Although the time draws ever closer that I will be getting my new car (whatever that may be), there has in fact been a larger shift in my household in regards to motoring – my younger brother has become a named driver on my mum’s car! He did in fact pass his test back when he was 17 and like me was bought a little car by a family friend, but his Micra never really worked and apart from a couple of refresher lessons he has not sat behind the wheel of a car for a very long time. Initial signs are good though, and from our first journey out with him driving it seems like he will be an extremely capable, safe and overall good driver.
But this isn’t a post about my brother getting his hands on my mum’s wheels, it’s about the wheels themselves…or rather the car as a whole. The car in question is a Honda Jazz, the supremely practical Japanese supermini whose reliability and flexibility have made it a firm favourite with (older) customers across the UK and indeed the world, where it is often known as the Honda Fit. Although these energetic names may be at odds with the type of customer who drives the Jazz it does also hint at the type of activities that Honda would like to think the car was used for; ads filled with young couples loading mountain bikes and tents into the back of the car are the norm, and whilst in real life it may be more likely to be a wheelchair it’s still a nice thought for slightly younger buyers (like my mum) who see the car more as a practical mode of transport.
The first Jazz was launched way back in 2001 and was the first competitive super-mini from the marque and immediately offered class leading practicality and cabin design, packed within a cheeky looking package which hardly dated throughout the 7 years it was on sale. Admittedly on the road the car lagged behind some rivals in terms of handling and ride quality but otherwise the little Jazz fully earned it’s stripes as one of Honda’s biggest selling vehicles (in Europe at least).
Although I had always admired the worthiness of the Jazz it was by no means a car that I wanted my mum to buy. I have always liked big cars and as such I worked for many years to get my mum into a car larger than the Fiestas and Renault 5’s that had shuttled me round during childhood. Her Vauxhall Astra was a step up in terms of size and age (being nearly new as opposed to 5 years or more old) but I really wanted her to get something like a CR-V or a C-MAX to give her more practicality and higher driver position. Eventually my search shifted to family hatches like the Qashqai and Focus, the latter we actually went to test drive with a horrible dealer who promptly refused to sell us the example we wanted because it was his personal car. As a result I conceded that the Jazz might be at least worth a test drive…especially considering that it was a car she had expressed in because of a ride in a friend’s, and the fact there is a Honda dealer just down the road. After a quick test drive in a base 1.2 version of the second generation car my mum was happy to sign on the dotted line for a brand new 1.4 EX, complete with all the niceties; it took a few weeks to arrive but ever since she has been supremely happy with her little musical number and will probably end up replacing it with another one in a couple of years once she is ready to…and not because anything has gone wrong or that she is bored, more the feeling she should do (plus pressure from me).
So what is the second generation like to own and live with? Well for a start its a very compact little car; under 4m in length with a stubby little bonnet and wheels at each corner, the Jazz is not really a car for the those overly bothered by style and looking good. I’ll admit that in black with blacked out rear windows and relatively large (for the car’s size) 16″ alloys my mum’s does look a little pimped out, but the Jazz is not really a car which will stimulate desire – unless you are a massive fan of Mercedes Benz’s first 2 generations of A Class, which are probably the most similar looking cars on the road.
Inside is where the Jazz really makes it’s mark though, starting with high equipment tally and easy to use controls. OK admittedly there is a lack of soft touch materials, but equally the plastics feel strong and high quality and doors close with a satisfying clunk. The layout is centred around the driver and may appear a little haphazard but ultimately lies close to hand. EX was the top level of trim when the Jazz was launched and my mum’s car comes with climate control, automatic wipers/lights, a full length moonroof, cooled glovebox, iPod connectivity and armrests all around, in addition to the aforementioned alloys and gangster windows. The real highlight of the car’s interior though is the amazing practicality that Honda have managed to bestow upon what is actually quite a small car. By putting the fuel tank under the front seats they have managed to make the boot simply massive…it is larger than most cars in the category above, even without the large storage space under the boot floor where the spare tyre could be mounted. That same boot floor can be lifted and manouvered into a second tier for shopping or even a little basket to store difficult items. The practicality continues into the cabin where the rear seats (‘Magic Seats’ in Honda marketing speak) can be raised cinema style to give a space to store things which are tall and/or wide. Rear leg room is also massive and to be perfectly honest it is a real miracle of packaging as even some large SUV’s that I’ve sat in have smaller rear seats!
I have actually driven the Jazz semi-regularly so for once I am entirely qualified to make judgement! For starters a relatively high seating position gives drivers a decent view out onto the road, and there is ample glass to ensure good visiblity – something enhanced by massive mirrors. Although the car is wider and longer than the original Jazz it is still quite a tall car for it’s length, and so handling suffers from a tippiness which is evident when the car enters corners or roundabouts a bit fast. Stability control is standard on the EX so I guess that helps, but overall the steering is abit too light for my tastes. I doubt anyone buys the Jazz for it’s handling prowess though. One of the most commonly cited annoyances about the original Jazz was the poor ride quality, especially around town, and whilst the second generation car has improved somewhat my mum’s car still suffers from a less than perfect ride; potholes and speed bumps are not a nice experience and the car can even become unsettled on the motorway. This lack of refinement extends to the wind and road noise coming from the wheels and those large wing mirrors, I guess that sound deadening is not as thick as maybe it should be. To be honest the motorway is not the Jazz’s natural playground – something evident by it’s small engines which are not really powerful enough for the average driver on inclines and overtaking at 70mph. Either 89bhp 1.2 or 99bhp 1.4 petrol engines are available in the UK, and whilst Honda’s i-VTec engines are great for high-revving sports cars, their charms are abit lost on drivers of the Jazz (who usually stick to the gear indicators and change up at 2000rpm). Even I don’t get the most out of the Jazz’s engine and find it a pain to shift down when on the motorway. In the US and elsewhere a more powerful 1.5L is available, and there is now a Hybrid version and automatics which can shift themselves in such circumstances.
Costs have been pretty good so far and I fully expect them to remain so; insurance is group 4 or so and is under £300 even with me and my brother as named drivers. Fuel consumption of 40mpg is not great but at 12k miles the engine is barely run in, and the vast majority of those miles will have been at under 40mph as the car is used for a small commute and popping to the supermarket. At £120 road tax is a little disappointing when compared to similar cars, as petrol versions of many other superminis now fall into the important sub-120g/km bracket, meaning £30 road tax. Even the Jazz hybrid somehow fails to fall under 100g/km (the larger Prius is under 90!) so clearly Honda have different priorities than dodging British tax brackets. Servicing schedules are annoyingly every year or 10,000 miles and when my mum bought she did not get inclusive servicing, so a £250 bill every year seems a little expensive when MINI offer 5 years for the same amount! I think Honda offer something similar now (or may even include it for free at certain times), but then the prices of the car have increased quite significantly…my mum paid around £14k and the same model would now cost above £15k, with navigation and Hybrid taking the price up to near £20k!
Given how happy my mum has been with the car so far it is pretty likely she will seek to replace it with the next Jazz when it is finally released later this year. I will admit that the little Honda has won me over and is pretty much the perfect car for her, but with quite dramatic price increases and the fugly looks of the new car I am not sure that I will let her drive into the Honda dealer without first checking out her other options. Kia and Hyundai have the allure of a 7/5 year warranty (though maybe not cars which will appeal), Toyota’s Yaris Hybrid is very cheap to run and reasonable enough to buy and then there is the likes of the Renault Captur, Peugeot 2008 and Nissan Juke, plus with Honda launching their own mini-SUV maybe there is a chance she will fancy one of those. Personally I would like to see her in a convertible MINI or even an Audi A1, which would hold their values even better than the Jazz, but those will likely be too small inside and the MINI lacks rear doors…for the moment anyway.
I would whole-heartedly recommend a Jazz to anyone buying new or used, but do yourselves a favour and at least take a drive of rivals as you may get more for your money elsewhere.