The roomy and practical Jazz cabin is now wrapped by a more appealing external shape.
The roomy and practical Jazz cabin is now wrapped by a more appealing external shape.
The roomy and practical Jazz cabin is now wrapped by a more appealing external shape.
The roomy and practical Jazz cabin is now wrapped by a more appealing external shape.
There's a fancy new touchscreen but the cabin surfaces are still hard plastic.
There's a fancy new touchscreen but the cabin surfaces are still hard plastic.

ROAD TEST: Honda Jazz 1.5 Dynamic

Johannesburg - The Honda Jazz is like the most sensible pair of shoes in your wardrobe; the comfy, easy-wearing footwear for absolutely any occasion.

It’s become an iconic little do-all car and Honda hasn’t messed with the blueprint in the third-generation version that recently went on sale in South Africa. That roomy cabin with the clever folding seats still makes this the most practical B-segment hatchback in the market.

As the Jazz is a great seller for Honda there’s no point fixing what isn’t broken, but I found that the new version in certain areas feels more like a mid-life facelift than an all-new car. In such a robustly competitive market segment I feel more could have done, particularly in the powertrain and the interior, to take the car forward against an ever-improving list of rivals.

For instance the manual transmission has remained a five-speeder, not six as is becoming the trend (as before there’s a CVT gearbox offering the two-pedalled option).

Secondly, at baseline level there’s been a reduction in power. Entry versions of the third-generation Jazz are offered with a new 66kW/110Nm 1.2-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, a curious step backwards from the old Jazz’s 1.3 which produced a meatier 73kW and 127Nm.

PERFORMANCE DISADVANTAGE

The other power unit is the tried and trusted 1.5 litre petrol with the same 88kW and 145Nm outputs as before, and it’s the engine inside the top-of-the-range Jazz 1.5 Dynamic on test here. While rivals like Ford Fiesta, VW Polo and Opel Corsa are moving to more modern turbocharged engines, Honda’s stuck with a normally-aspirated unit which has a power disadvantage particularly at high altitude.

Despite this it’s still a very likeable engine. It remains a decently endowed car in the rough and tumble of city commuting and also feels reasonably easy-cruising on the open road – even at Gauteng altitude. It may lack the overtaking acceleration of its turbo rivals, but plucking the power out of that small engine’s made more user-friendly by Honda’s typically smooth gearshifts.

Our test car averaged 6.4 litres per 100km (Honda claims 6 litres), which is good, but it could possibly have been even better if Honda had added the abovementioned sixth gear to lower the cruising rpm. Other than that, the higher revs don’t cause any vocal intrusion and it’s a relatively quiet engine.

MAJOR MAKEOVER

The powertrain may be unchanged but the Jazz has gone through a major styling makeover. Inspired by the latest-generation Civic, the exterior design has a more angular and masculine look than its softer-styled predecessor, making it look like less of a mommy-mobile.

Inside the cabin the upgrades are more subtle, though one notable change is the adoption of a touch-screen interface for the Jazz’s infotainment. The touchscreen works almost like a tablet, and you can use your apps on it if you pair it to a smartphone via an HDMI cable.

While this looks all nice and high-tech it’s not especially user-friendly. For instance you have to dig through several menus just to get to a list of preselected radio stations. Having preselect buttons on the dash would still be a much quicker and slicker option.

Apart from this fancy new screen the look and feel of the interior is classic Jazz, with no apparent effort to improve the perceived quality. It’s all neat and solid-feeling but it lacks those special touches that make competitors like the Kia Rio, Renault Clio and Opel Corsa feel like more expensive cars. There are no piano-black finishes to be found here, and the dashboard is still made of hard plastic instead of the classier soft-touch type.

Spec and safety levels are high in this flagship 1.5 Dynamic version selling for R249 900, including climate control, cruise control, ABS brakes, stability control, and six airbags among other items.

UNIQUE SELLING POINT

The Jazz’s unique selling point has always been its seat-folding versatility, and this stays the same with the so-called “Magic Seat” system. Like most hatchbacks the rear loading room can be increased by folding down the rear backrests, but the Jazz’s extra trick is that the rear seat cushions can be flipped up to create a handy space behind the front seats for tall objects like pot plants, or even a small bicycle.

Boot space is up to 363 litres from the outgoing Jazz’s 337 – and that’s with a full-sized spare wheel under the floor. With seats folded it’s a huge 881 litres.

A stretched wheelbase makes the new Jazz even more passenger friendly, and four (or even five) adults will find all the leg- and head-room they need. In terms of roominess and practicality, this little Honda has the opposition licked.

An all-new monocoque construction reduces weight in the new Jazz while increasing strength and rigidity, which in turn allowed upgrades of the suspension and steering systems.

There’s little to criticise in the road manners of the Jazz. With the lengthened wheelbase improving both ride quality and directional stability, it handles neatly and rides with decent comfort over rough roads, even though the ride’s slightly on the firm side compared to some segment rivals.

All Jazz models are sold with a three-year/100 000km warranty and all except the entry-level 1.2 Trend come with a four-year/60 000 km service plan included in the price, while services are at 15 000km intervals.

VERDICT

With around four million sales to date, the first two generations of the Jazz have been big money-spinners for Honda. Version three still does what the car’s always done best: deliver great practicality and economy in a solid-feeling package that’s notably roomier than its rivals. This 1.5 Dynamic derivative is very well-specced too if you’re willing to pay a quarter of a million bucks for the privilege. The improved cabin space and more masculine styling are welcome changes, but a sixth speed might have improved an already fuel-economical car.

The cabin finishes are also a little dated compared to some rivals, especially considering the price.

HONDA JAZZ VS RIVALS

Jazz 1.5 Dynamic - 88kW/145Nm - six airbags, service plan - R249 900

Ford Fiesta 1.0T Titanium - 92kW/170Nm - seven airbags, service plan - R247 900

VW Polo hatch 1.2 TSI Highline - 81kW/175Nm - four airbags, service plan - R241 500

Opel Corsa 1.0T Cosmo - 85kW/170Nm - six airbags, service plan - R236 300

Hyundai Accent Hatch 1.6 Fluid - 91kW/156Nm - six airbags, service plan - R234 900

Mazda2 1.5 Individual - 82kW/145Nm - two airbags, service plan - R211 400