Compact cars – not the most exciting segment in the motoring world is it? If you agreed with that statement, you’d be overlooking the fact that there is currently more value for money than ever before in this highly competitive city car segment.
It’s a segment that appeals to a broad spectrum of buyers too – first car, second car, city runaround, a car for later in life when you’re downsizing, or simply a car for buyers on a budget looking to get the most metal for their dollar.
Compact car buyers have never had it so good, and this comparison is going to be a lot tougher than you might think.
We’ve got the vehicle that initially set the standard for the segment more than a decade ago (the 2017 Honda Jazz VTi-S), the more recent segment favourite and style leader (the 2017 Mazda 2 Maxx), and a new take on a traditional hot hatch favourite that was an aspirational hatch for a generation of Australians (the 2017 Suzuki Swift GL Nav).
Why is this segment worthy of consideration? Well, if you’ve got approximately $20K to spend, you want flexibility, a measure of quality, comfort and a hatch that is user-friendly around town, this is where you look.
Why buy a bigger hatch (like a Toyota Corolla or Hyundai i30 for example), when this smaller segment has the interior space and hits the sharper price point you desire? The cavernous interiors and flexible storage spaces belie compact exterior dimensions and all three have their strong points, different though they may be.
I’ve always loved the idea of a compact city car. So much so that I own a 2005 Smart ForTwo. Yep, it’s a lot smaller than the three on test here, but the concept of a tiny city car that is easy to park, cheap to run and well engineered is a really sensible one. It makes otherwise annoying trips into the CBD a lot more pleasurable, put it that way. Where these three all leave my Smart (and a lot of the smaller brigade) for dead, though, is proper useable space.
Let’s get down to it then.
Pricing and Equipment
The Jazz in VTi-S guise as tested here starts from $19,990 and pearlescent paint is included in that price. Standard equipment highlights include: auto-levelling LED headlights, LED tail lights, cruise control, manual air conditioning, auto up/down for driver’s window, height-adjustable seats, magic seats with 60/40 split, premium fabric trim, leather-wrapped steering wheel, 7.0-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth phone connection, satellite navigation, ABS, BA, EBD, ESS, HSA, TCS, VSA, multi-angle rear-view camera with fixed guidelines and 16-inch alloy wheels.
The Mazda 2 Maxx starts from $19,824 including factory-fitted floor mats as tested here. Standard equipment highlights include: 7.0-inch touchscreen with MZD Connect, satellite navigation, autonomous emergency braking (reverse and forward) with G-Vectoring, manual air conditioning, Bluetooth phone connection, cruise control, push-button start, rear parking sensors, rear-view camera, leather-trimmed wheel, gear knob and handbrake handle, and 15-inch alloy wheels.
The Swift in GL Nav specification starts from $17,990 plus $500 for metallic paint, taking the as-tested price to $18,490 drive-away. Standard equipment highlights include: Bluetooth phone connectivity, 7.0-inch touchscreen, satellite navigation, cruise control, DRLs, privacy glass, rear-view camera, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and 16-inch alloy wheels.
Price alone is only one part of the argument here. While the Swift wins the battle on the numbers, you’ll find plenty of buyers arguing the case for the more stylish Mazda, or the premium feel of the Jazz. It’s a case of each to their own in that regard. While the Swift is incredibly good value for money, at the other end of the line here, the Jazz never feels expensive in this company either.
Engine and Drivetrain
Nowhere is the tussle for supremacy among these three tighter than under the bonnet. All four-cylinder engines, two at 1.5-litre, one at 1.2-litre, two with CVTs, one with a conventional automatic transmission. All three bring different weapons to the fight in their own way, but the proof will be in the driving and the ‘real world’ fuel consumption.
The Jazz is powered by a 1.5-litre, four-cylinder engine matched to a CVT. A larger capacity than the Suzuki, but equal to the Mazda, it generates 88kW and 145Nm while using a claimed 5.9L/100km on the combined cycle. The Honda Jazz is the most powerful (both power and torque) on test here. That claimed figure translated to 7.8L/100km during our time on test – solid but not as efficient as we would have liked. The Jazz weighs 1103kg.
The Mazda 2 also gets a 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine, but a conventional six-speed automatic, which promises to deliver a more engaging drive than either the Honda or Suzuki. The engine churns out slightly less than that of the Jazz with 81kW and 141Nm, but is more efficient claiming 5.2L/100km. That translated to the real world too, where we saw a return of 7.1L/100km. Like the Honda, that real-world figure is decent, but we’d expect more efficiency. The Mazda 2 Maxx weighs 1028kg.
The Swift is the most diminutive of the three engines measuring in at 1.2 litres and making just 66kW and 120Nm. The smaller engine is, in fact, a little closer to the original city car blueprint, meaning it might appeal to those of you wanting the truest version thereof. It promises to be the most efficient of the trio as well, with a claim of just 4.8L/100km on the combined cycle.
During our testing, the Swift returned 6.1L/100km, meaning its claim was matched by being the most efficient in the real world as well. The actual fuel usage was extremely impressive given you’d assume the smaller engine would have to work harder to do the same job. Live figures on the run indicated the Swift might even dip into the fives without too much trouble. The Suzuki Swift on test here weighs 900kg, helping to explain the fuel efficiency somewhat.
Cabins and Storage
The Honda’s cabin is quiet, insulated and comfortable, and conjures images of the build quality Honda has long been renowned for. In fact, I’d say that despite the quality of the Mazda’s infotainment system and general control layout, the Honda feels the most premium on test.
Thud the door closed and the Honda cabin is a quiet, refined place to be, and that’s a large part of the premium perception. There’s a quality feeling to the plastics, trim and general fit and finish, even though there’s nothing especially exotic about the Jazz. It feels well executed and well built, though – an important consideration for any buyer regardless of how tight the budget.
While the Mazda still has a slight edge in terms of premium feel among potential buyers when you speak to them, I think that’s more perception than anything now. If you buy this Jazz, you won’t feel like you’ve been cheated out of any quality, that’s for sure.
Why buy a bigger hatch when this smaller segment has the interior space and hits the sharper price point you desire?
The central feature of the Jazz interior is Honda’s ‘magic seat’ system, which liberates flexible, usable storage and opens up a wealth of transport possibilities. If you need to move bicycles around, or you’re in a band and lug musical instruments around for example, the Jazz is the only vehicle to choose here.
Crucially, there is room in the second row for two adults, three at a pinch. In the real world, the Jazz is the only vehicle on test here that accommodates adults in the second row if you have tall passengers up front. Forget the position behind the driver in the Mazda 2, and it’s only just usable in the Swift. In the Jazz, that seat is definitely in play.
The Jazz has excellent visibility from the driver’s seat with an expansive glasshouse, thin pillars, and no obstructions. Passengers also get a good view, even from the middle of the second row when required.
General storage is also well catered for, with a wealth of bottle holders, cup holders, phone and wallet hidey holes and useful door pockets. While the Swift and Mazda 2 both make the most of the storage on offer, the Jazz wins the cabin battle hands down.
The Mazda 2 cabin is refined, but not quite as insulated as the Jazz for me. You will hear some tyre noise at speeds above 80km/h, increasing as speed rises and even more so if you hit coarse chip sections of highway. As Mazda has been doing for some time now, there’s a sense of quality to the materials used and there’s no way this Mazda 2 feels like a sub-$20K car.
Where the Mazda is let down is storage. There’s nowhere near enough room in either the second row or under the hatch for the Mazda 2 to win this comparo on the cabin section of the test. The second row seats are comfortable, if you can shoehorn your legs into the space, but they aren't flat when you fold them down, which cuts into the luggage space flexibility a little bit.
The Swift is an interesting one. Interesting in that it feels less premium than either the Honda or the Mazda, but delivers surprising tech like Apple CarPlay/Android Auto. More on that below. The Swift’s cabin can’t match either of the other two in terms of refinement and insulation – and that’s a factor at just about any speed.
There’s a lot more tyre noise as the speed rises, especially on rougher sections of road, and the plastics used look cheaper than both the Honda and Mazda, even if they aren’t in reality. The two front seats are excellent, sculpted nicely and comfortable, and visibility is a plus in the Swift as well.
Like the Mazda, the Swift simply doesn’t feel as big as the Jazz once you’re inside the cabin. The luggage space isn’t as flexible, the seats have a step in them when you fold them down for example, and there is nowhere near as much room in the second row as that afforded by the Jazz either. The Swift is marginally better for taller passengers in the second row than the Mazda though.
General ergonomics are otherwise excellent, and the Swift is fine for occasional use with adults occupying the second row. Just don’t shoehorn larger humans into the second row for an interstate road trip.
The Honda Jazz satellite navigation system is basic in appearance in terms of mapping graphics, but works well and is snappy. It’s quick to redirect after a wrong turn too. You get an excellent rear-view camera that makes parking the already compact hatch even easier.
The audio system is fiddly in the way you command it, however, and no volume dial is annoying – as in a traditional rotary dial is annoying. While you will get used to the system, elements of it seem needlessly complex. If you’re testing the Jazz in isolation that won’t be such an issue, but compare it to something like the Mazda 2, and you’ll notice that the Jazz is more finicky than it needs to be.
The steering wheel controls are clear, though, and well positioned, but we found the Bluetooth phone connection to be somewhat less than acceptable. ‘Rubbish’ was the exact word a few people used when I tried to call them. It sounds like the person at the other end of the call is buried in a cave, and according to them the line from the car is very scratchy as well. Again, not ideal in 2017 when Bluetooth is something so many manufacturers get right.
Mazda hasn’t moved the game forward at all [with MZD Connect], but what it has done is deliver a clear set of controls and commands that make mastering the system ridiculously easy.
The flipside of that, however, is the audio streaming, which works really well though. Power-wise, there is one 12V socket up front, one in the glovebox, and nothing in the back. It’s pretty basic fare in that regard.
Step into (and up quite frankly) to the Mazda proprietary system and you’ll find it is reliable, easy to use, and looks the classiest of the three. Mazda hasn’t reinvented car infotainment or moved the game forward at all, but what it has done is deliver a clear set of controls and commands that make mastering the system ridiculously easy.
As always, the single rotary dial is really easy to work out, and controls most basic functions effortlessly. The satellite navigation display is – like the Jazz – a little old in appearance, but works well, and is quick to work out what it wants you to do.
The Bluetooth phone and audio playback systems are both excellent and there’s a quality rear-view camera. We like the steering wheel controls, which are easy to decipher. The lack of Apple CarPlay/Android Auto (for both Honda and Mazda) makes the Swift look the smartest of the lot in late 2017. There are twin USB ports, one 12V socket up front, one USB auxiliary input on the unit itself, and once again nothing in the back.
Infotainment is definitely a Swift strong point here. Suzuki’s take on CarPlay works really well, and we found no glitches connecting and disconnecting multiple devices. The connection was clear and crisp at both ends of the phone call, and all of the smartphone functionality – mapping, music, message reading – all worked seamlessly.
The Suzuki’s screen is better (partly to do with the expectations of the smartphone manufacturers) and interestingly the proprietary satellite navigation is also better than both the Honda and Mazda. I like the way you can still use that proprietary system even with Apple CarPlay connected. Some systems default to data-sapping phone maps and won’t switch back to the proprietary system whenever a phone is connected.
Annoyingly, there is still no traditional rotary volume dial, and the slide adjustment on the screen is really quite dumb. The steering wheel controls are solid, though, and in lieu of the aforementioned dial, the steering wheel switch is a decent compromise.
It has to be said that the Suzuki’s switchgear looks a step below both the Honda and Mazda in terms of quality and execution. It works, but it just doesn’t look and feel as premium. The rear-view camera is clear and as good as the other two combatants. There’s one USB input, one 12V socket and one auxiliary input up front and nothing in the back.
From the minute you head off, the Honda Jazz feels incredibly solid over poor surfaces. The suspension is effortless at soaking up the nastiest of ruts and bumps, and even though Honda engineers have firmed up the latest iteration of the Jazz over the previous model, it still rides nicely.
The cabin in general feels very solid and insulated, devoid of squeaks or rattles, and feels much more like a premium vehicle than a cheap hatch. The steering is excellent – light at low speeds and meaty enough as the speed increases that it never feels floaty or dead as some modern lightweights can. The brakes are excellent as well, but the throttle pedal can be a little bit touchy or sharp off the mark. Once up and running, though, it’s easier to modulate smoothly. Like a few other things with these hatches, you will get used to it.
The Jazz is a really easy car to manoeuvre around town and position on tighter back streets, exactly as you’d expect. There’s plenty of visibility fore and aft, and as such reverse parking is a cinch even if you don’t use the camera.
I found the handling is also excellent at any speed, certainly up to 110km/h on the freeway, even though you won’t drive the Jazz fast enough to exploit it. The 1.5-litre engine feels strong, even if you do need to load it up to really get cranking, and I actually like the CVT in this platform, which is saying something because I universally dislike them. It doesn’t whine, slur or detract from the driving experience in any way.
The Jazz is a really easy car to manoeuvre around town and position on tighter back streets, exactly as you’d expect.
We found roll-on acceleration from 70km/h up to 100km/h pretty effortless, meaning you could use the Jazz even if you have some higher-speed sections on your commute. There is hardly any tyre or wind noise entering the cabin at highway speeds, a mark of the premium nature of the build. The engine can feel like it is revving hard as it approaches redline, but it’s never so harsh that it interrupts the sense of calm.
Back to back over the same road – my favourite stretch of shitty Sydney mixed surface – the Mazda’s ride feels almost identical to the Jazz, such is the firmness that has been added to the Jazz platform. If you’re familiar with the Jazz of old, you wouldn’t expect that, and the Mazda rides very, very closely to the Jazz across all surfaces.
Crucially, both the Honda and Mazda are better (more solid, more comfortable, more insulated) than the Swift over really choppy road surfaces. These are urban vehicles, so they will be spending the bulk of their time facing the grind of potholes, tram tracks, patches and concrete surfacing. The way they ride over these surfaces is imperative.
The Mazda doesn’t make as much power or torque as the Honda, but the counter argument to the lower numbers is the conventional automatic. It is an excellent unit, and the Mazda therefore feels the more spritely hatch of the two. The gearbox is snappy, smooth and quick to shift up or down, no matter how hard you’re making it work.
The Mazda’s 1.5 is genuinely flexible and keen to rev as hard as you like too, while still feeling refined up near redline as well. Small engines have come a long way, and the Mazda unit is one of the better examples. The pairing of engine and gearbox here is near perfect.
As we’ve come to expect from Mazda, braking, steering and handling are all excellent. In fact, there’s a genuine feeling of solidity and quality to the Mazda drive experience. Its sharp steering makes tight parking manoeuvres as easy as possible, and you’d be hard pressed to find a better small hatch in the affordable realm that is easier or more fun to drive.
Personally, I view comfort as being more important than handling ability in this segment, so it’s worth noting that both the Jazz and Mazda 2 could be tuned for more compliance around town to shift that balance more toward comfort than performance.
Into the Swift over the same rubbish road, where it feels solid enough but definitely rides harder than the other two and crashes more over harsh surfaces than both as well. It doesn’t feel tinny or too harsh, but the suspension can’t iron out bumps with as much composure and it feels too firm over the worst surfaces. Some buyers won’t mind it, but compared to the Jazz and Mazda 2 it is notable.
The little 1.2-litre engine really is a great thing, with enough power and torque to get the Swift fizzing along easily. It’s not quite as snappy as the Mazda and to a lesser extent the Honda, but its better fuel usage more than justifies that point. The CVT is better than we expected too, smooth enough at low speed and it works well with the engine.
Unlike the Mazda 2, the Swift engine does sound like it’s working hard in the upper reaches of the rev range, with a harsh edge coming into the cabin. The Swift doesn’t feel like a hatch you want to thrash at breakneck speed though anyway, so that’s not really an issue.
The Swift’s steering feels like it has more resistance and is not a linear as either the Jazz or Mazda, which is the best of the three. The Swift’s steering does work well enough around town of course, but does demand more heft at low speed.
There’s also much more tyre noise entering the cabin than inside the Jazz at any speed, and it gets louder as speed rises on the freeway. If you spend enough time at that speed for your commute, this is a factor to keep in mind. The Swift’s brakes are solid and pull the hatch up quickly repeatedly if you work them hard on a twisty downhill section.
Honda had stolen a jump on both Mazda and Suzuki here, at least at the time of testing, by offering up a seven-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty on the Jazz as tested, which includes roadside assistance for the duration as well.
I can just see Kia execs reading this thinking 'Really? Seven years? You reckon that might be a good idea?'. As you’ll see below, though, there’s a fair difference between the three hatches when it comes to servicing costs. All three vehicles have a full five-star ANCAP rating.
Taking into account that seven-year warranty offer, the Honda obviously has the best coverage right now on this test and it’s also covered by capped-price servicing up to five years. Those services need to be undertaken every six months or 10,000km up to 100,000km or five years. They cost: $259, $297, $259, $297, $259, $297, $259, $297, $259 and $297. So for the first three years, the Jazz will cost $1668.00.
The Mazda 2 is covered by the usual three-year/100,000km warranty we’re familiar with from the brand and servicing is required every 10,000km or 12 months, whichever comes first. Services are capped up to the five-year mark and will cost: $286, $314, $286, $314 and $286. Over the first three years then, the Mazda 2 costs just $886.00.
The Suzuki likewise gets a three-year/100,000km warranty, but requires servicing every six months. Services are, however, capped over a five-year period rather than three and cost respectively: $175, $175, $175, $359, $175, $175, $175, $399, $175 and $399. Over the first three years then, the total cost of servicing your Swift will be $1234.00.
As we suspected from the outset, this was a tough and close comparison across all the major facets we weigh up when we put vehicles head to head. The money is close, so too the fuel usage, and the all-round drive experience. The servicing costs aren’t quite so close though.
However, despite the fact that the Mazda 2 is the best driver’s car of the three (and the cheapest to service), the Honda Jazz is the option you should pick here. The Swift gets a notable mention for being better than it has been for some time, and also being the most budget conscious (in every sense), but the Jazz isn’t massively more expensive to buy such that it should be heavily penalised.
If you can only have one car, and you need flexibility, quality and a Tardis-like propensity to carry gear, the Honda Jazz is far and away the best of this trio. It’s simply the best all-rounder on test. If you want a driver’s hatch, you’re looking in the wrong space here anyway, and we can live with the Honda’s outdated infotainment in lieu of its incredibly clever and comfortable interior.
While the scoring is close, if we could only choose one, we’d recommend the Jazz in this segment and at this price point.
Click through to our photo gallery for more images from this comparison