Over the last few years I have owned a variety of cars from a 2005 Mazda 3 Neo, 1990 Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.6 and a 2015 BMW 125i hatchback. The last car, the 125i, was a decent drive however it wasn’t as raw and involving as I expected. My wife and I weren’t driving it a lot either as we take public transport during the working week. Leaving a $40k (approx) car depreciating in the garage seemed a bit of a waste!
So with this in mind I decided it was time to sell the BMW and find a new car. I was looking for a new economy car that would be fun to drive, practical and was great bang for buck. The car I bought – the Honda Jazz VTi – has delivered on all of those areas in spades. What has surprised me most of all is that the Jazz has been surprisingly fun to own and drive. In the nine months I have owned the car, it has elevated itself to being greater than the sum of its parts. Despite being a simple, no-frills car, I’ve found it exceedingly fun to drive, easy to live with and surprisingly likeable. In this review I will explain why.
Starting with the engine and transmission combination, the Jazz hasn’t changed much over the years. It has a naturally aspirated, port-injected 1.5-litre 4-cylinder i-VTEC engine and (in my case) a 5-speed manual transmission. Compared with newer and more expensive turbocharged rivals it looks a bit pedestrian. However in practice I’ve found it to be an effective and willing drivetrain. With 88kW on tap and being relatively light, I find the Jazz has decent punch for everyday driving. It has a responsive, linear and free-revving engine. With a few passengers and luggage on-board though, acceleration goes from punchy to adequate.
The 5-speed manual transmission in the Jazz does a good job of keeping the engine in its sweet spot in the city with short and close ratios. I’m certainly glad I went with the manual as it has saved me money and injected enjoyment into the driving experience. Switching from an automatic to manual has made me feel more connected and involved while driving. The Jazz’s manual is a nice shift, with short and precise throws. The clutch feel is light and simple. It’s pretty enjoyable rowing through the gears in daily driving.
The drawback of the short gearing becomes apparent on the motorway. In 5th gear at 110km/h, the engine is ticking away at 3500rpm. The engine seems happy revving out a bit but it seems the final gear is unnecessarily short. On the plus side, the Jazz can cope with moderate hills without having to drop down a gear.
Economy is good in the Jazz with real-world consumption being fairly close to the sticker. My Jazz is sitting on a long-term average of 7.3L/100km with the majority of the driving in the city. This compares well with the 6.5/8.3L Combined/Urban figure on the sticker. It runs on 91 octane too so that’s a plus. I can see why Honda stuck with this engine in Australia as it’s enthusiastic, economical and will no doubt prove to be reliable.
Moving on to practicality, the Jazz has been a class act. The Magic Seats in the rear are a simple yet effective piece of engineering. With the fuel tank located under the front seats instead of the rear, the rear seat bases fold up to reveal a low floor and a tall height to the ceiling. The doors open to nearly 90 degrees making it super easy to load in big and bulky items. I’ve successfully managed to carry a chest of drawers, a bicycle and a potted Magnolia tree without any issues. It’s this practically that makes the Jazz such a legend, as it has been flexible to work with any daily situation.
The rest of the interior is functional and agreeable. As expected for a base-model car, there is a fair amount of hard plastic on the doors, the dash and trim. While the plastics are grained well they make the interior feel a bit utilitarian. However most of the major touch points are fine. The manual climate controls have a solid feel and good haptics. The black cloth seats have a comfortable and durable fabric and feel like they will withstand a fair amount of daily wear. The seats themselves are a little flat and shapeless. They are easy to get into and out, but are lacking support. However, with seat height adjustment and manual steering height and rake adjustment, it’s not too hard to get into a fairly comfortable driving position.
The ride and handling of the Jazz has certainly been tuned for comfort. Riding on 15-inch steel wheels, I’ve found the car isn’t fussed driving over rough and poor-quality roads, which is good because there are plenty of those roads in the northern suburbs of Sydney where I live. The handling is pretty decent too with a surprising amount of body control and not too much roll in the corners. It’s certainly not a hot hatch (or even a warm hatch) but the Jazz doesn’t mind being chucked into corners with a bit of gusto. The electric power steering is linear, light and direct which suits the nature of the car well. It’s an easy and relaxing car to drive around everyday and it’s surprisingly willing to be chucked around when driven enthusiastically.
On the technology and features front, the Jazz VTi is fairly barebones. In many ways this is the strength of the car. It doesn’t have an annoying stop/start system, oversensitive collision avoidance system or beeping parking sensors. It simply asks you as a driver to be aware and involved in the driving experience. There are no distractions in the way. The touchscreen in the centre of the car is basic and functional. I’ve found the reversing camera good enough and the 4-speaker stereo does the job. I’m also quite impressed with the Bluetooth phone and audio pairing built into the Jazz. It has been quick to pair and works every time.
The ownership experience has been fuss-free since the day I purchased the Jazz. The build quality of my car seems good. The only issues I’ve experienced in the 9 months of ownership are squeaky brakes and small rattle from the dash. The dealer service department resolved both issues without difficulty. The car came with a 7 year warranty and roadside assistance which gives me peace of mind. The servicing interval of every 6 months/10,000kms seems unnecessarily frequent. The fact that the oil filter is only replaced every 2nd service is fairly telling. However, under Honda’s capped-price servicing scheme a standard service is only $259 or $297, which I consider to be reasonable. One positive aspect of the frequent service interval is the car is inspected every 6 months so emerging maintenance issues should be picked up quicker than cars with longer service intervals.
All up the Jazz has been an awesome car to own and drive. It’s enjoyable to punt around, super practical, dependable and cheap to run. It’s really affordable to purchase as well. Honda is advertising the manual Jazz VTi for $16,990. I managed to pick up my low kilometre demo with metallic paint and floor mats for $15,600 last year.
I would recommend the Jazz as being a great buy. I’d particularly recommend it to someone who doesn’t drive long distances, a young driver buying a first car or a family needing a second car. The Honda Jazz certainly isn’t the flashiest car out in the market. However the strength of its design and the way it just fits into daily life perfectly make it a car that you quickly grow to like. I certainly have.