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The Honda Jazz really is the only choice for light-car shoppers looking for clever utilisation of space within small dimensions. It's roomier and more practical than its rivals by a good margin, and it has been that way since the original car launched in 2003 – the current generation followed in 2008.
The base Honda Jazz GLi costs $14,990 for the five-speed manual, or $16,990 for the five-speed auto we tested.
No comparably priced rival has a rear-seat that flips and folds as cleverly as that in the Honda Jazz. It’s all in the engineering – by repositioning the fuel tank under the front seats, the rear seat ‘floats’, offering legroom underneath the rear seat bench. That also means that the rear seat bench can be flipped up, to create a middle cargo area between the boot and front seats.
Alternatively, the whole seat can be folded flat to expand the cargo area from 337 litres to 848L – both best in class figures. Simple and brilliant.
Being five years old, the cabin quality of the Honda Jazz is a fair way from being light car state-of-the-art. The Jazz also lacks the equipment found in newer competitors like Bluetooth audio streaming – a Bluetooth mobile phone function is standard, but it’s accessed via a fiddly and unintuitive aftermarket ‘pod’ mounted to the A-pillar.
The cabin has plentiful storage, however, including a dual glovebox, central cupholders, cupholders/storage bins beneath the side air vents, and large door pockets with bottle holders. For rear seat passengers, legroom and headroom is excellent, with high-set seats offering fine visibility over the fronts. Visibility is also an advantage for the driver; the boxy exterior design of the Jazz, and its large glasshouse makes for effortless city manoevrability. Fit and finish is superb, as you’d expect from a Honda.
Being a base model, the Jazz GLi is only decently equipped with air conditioning, multi-function trip computer, four-door power windows, six airbags, stability control, CD player and 15-inch steel wheels. If you’re shopping right now, however, Honda has released a Jazz GLi Vibe limited edition model with alloy wheels, cruise control, electric-foldable door mirrors, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshifter, and for the auto model, steering wheel mounted shift paddles – a claimed $1800 worth of extras for a $1000 premium.
Other rivals also offer fixed-price servicing and twelve-month/15,000km servicing intervals, however the Honda Jazz GLi requires six-month/10,000km check ups with variable pricing.
A call to a central Sydney dealership saw the first six services to 60,000km come in at $1725, or an average of $288 per service. The Ford Fiesta, with fixed price servicing, will cost $1400 for four services to 60,000km, while a Holden Barina, also with fixed price servicing, will cost just $740 for servicing to 60,000km – a noticeable saving.
The base Honda Jazz GLi is the only model in the range to get a 1.3-litre four-cylinder engine – the up-spec VTi and VTi-S both get 1.5-litre mills. Similarly priced rivals also get bigger engines, of 1.4-litre (Suzuki Swift, Hyundai i20, Volkswagen Polo), 1.5-litre (Mazda2) and even 1.6-litre (Ford Fiesta, Holden Barina) capacity.
Yet none of them are as sweet as the Honda’s smaller engine. Don’t let the size deficit fool you – on the road the Jazz GLi continues the interior theme of squeezing more from less.
The Jazz GLi produces 74kW of power at 6000rpm, which is actually 4kW more than the Swift and i20, and 11kW more than the Polo. That’s the headline figure as the tachometer needle swings sweetly up towards its 6800rpm cut-out. The 127Nm of torque at 4800rpm – less than all its rivals – hints at a small issue with the Jazz.
The Jazz GLi is nippy on light throttle around town, and the five-speed auto is superbly intuitive, picking up lower gears quickly on hills before more throttle is required. It’s when big throttle input is required that the Jazz GLi ultimately feels a bit off-pace – the auto surges back several gears, yet is quick to drop back into higher gears, and it’s not until the tachometer needle gets close to where peak power and torque are that the Jazz starts to shift. Even the air conditioning loses its cool under full throttle.
But most owners won’t need to flog their Jazz, and that’s a crucial point. If they decide to do so, they’ll relish a sweet sounding and keen-to-rev engine, if not the most sporting automatic.
Be warned though – heavy use of the throttle will quickly spiral the claimed fuel consumption sticker of 6.6 litres per 100 kilometres to well past 10L/100km. Our test in mixed conditions settled at 8.5L/100km, a figure the bigger 1.5-litre engine would likely match simply because it is more effortless.
Although many light cars are pegged as urban based shopping trolleys, most in the class also double as brilliant handling and fun-to-drive hatchbacks. Unfortunately, the Honda Jazz is not in the same league as a Ford Fiesta, Skoda Fabia, Suzuki Swift or Volkswagen Polo – in that order of greatness – in this regard.
The steering is direct but too light just on centre, before becoming heavier as the wheel is turned around its arc. Handling is perversely entertaining; because the boxy Jazz doesn’t have wonderful balance, it’s only fun to feel when grip levels are eroding, or to maximise corner entry speed to keep the little engine singing. At least some fun is available, and the stability control calibration is superbly subtle.
More troublesome is the lacking emphasis on ride quality, particularly as the handling isn’t A-grade. The Honda Jazz isn’t particularly uncomfortable, but on Sydney’s patchy roads, it feels occasionally abrupt over larger bumps and jittery over the small stuff. It’s a ‘lively’ ride, to put it kindly, evidenced by the rear toolkit being heard jumping around in the spare tyre well over larger speed humps…
As an overall drive, however, the Honda Jazz is reasonably close to its more dynamic rivals, yet miles ahead of them for interior smarts and practicality.
If luggage and rear-seat space is a priority, and a well-equipped limited edition GLi Vibe model can be found, then even in its twilight years the Jazz GLi remains the smartest, most pragmatic choice in the light car class.