7 / 10
2011 Honda Jazz VTi five-speed automatic – $19,790 RRP ($20,185 with metallic paint)
The 2011 Honda Jazz is one of the more individual offerings in the highly competitive light car market.
And that’s a great thing, because with more than 25 competitors, it pays to stand out from the crowd.
Take for example its luggage capacity. At 337 litres, the Honda Jazz has the largest boot among its competitors. And despite being one of the few cars to come standard with a full-sized (15-inch) alloy spare wheel, the Jazz’s boot has a flat floor, which means none of those 337 litres are wasted or awkward to load.
The Jazz’s cargo carrying functionality doesn’t end in the boot either. The popular Japanese hatchback is equipped with what Honda calls ‘Magic Seats’ – the equivalent of mechanical origami – which make it the most versatile car this side of an SUV.
The rear bench can seat three, although anyone with hips wider than a child’s will be uncomfortably perched on the seatbelt buckles when all seats are filled. If it’s just two adults in the back, however, short to medium trips can be completed in comfort without a worry.
If you don’t plan to fill the bench, the seats can be folded in the conventional 60:40 split fashion. When the seat backs are pushed forward, the seat bases slide forward and down, filling the rear foot well and allowing the seatback to sit completely flat. With both seats folded forward, the Jazz resembles a small van rather than a compact hatchback, and opens up 848 litres of space.
Alternatively, the seat bases can also be folded backwards with the seat backs upright. This is perfect for transporting taller items that need more height than what is offered by the boot. Other useful interior storage features include the double glove box (for those of us who like to keep our gloves apart) and 10 cup holders (for those times when all five passengers can’t decide between a coffee and a Red Bull).
The interior has a very spacious feel to it. This is accentuated by the large windows, which let in plenty of light and give the driver tremendous visibility – especially the large cut-outs at the base of the A-pillar. Even after just a few minutes in the Jazz, you have great confidence in knowing exactly where its corners are, taking the stress out of parking and manoeuvring in tight spots.
The only thing hampering visibility is the deep dashboard. When driving into the sun, you get a lot of reflection off the dashboard back onto the windscreen, which at times makes you squint a little and change your line of sight.
The Honda Jazz range was updated for Australia in April, with the key additions being styling and technology enhancements. CarAdvice tested the mid-spec VTi model, which benefitted most from the 2011 model year refresh.
The 2011 Honda Jazz VTi now comes standard with revised front and rear bumpers, side skirts, gunmetal-coloured grille, 15-inch alloy wheels, fog lamps, LED taillights, cruise control, USB connectivity with full iPod/iPhone integration and Bluetooth hands-free phone functionality. All that adds up to $3400 of extra value, and given the price of the VTi decreased by $1400 to $17,790 for the five-speed manual and $19,790 for the five-speed automatic, the VTi is now $4800 better value than it was before the update.
The new exterior styling gives the VTi a significantly sportier appearance. The lower air intake at the front has been stretched, giving the new Jazz a lower, wider stance, while the vertical cut-out features at the front and rear corners also contribute to a more racy, athletic feel.
I wasn’t a huge fan of the styling when I first picked it up from the dealership, but by the end of the week it had started to grow on me. All colours except white and red attract a $395 price premium, and the new Fresh Lime Metallic paint is a great way to stand out from the crowd, exuding a carefree, youthful attitude in the sunlight.
The Jazz isn’t all grown-up and mature like a Volkswagen Polo, but rather offers an enthusiastic design similar to the Ford Fiesta, Mazda2, Suzuki Swift and Toyota Yaris that is likely to appeal more to younger buyers.
The addition of standard USB connectivity and Bluetooth hands-free for phone calls will also enhance the Jazz’s status among the younger generation. A USB cable at the base of the centre console allows you to connect an MP3 player to the car’s audio system. That way you can listen to your own music and change the tracks and volume settings without having to fiddle with the player.
Bluetooth hands-free is a similar system, and although it looks like an afterthought tacked onto the driver’s-side A-pillar, it works well for making and receiving phone calls.
Neither USB connectivity nor Bluetooth is technically a safety feature, but for many tech-obsessed drivers – especially younger people – any system that means there is less temptation to take your hands off the wheels and your eyes off the road is a truly valuable feature.
In terms of official safety features, the Jazz scores the highest possible five-star ANCAP safety rating. All models are equipped with six airbags (dual front, side and curtains), front and rear seatbelt reminders, front seatbelt pretensioners, ABS, brake assist, EBD and electronic stability control (Honda calls it Vehicle Stability Assist) with traction control.
From a drive perspective, the Honda Jazz does the job without ever feeling truly engaging. The VTi and range-topping VTi-S models are powered by a 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine with 88kW of power and 145Nm of torque. The entry-level GLi makes do with a smaller 73kW/127Nm 1.3-litre unit.
The Jazz’s 1.5-litre engine has more power and torque than the 1.5 in the Mazda2, although the Honda takes a lot more encouragement and makes significantly more noise when pushed.
Teamed with the five-speed automatic transmission, it’s hard to keep the Jazz quiet under acceleration, even with the most progressive of throttle inputs. That said, the cabin noise is mostly comfortable once you’re at a steady speed, and the engine is practically silent at idle, which is a welcome quality in stop-start city traffic.
Accelerating off the line isn’t one of the Jazz’s strong suits. Getting up to speed on freeway on-ramps takes a little longer than you’d like too, and you’ll get used to planting your foot flat to the floor to get the desired response.
The brakes also require a fair bit if encouragement. They have a soft feel throughout the first half of the pedal range, and come on with more immediacy when you push a little harder. They lack the reassuring quality of those in the Polo or the Mazda2, and demand you to pay more attention to your following distance and braking style.
Few would call the Jazz a particularly inspiring car to drive. The level of feedback isn’t enormous, but dynamically it’s comfortable and relatively refined. The steering is well weighted and hits the Goldilocks zone of not to heavy around town and not too light on the highway, and the suspension deals with bumps and rougher roads without too many complaints.
It’s easy to get comfortable behind the wheel, with steering wheel tilt and reach adjustment and plenty of play in the driver’s seat. The seat itself is a bit flat and lack side support, but it’s not something you spend long worrying about as the grippy seat material keeps you in place. Most of the interior surfaces are hard plastics, but the overall feel is more upmarket and high quality than many of its light-car competitors. The standard carpets are quite industrial, so make sure the dealer throws in the plush floor mats when you’re haggling in the showroom.
The Honda Jazz VTi auto has an official combined cycle fuel consumption of 6.7 litres/100km, making it around five percent less efficient than the manual model. In the city it uses 8.8 litres/100km and on the highway that slips down to 5.5 litres/100km.
Over a week of driving that was spent mostly in the suburbs, our Jazz averaged 7.8 litres/100km. Given a more varied driving cycle, it would not be too difficult to come close to the official figure. The Jazz’s 42-litre fuel tank means it should theoretically take you 650km between fills in combined driving conditions.
The biggest decision for fans of the Jazz may be whether to purchase the VTi or go for the top of the range VTi-S model. Following price reductions in June, the VTi-S is now priced just $1200 above the VTi. For the extra spend you get 16-inch alloy wheels, rear spoiler, leather steering wheel with paddle shifters, dark blue/grey cloth sports trim, driver’s centre armrest and a driver’s side seat-back pocket. They’re all features that make the VTi-S look and feel a little more upmarket and represent great value, however, they’re features you’re unlikely to miss if you decide to stick with the VTi.
The 2011 Honda Jazz is the perfect car for people who want maximum interior space from minimal exterior size. Those who find this appealing should also test drive the Suzuki Swift, which also has an accommodating interior. There are more exciting light cars to drive (like the Volkswagen Polo, Ford Fiesta and Mazda2), but if performance is an inferior consideration to practicality, safety and interior technology, the Honda Jazz is likely to be a very attractive proposition.