► New third-gen Honda Jazz tested
► EX Navi spec with a manual gearbox
► Jazzy name but dull performance
Honda has always followed its own path with the Jazz – one that comfortably straddles the gap between people carrier and hatchback – and this all-new third-generation model doesn’t veer from that chosen route.
We’ve got our hands on the £16,605 EX Navi model in manual trim. It may sound like a retired ditch-digger, but it’s the current flagship in the five-model UK line-up.
So, what’s new?
Everything, to be honest. It’s underpinned by Honda’s advanced new Global Compact Platform architecture, and powered by a new 1318cc naturally aspirated i-VTEC petrol engine – the only engine currently on offer in the UK. You get a choice of six-speed manual transmission or a CVT. We didn’t try the constantly variable transmission, but if it’s anything like the shrieky and disconnected rubberband-box on the outgoing model, it’s best avoided. Interestingly, there’s no hybrid model on offer, as there was with the second-gen model
Unlike its bigger Civic sibling whose generational design has pinballed around the styling studio like a sugar-addled toddler, the crisp new lines of the Jazz show a more restrained evolution. Yes, there’s Honda’s new bewinged corporate grille up front, along with the obligatory flank slashes and creases, but its lineage to the 2001 original can be easily drawn. Overall it’s a pretty sleek and tidy-looking effort.
Is it still weirdly TARDIS-like on the inside?
Yes, and then some. At 1066kg, the Jazz is now a useful 12% lighter than before, and its new chassis features a 2530mm wheelbase, up 30mm over the outgoing mode: longer than its Fabia/Polo rivals (2470mm) and the Fiesta (2489mm) but falling short of the Mazda 2 (2570mm). The upshot of that longer wheelbase is an even more spacious cabin with a further 115mm of rear legroom.
At six foot two, I could sit behind myself with ease, and the Honda’s overall generosity of leg, elbow and head room shames our long-term Jaguar XE. Boot space is also impressive, ranging from 354 litres to 897 litres with the rear seats folded flat.
Then there’s the entertainingly entitled Magic Seats layout. With more folding options than the Paper Airplanes World Championships – Google it, it exists – the 60:40 split seats in the Jazz can re-arranged to swallow objects 1280mm tall and 2480mm long, as well as create a flat load bay area and, should you wish, a sofa. Ideal for putting up your feet after a busy Sunday of transporting coffins.
Looks all neat, tidy and modern on the inside…
Yes, indeed. Visibility is very good indeed. The driving position is spot-on, with plenty of adjustment from steering wheel and seat, but the driver’s pew itself is disappointingly flat and unsupportive. Cabin materials are that uniquely Honda mix of the tactile (leather wheel, brushed metal highlights) and the tough (the leather-look plastic that’s hard enough to blunt a tungsten carbide-tipped drill bit). Fiesta drivers would marvel at how few buttons there are in the cabin, but Polo owners would certainly feel like they’re slumming it.
The touchscreen that handles the comprehensive Connect infotainment system may not be the sharpest and most responsive we’ve tested but it majors on intuition and clarity. The rest of the driving environment is intelligently configured, if a little on the anonymous side. There’s plenty of safety equipment and numerous driver aids, including City-Brake Active System as standard and the optional Forward Collision Warning, Lane Departure Warning and Traffic Sign Recognition System.
So, nifty styling, excellent versatility and plenty of gear. It’s working for me…
It will do, until you thumb the starter button. Honda’s engineers have created some of the automotive world’s finest engines. The engine that sits beneath the bonnet of the Jazz is certainly not one of them. Despite bearing the hallowed VTEC letters in its name, this is no zingy and effervescent motor that comes alive as the revs rise. It feels lethargic and gutless, dishing out its 101bhp with a coarse and gritty reluctance to reach for the redline.
Which is where you need to spend a lot of time given that peak torque – all 91lb ft of it – is only achieved at a very high 5000rpm, punishing both your economy, and your eardrums. We’d much rather have a smaller turbocharged engine, which delivers its torque the moment revs spin above 1500rpm, under the bonnet. A juddery clutch, a hypersensitive throttle and a gearlever that feels like it’s stirring a box of loose Lego pieces don't help matters, either.
Ride and handling is a mixed bag, too. Honda claims the new strut front and torsion beam rear set-up has been specifically set up for European drivers. Its engineers must have only sought out Germany and France’s smoothest roads because on our crappy and craggy A and B roads the Jazz constantly fidgeted and jiggled over imperfections.
A pity, because the combination of decent body control, confidence-inspiring stoppers, quick if feel-free electric steering and a keen nose for a corner means that – for a weak-kneed city runabout – the Jazz can be punted along with something that might come close to putting the vaguest of smiles on your face. A smile which would instantly turn in to a jealous grimace the moment a Mazda 2 or Fiesta driver whizzed past with a massive ear-to-ear grin plastered on their face.
Make no mistake, the Jazz excels in a number of key area: it leaves all its supermini rivals – and a number of people-carriers – for dead in the versatility and practicality stakes. It’s very well equipped in even its base form, has plenty of big-car safety features on offer, and if previous iterations are anything to go by, it will deliver bombproof reliability and enviable residuals.
But the lack of character beneath the bonnet, the unsettled ride quality and ho-hum levels of refinement leave us disappointed. This is a car that has much to do with transport and very little to do with driving. Maybe they should have called it The Blues.
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