO2 returns that'll be very class-competitive against that Fiesta, Corsa or Polo you might have been looking at.
This smarter third generation Honda Jazz has evolved, with its ethos shifting subtly. One thing hasn't changed though. Ask almost any motoring expert to recommend the supermini they'd buy with their own money and many will still plump for this one. It isn't the feistiest car of its kind on a twisty road, but we'd trade that for this model's excellent ride and superb gearbox. Honda dealers will doubtless also be pleased that with optional hybrid power, this car continues to offer an important and topical selling point.
But at the end of the day, that isn't personally why we'd choose one. For us, it's still the cleverness of this car's packaging that impresses most, with its neat magic seating and tardis-like cabin. It's true that equipment levels could be higher and cabin materials plusher but against that, build quality is excellent and residual values unrivalled. It all explains why this car has such a dedicated following. Try one and you'll understand.