All-new Honda Jazz first drive: the good and the bad

The Honda Jazz has been a popular choice for supermini buyers since the first version was launched in 2001. It’s earned a reputation for having a spacious cabin, bulletproof reliability and strong residual values – so what does the latest version do differently?

Well, Honda claims that this all-new car – set to go on sale in September 2015 – is more practical, more efficient, better built and more fun to drive than ever. Is it good enough to take on the Ford Fiesta and Skoda Fabia, though? We spent some time behind the wheel to find out what’s good and bad for buyers of the new Jazz.

The brilliant: practicality

If space is a priority for your next supermini, there’s little point considering anything other than the Jazz. Honda reckons that interior legroom (which in the rear has grown 145mm from the hardly hovel-like outgoing car) can match a Mercedes S-Class – and we find it hard to disagree. It’s huge inside.

The 354-litre boot is bigger than any other supermini’s and the load lip is very low, making it easy to lift large items in. The clever “Magic Seats” boost usability further. Folding the rear bench completely flat leaves you with a huge 1,314-litre space, or you can lift the rear seat bases up to give you a few extra inches to slot tall items in to the rear passenger compartment.

All this talk of space might leave you thinking that the Jazz must be large by supermini standards, but it isn’t: it’s just 25mm longer than a Ford Fiesta. It’s a real Tardis of a car.

The good: refinement and comfort

The new Jazz is more refined than the old one, mostly because extra sound deadening behind the engine has reduced the amount of noise transmitted into the cabin. Although Honda believes the Jazz lets less wind and road noise in than any competitor, it doesn’t seem noticeably better than in a Fiesta.

A new six-speed manual gearbox means that the engine doesn’t rev as highly on a motorway cruise, though we felt that the sixth gear could have been longer still to reduce engine noise at motorway speeds. The optional CVT automatic gearbox drops the revs when you’re cruising, making it more marginally more refined than the manual car.

The okay: driving

A fun driving experience isn’t often a priority for supermini buyers, but if you’re looking for an entertaining drive, then the Ford Fiesta and Mazda 2 are much better bets than the Jazz. It grips reasonably well around corners, and tweaks to the suspension design mean that the amount the car leans through corners is kept under control. The steering is sharp and responsive, but it’s just not as fun as the Fiesta.

Most of the roads on our test route were smooth, but the nasty sections we found showed that the ride is comfortably smooth, although the Skoda Fabia is better still. Large bumps are fairly well suppressed, meaning you won’t be jarred by lumps on the motorway.

The mixed bag: engine

In place of the 1.2 and 1.4-litre petrols found in the old car is a new 1.3-litre unit, which aims to be both more powerful and efficient than either. Although it has 101hp, it has just 91lb ft of torque, and it doesn’t hit that maximum until you’ve revved the engine all the way to 5,000rpm. This means that the engine needs to be worked very hard to make any progress, especially in comparison to some rivals’ turbocharged units. At least it’s willing to rev, and the manual gearbox is slick and precise.

During our time with the manual Jazz we averaged 47.9mpg. Considering the conditions (hilly, winding roads and a climate control unit turned up full-whack to compensate for sweltering heat), that sits favourably with the real-world scores you’d expect from some of the supposedly more frugal units from Ford and Vauxhall.

For many, we think that the automatic gearbox is the better option. Official fuel economy figures suggest that it’s marginally more frugal than the six speed manual, and around town the two pedal setup makes it incredibly easy to drive.

Could do better: interior

Apart from the huge amounts of space, the interior of the Jazz is a bit of a let down. It feels solidly-screwed together, but there are too many hard and scratchy plastics – a bit of a shame when similarly priced rivals use better quality materials. The steering wheel looks great and is nice to hold, but the rest of the dashboard looks dreary. The new seven-inch infotainment system (base models make do with a more basic five-inch screen) works well, but the piano black surround will get covered in fingerprints in no time at all.

If you buy a new Jazz we’d recommend ordering one with front and rear parking sensors, because rear visibility isn’t great. The windscreen sweeps far back to give the cabin an airy feel but it results in a poorly placed rear view mirror. You need to physically turn your head to see it, when a quick glance should be all that is needed. This problem gets worse for smaller drivers.

Verdict

If space, practicality and reliability are buying priorities, then the new Jazz is in a league of its own in the supermini segment. The huge interior is unmatched for practicality, and reliability surveys suggest it’s unlikely to go wrong.

It’s loaded with the latest safety tech too: all but the entry-level models get a lane departure warning system, traffic sign recognition and a forward collision warning, while emergency city braking comes as standard across the board.

Although the Jazz costs from £13,495, which is slightly more than some rivals, strong residuals should mean this shouldn’t be much of an issue – you won’t lose as much money on your Jazz over three years as you will a Fiesta. For those looking to take out finance, Honda promises competitive PCP deals starting from £139 per month.

If, however, you’re searching for either the most enjoyable or comfortable supermini, there are better options available, while drivers used to diesels or the latest turbocharged petrol engines such as Ford’s EcoBoost might find it a little sluggish, too. By most sensible measures though, the Honda Jazz moves right towards the top of the supermini class.

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