First Drive: Honda Jazz

If you want a good example of a company that listens to its customers you have to look at Honda. Although the Japanese firm is well known for innovation, it’s also keen to ensure it promotes a culture of happy drivers.

And there’s no better example of this than the firm’s Jazz. More than just a sleeper hit, the compact Jazz has proven to be a UK best seller. By choosing to develop something that was more than just another supermini, Honda struck a chord with buyers seeking something with a small footprint but with the flexibility and practicality of something much bigger.

This revised second generation car builds on the original model’s success. Presenting a chunkier face to the world, Honda’s engineers have added a few aerodynamic tweaks to boost cabin refinement and overall efficiency. The latter is important, as this element plus selective engines improvements have resulted in economy and emissions gains. It’s also revised the car’s ride and handling performance to boost driver appeal and cabin comfort.

Talking of green issues, this Jazz has the honour of being the first small production hybrid. Keen to broaden the appeal of such technology beyond its Insight model, the Jazz hybrid follows on from the Japanese firm’s sporting CRZ petrol-electric model.

There’s more good news in the shape of the reintroduction of a continuously variable transmission (CVT) as an option alongside the car’s manual gearbox. It might not sound like much, but the previously used automated manual transmission wasn’t met with universal appeal.

As a result, Honda listened, took on board the feedback and now offers a CVT that should please buyers seeking a smoother experience akin to than of a conventional auto, but without the fuel economy penalties.

Existing Jazz owners will be familiar with the car’s 1.2 and 1.4-litre petrol engines, which now boast CO2 levels of 123 and 126g/km respectively in manual gearbox trim and return a combined fuel economy reading in the low 50s mpg.

The hybrid borrows much from Honda’s existing Insight model, right down to the CVT gearbox. It manages 62.8mpg and boasts a lower 104g/km CO2 rating, the latter Honda claims is the lowest for an auto gearbox car in the Jazz’s market sector.

On the road the petrol cars are as you would expect – willing, capable and refined. In 1.4-litre trim plus the new CVT gearbox, the Jazz is easy to drive and the ‘box offers a welcome extra layer of refinement over its predecessor. Furthermore, the traditional enemies of CVT-equipped cars – inclines and fast moving motorway traffic – are no barriers to progress. There’s plenty of power available to get you moving and maintaining a steady speed.

This is also the case for the hybrid Jazz. Even in ‘Eco’ mode there’s enough thrust available for out of town excursions, while urban motoring is dispatched with predictable ease. The easy to read instrument displays keep you informed regarding fuel consumption and the current combination of engine and electric power, which do a clever job of nudging you in the direction of more considered and smoother driving behaviour.

Good though it is on the road, there’s more to the Jazz than the driving experience. Its versatile nature is another major attraction for buyers, and the car’s folding rear seats offer a greater level of versatility than the little Honda’s more conventional rivals.

From furniture to bicycles the Jazz will swallow many of these items whole. And for anyone seeking a car with a modest footprint, this feature is often a deal breaker. It also happens to be a hit with the business market; drivers who carry a lot of equipment but don’t want – or their company car policy doesn’t allow – a large, high CO2 car can opt for a Jazz with complete confidence.

With its well built and versatile cabin, a good level of standard kit plus the various improvements to the driving and ownership experience, Honda’s Jazz remains a tough act to beat. The hybrid model will please those wanting to pay less for their motoring, too.

Model: Honda Jazz 1.4 EX CVT, from £15,995 on the road. Range from £11,295.
Engine: 1.4-litre petrol unit developing 99bhp.
Transmission: CVT transmission, driving the front wheels.
Performance: Maximum speed 109mph, 0-62mph 13.1 seconds.
Economy: 51.4mpg.
CO2 Rating: 128g/km.

By Iain Dooley

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