Cheap to buy and run, unpretentious and practical as hell. If these traits float your boat, then the Honda Jazz VTi is probably the car for you.
This iteration of the Jazz (Fit in many countries) has been around for a few years now, but we haven’t reviewed the entry grade in too long. Ergo, this.
At $14,990 before on-road costs, or $15,990 drive-away, the base Thai-made Jazz is the cheapest Honda you can buy, and one of the cheapest cars out there full stop.
What sets it apart from rivals such as the Toyota Yaris, Mazda 2, Suzuki Swift and Hyundai Accent is the same characteristic that has always made it unique: cabin space. Namely, the fact it has far more of it than any car this size has a right to.
The 4m-long Jazz is simply a marvel of cabin design. Slide the driver’s seat all the way back, and a 190cm adult can sit comfortably behind it. Most light cars can carry two adults and two kids, whereas the Jazz is a legitimate people-hauler. There are small SUVs with inferior back seats...
With the second row in use, the boot stores a claimed 354 litres, which is more than the Mazda 3’s, from a whole segment up. The secret is the unusually low floor in the cargo space, which may not be music to the ears of taller folk, but maximises space.
But the real party trick involves the proprietary ‘Magic Seats’. Using a small handle mounted near the top of each side of the rear 60:40 splitting seat bench, you can fold the seat-back downwards, while at the same time the bases slip right down into the floor.
The result is a flat and tall loading space that fits 1314L from floor to roof. It's essentially a little carpeted van. Seats down, the loading area is 1.5m long, 1m high (floor-to-roof) and 1m wide between the arches.
You can also leave the seat-backs in place, and instead just scrunch the seat bases upwards, creating a space for tall items with a bulwark between them and the cargo area. All up there are 18 (!) configurations. Check out our piece devoted just to the Jazz's cabin for even more info.
Newer rivals such as the Volkswagen Polo may offer equivalent boot space with the back seats in use, but none offer the Honda’s flexibility, or overall ability to carry five people and their bags in such a small package.
Up the front things are less revolutionary, but everything is in its place. Hard plastics and hard-wearing cloth trims are everywhere, but as you'd expect of Honda, it feels hewn from granite and made to last. In 10 years it'll look as good as new, given reasonable care.
The steering wheel has reach and rake adjustment, and the driver’s seat has height adjustment, in addition to the usual pitch and sliding movements. You also have to actually put the key into the ignition barrel to start up.
The urethane wheel has the usual audio and cruise-control buttons on the spokes, plus the Bluetooth shortcuts and trip computer menu buttons mounted further down in a very ergonomic, idiot-proof fashion.
Behind the wheel are basic analogue instruments, speedo in the centre and tacho to the left, all backlit, with a basic trip computer over on the left. We’d like a digital speedo, given Australia’s absolutely insane speed-limit enforcement, but the extant set-up is still about as legible as it gets.
Move your head to the left and you see a 7.0-inch touchscreen, albeit one without digital radio software to display, nor in-built satellite navigation, nor Apple CarPlay/Android Auto phone mirroring. Just basic Bluetooth/AUX/USB audio, and BT phone, which to Honda’s credit re-pairs faithfully and rapidly.
Then again, we've had issues with Honda's higher-end audio systems before, so the most basic unit is by default the least problematic in some ways.
Audiophiles note that while you can configure the sound setting widely with various presets or full manual control, there are only four speakers. It’s a little tinny.
Below this screen are old-school backlit manual air-conditioning dials, which will appeal to the tactile among us. It may not look as slick as the flagship Jazz’s electrostatic touch-panel climate control, but it’s actually easier to use.
The Jazz VTi tested here is the entry grade, with a mid-range VTi-S and higher-end VTi-L also available to those wanting additional creature comforts. Frankly, we wouldn't bother. A cheap Jazz is a good Jazz.
Cabin storage options are middling. There's no closing centre console, but you do get a decent glovebox as well as big door pockets and six cupholders scattered about, including a great retractable one mounted to the right-hand side of the steering wheel. Perfect for your morning coffee.
From a safety perspective, the basics are covered. It has a five-star ANCAP crash score, albeit one from back in 2014 when standards were lower. There are also six airbags (including full-length side curtains), top-tether child seat mounts (no ISOFIX), the mandatory stability control, and a three-mode reversing camera.
However, the Jazz does show its age a little with its complete lack of active safety tech. No autonomous emergency braking, forward collision alert, blind-spot monitoring etc to be found here. This is forgivable in a $16K car still, though the market moves fast. The next-generation Jazz due in 2020 will offer a full suite across the range, which is good.
Mechanically, the Jazz feels a little like a throwback, though it's far from alone in this regard in such a cheap segment. It rocks a rear torsion beam rather than independent suspension, and uses rear drum brakes rather than solid or ventilated discs, for example.
The engine is a naturally aspirated 1.5-litre petrol making 88kW of peak power way up at 6600rpm and 145Nm of maximum torque at 4800rpm, meaning you need to rev the engine hard to get the most from it, contrary to smaller-capacity turbo engines used in some competitors, with flatter torque curves.
Luckily, it's a characterful and chirpy little unit in typical Honda style, especially matched as tested with a five-speed manual gearbox, with a simply great shift feel, albeit an overly light clutch with vague take-up point. Most people will fork out the extra $2000 for the CVT automatic, but that's their loss!
Of course, the 5MT does probably need a sixth cog, given the engine is sitting near 3000rpm at 100km/h, hurting the noise suppression. A byword for refinement, the Jazz is not.
Honda claims combined-cycle fuel use of 6.5L/100km, or 5.9L/100km for the CVT. We averaged low sevens, which is middling for the class. However, the Euro 5-compliant Jazz happily drinks cheap 91RON fuel compared to some rivals that require the pricey premium stuff.
Dynamically, the motor-assisted electric steering is very light, which is ideal for urban duties where resistance is not desirable. It also gives no feedback to the driver, but responds quickly enough from centre when you're driving with a little more sass.
The tall body rolls around a little more against cornering forces than a Mazda 2, but its 1049kg kerb weight means it's still capable of putting a smile on your face by way of quick directional changes. Of course, run a little too hot into a corner and you'll just scrub understeer.
The 15-inch steel wheels ride on 175/65 tyres, and smooth out rough roads better than the higher-grade Jazz's 16-inch wheels. Hub caps are also better for city cars, because if you kerb them, who really cares? The spare wheel is a space-saver under the cargo floor.
In addition to typical Honda bulletproof reliability, the Jazz comes with the company's standard five-year warranty with no distance limit, though at the time of writing the company is running a special seven-year warranty offer. Under either package you get roadside assist 24/7 thrown in for the coverage period.
Service intervals are a short six months or 10,000km (whichever comes first), with the first three years or six visits capped at $259, $297, $259, $297, $259 and $297, with a few extra charges for dust/pollen filters, and brake fluid, thrown in here and there. By comparison, a Toyota Yaris with the same service intervals costs $140 a pop over the first three years. That differential adds up...
All told, the base Jazz VTi is clearly the version to buy. The extra creature comforts on the VTi-S and VTi-L really add nothing to the car's fundamentals and take the edge off the brilliant value equation.
At $15,990 drive-away if you're willing to buy a car with three pedals, the entry Jazz as tested here with non-metallic paint might be the best-value city car you can buy, especially if practicality is a key consideration. You could almost furnish a small apartment with flat-pack furniture in a single run.
Other positives are the cabin's build quality and ergonomics, the characterful drivetrain (especially in the city), proven resale value and excellent warranty coverage.
As we said at the start, if you want a highly affordable, non-pretentious and genuinely useful city car, the Jazz VTi deserves to remain near the top of your shortlist. It's proving a timeless formula.