The unlikely passion wagon
Ingenious versatility of Magic Seats
Surprising amount of room in the rear
Speed limiter system is smart
Plain looks
Limited response of throttle
Cheap feel of cabin materials

First Drive review: Honda Jazz (2015)

Put it in boudoir mode and frolic away

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Hond aJazz review by Giles Smith for The Sunday Times

2015 Honda Jazz 1.3 i-VTEC at a glance

  • Handling: ★★★☆☆
  • Performance: ★★☆☆☆
  • Design: ★★★☆☆
  • Interior: ★★★★☆
  • Practicality: ★★★★☆
  • Costs: ★★★★☆

Honda Jazz 1.3 i-VTEC Manual, £14,595

I AM in a sleepy village near Frankfurt in a brand new Honda Jazz, trying as hard as I can to break the speed limit. Really going at it, in fact — foot flat on the floor. But the Jazz is having none of it. The signs insist on 30km per hour through this leafy residential area, and 30km per hour the Jazz is sticking to.

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Pretty impressive, this intelligent speed-limiting system. It scans the numbers by the roadside and caps the car’s pace accordingly. No more absent-mindedly creeping above 30 and getting whacked for it. And it’s not weak in the face of bullying, either. If you persist long enough with the accelerator, the car will eventually release the system and surrender to your mad-eyed and illegal desires. But that’s only after a stubborn stand-off period in which lights flash and buzzers ring out in protest.

2015 Honda Jazz interior dashboard

It’s not too hard to imagine a later version that further expresses its dismay over your irresponsibility by hooking up with the car’s internet-enabled touchscreen and instantly shaming you on social media. At present, though, it’s possible to switch it off. For now.

To be honest, standing on the accelerator in the new Jazz with the speed limiter off isn’t an unrecognisably different experience from standing on it with the limiter on. A new 1.3-litre i-VTEC petrol engine has replaced the old 1.2-litre unit and outperforms it in terms of economy and general sensitivity to the environment. But it pretty much matches it for letting out a sigh of resignation and not really getting anywhere very fast.

Still, the new six-speed manual gearbox is comfy and the automated CVT version of it works smoothly. And in any case, nobody buys a Jazz in the expectation of pinning the back of their neck to the headrest. It’s a budget urban runabout and its major claim to fame is that it ended a 30-year run at the top of the charts in this category by the Toyota Corolla. Sniffy people might say that was like Kenny G replacing Céline Dion at No 1 — a revolution unlikely to awaken anybody from their slumbers. But it can’t be denied that a lot of people like Céline Dion.

2015 Honda Jazz review

And a lot of people like the Jazz. It’s one of those rare cars that find themselves speaking to an almost limitless customer base — from first-time owners through to the retired, with most points in between. It manages that by being, in terms of its outward looks, an unthreatening thing of polite compromise — by coming across as . . . well, not all that jazzy.

But mere style can seem a trifling sacrifice to make in the presence of the car’s winning and very smart take on practicality, built around the cunning origami of its Magic Seats arrangement. Is it a flat-bed truck? Is it a mountain-bike carrier? Is it a place to keep plants upright on the way back from the garden centre?

Answer: it’s all of those things, depending on how you mix and match those seats, plus it’s a chillout lounge. No, seriously. Honda is suggesting that you might, once in a while, want to flatten the front seats as well as the back seats, scatter a few cushions around the place and lie around enjoying the vibe.

2015 honda Jazz reclined seats

News of this breakthrough was offered, at the press presentation, with a nudge and a wink, as if the vibe was not all we might end up enjoying, along with our driving partner, in such a sultry and inhibition-loosening setting. It’s probably best if we end that train of thought there, but at least it’s good to see a manufacturer thinking flexibly on behalf of its customers about that old motoring industry cliché “active lifestyles”.

What can’t be denied is that the Jazz offers rear passengers knee and legroom of the conventional kind in unusually generous amounts. There’s more room to stretch out than there was in the old model, and than there is in a Mercedes S-class saloon, although let’s not pretend that the Mercedes doesn’t have better upholstery.

Seats in the Jazz incline to the thin and the functional, as does the plastic on the doors and the dash, which combine datedness with cheapness in a way that actually comes to seem quite daring. But it doesn’t make sense to complain about the cheapness. That’s the point.

Honda Jazz 1.3 i-VTEC manual specifications
  • Engine: 1318cc, 4 cylinders, petrol
  • Power: 100bhp @ 6000rpm
  • Torque: 90 lb ft @ 5000rpm
  • Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
  • Performance: 0-62mph in 11.2sec
  • Top speed: 118mph
  • Fuel: 56.4mpg (combined)
  • CO2: 116g/km
  • Road tax band: C (free for first year; £30 thereafter)
  • Price: £14,595
  • Release date: September

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Honda Jazz 1.3 i-VTEC rivals

Ford Fiesta Zetec 1.0T EcoBoost, £13,695 (view cars for sale)

  • For Terrific to drive; great engine; low CO2 emissions; excellent sale price
  • Against Can’t match Jazz for cabin space

Nissan Note Acenta 1.2 DIG-S, £14,775 (view cars for sale)

  • For Spacious cabin has sliding rear seat and other practical touches; economical
  • Against 1.2 DIG-S engine lacks pulling power low in the rev range; boring to drive


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