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Honda Jazz RS – Car Review

Preconceptions are a dangerous thing. I had high hopes for the Jazz – after hearing much about it for years, I still had never driven one. The almost legendary stories about having as much space as an S-Class Mercedes-Benz (that’s the claim) played on my mind as I went to pick up the test Jazz RS. Would it live up to my expectations?

My other preconception of the Jazz is that it’s a Nana’s car. For some reason, you see many ‘older generation’ people driving a Jazz, and often it’s the racier looking RS model (which we tested). I am guessing there are some loyal, elderly Honda buyers out there that will have no other car than a Honda, and the Jazz is the cheapest in the range. Remember when you saw lots of older people driving a Honda City? They’ve moved on now with the demise of the City to the next Honda in the range. This isn’t a bad thing – it’s an easy car to drive, for people of all ages.

All Jazz’s come with Reverse Camera, Navigation, Bluetooth, TouchScreen, Speed Sensitive Volume Control (SVC), Alloy Wheels, Hill Start Assist, Emergency Stop Signal, Magic Seats and a 5 year, unlimited km Warranty.

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Interestingly, there are some differences in equipment between the manual and CVT auto models. The manual has an idle stop function, rear privacy glass, auto lights and electric auto folding mirrors, but not the auto. The CVT auto has the advantage of tweeters for the audio system, but not the manual. Something to do with Japanese domestic supply apparently – it makes the manual just that bit more attractive to buy in my view.  Not that the CVT is a bad one, but in something as fun to drive as the Jazz, a manual just makes more sense. Then again, there are only six colours available for the manual, compared to ten for the auto. Tough choices abound.

The base S model comes with a 73Kw 1.3l Atkinson Cycle engine, and is missing a few items like steering wheel-mounted shift paddles, City Brake Assist, push-button start, an integrated alarm and climate controlled air-con, among other things. Also, it is CVT auto only.

First Impressions

I’ve got mixed feelings about the design of the Jazz. I like how it tries to be different with a few styling details that aren’t ‘normal’ and it is certainly not bland. On the other hand, from some angles it looks a bit too busy. Overall though, it’s a winning design for me, especially since our test car was in Violet Pearl, and not just another shade of grey. It really stands out on the road, and those lovely alloys just make it. In fact I was pleased to see that out of the ten colours you can buy a Jazz in, only one is a shade of grey and one is silver. Well done Honda for giving us a good number of non-grey options.

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When you first drive it, the initial impression is this car is peppy. That 97Kw, 1.5-litre VTEC engine, while a little noisy, can really boogie. Just small touch of the accelerator will get you moving quickly, and that’s your first impression when driving it. Using full throttle takes quite a bit of bravado, as the Jazz RS just gets up and goes. I’m not sure how the Nana Brigade gets on here, perhaps they enjoy that performance as much as I do.

That CVT transmission does get a bit slurry sometimes, with an old-school type of revving as the transmission tries to make sense of what the driver wants. As I mentioned before, it’s not bad, but there are some other manufacturers that have CVTs that operate more like a ‘normal’ auto, and are the better for it.

What’s it like to live with?

This is an easy car to live with. Its small size and high seating position make for easy driving around town. I can see why they are so popular.

The great performance means you may end up driving it too hard at times, and treating it a bit like a go-kart. After an hour behind the wheel, I felt comfortable enough to start chucking it around like I had owned it for ages (sorry, Honda). It may not be as low as a go-kart, but it handles really well, sitting flat when cornering, until you really push it. The steering offers some feedback, but that’s not its forte. With the paddle shifters placed so perfectly behind the steering wheel, it really lends itself to fun driving, if you want to. I often found myself using the paddle shifters to get some engine braking, instead of using the brakes.

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I guess people who drive a Jazz expect it to be economical. Honda’s official combined rating is 5.4L/100KM. With mostly around town running, I only managed 7.2. This may seem way down on the official rating, but I believe that with some decent open road driving in the mix my average would have come down considerably.

For a small, light car, the Jazz rides really well. It does get a little jittery over certain bumps, but overall bumps are well handled, especially since the car only weighs just over a ton.

Like many cars now, the Jazz has the City Brake Assist (City-Brake Active System or CTBA) feature. Other manufacturers call it something else, but it does the same job. This is specifically designed to help avoid or mitigate low speed accidents. The 1.3L S model misses out on this. The Jazz is also fitted with Hill Start Assist, which helps new drivers or just lazy drivers when it comes to hill starts. Take your foot off the brake and the car does not roll backwards straight away. Handy, and becoming much more prevalent over many different brands now.

All Jazz models have Honda’s brilliant Magic Seats feature. It’s a system that’s hard to beat, including that party trick of having the bases of the rear seats fold upwards (Tall Mode) so you can put taller objects in the car, using the entire interior height of the car. They really are a simple yet effective way of making the most of the space inside the car. This is all helped by placing the fuel tank under the front passenger’s seat, which looks a little weird at first, but then you just don’t notice it. If you aren’t a car person you just wouldn’t notice it.

Speaking of seats, indeed there is Plenty of room in the Jazz (note the capital P). The back seat passengers have an abundance of leg room – it really does live up to its reputation for having gallons of space. Even the boot is massive for the overall length of the car – no doubt that again, having the fuel tank under the passenger’s seat helps here. A cause to pick up three teenage girls and taxi them about gave the true test of rear leg room. For a small car, the Jazz really shines when it comes to overall space and design.

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My daughter was surprised to see the alloy pedals fitted to the RS model, she felt it must be a race car. I wonder what the Nana Brigade thinks of them?

One feature that’s a bit different for the Jazz compared to other cars in this segment, is the completely flat dashboard – no knobs at all. All touchscreen of course, and also with the ability to pinch and zoom, just like a smartphone. The whole system runs on the Android operating system. Audio sounds fine, although I did find myself with it at full volume a number of times, and even then felt it could have been a bit louder. All models of Jazz except the S come with Sat-Nav built in, which is a nice goodie to have included.

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We aren’t really taking your car off-road Honda, honestly…

After a run of Toyotas fitted with a cruise control stalk, it was a breath of fresh air to see the Jazz with cruise control managed from the steering wheel. Just so much easier.

The interior of our test car was a dark grey, which made the interior seem a bit claustrophobic. This is broken up by red piping in the seats so it’s not all dark, but it was darker than I would have preferred – and it really is just a personal preference.

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Tracey’s POV

The Honda Jazz was a blast to drive and perfect for zipping around the city chauffeuring teen daughter to teen friend and then taking them both on yet another shopping trip. It handled really well cornering, and even in the wet at night (when I generally don’t like driving) I felt safe. A couple of little nifty things I particularly liked: the cup holder right beside the steering wheel so I didn’t have to look down to grab my sippy-cup of coffee, and, how light the steering felt (kinda bought out the inner girl-racer in me). A couple of things I didn’t like: even after numerous attempts we couldn’t get my phone to connect with the stereo, and considering there was no CD player, this meant NO TUNES! Also the ‘touch’ indicator – while a good idea in theory, didn’t work well in reality as three seconds just wasn’t long enough. I have a quirk of naming cars, so in case you were wondering, this little purple cutie was quickly donned ‘The Purple Nurple’. If you’re a Supernatural fan you’ll get it. If not, trust me, the name is apt.

Owner’s POV: The Morgan family

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The Morgan family in Wellington are on to their second Jazz, and by all accounts love the model. Stef sums up her appreciation for their 2008 Jazz. “It’s a really easy car to drive – small, economical, and gutsy enough to get up the hills. We test drove some other small cars up our very steep road, and some of them really struggled. Not so the Jazz.”

The Morgans have owned this Jazz for 2 years, and last year sold their ‘big’ car – a Mercedes Benz 7-seater wagon. Did they feel the pinch of moving to a small car from the Merc? “Not at all,” says Daniel. “We took it to the Coromandel and back last year, four of us – in fact we drove all the way back in one day, via Raetihi. All our gear fitted into the car. It fair flew up the hills even with all our gear on board.”

The Morgan’s Jazz is a CVT model which has now done about 40,000kms – fairly low for a 2008 model. Still, they have had no mechanical issues, sticking to the suggested servicing schedule.

Interestingly, Daniel likes the CVT – different from my experience with it. “The standard automatic we drove reminded me of an old automatic of my youth, where the car just revs its guts out,” he says. ”With this CVT we find it really smooth. It’s a good runabout, it does exactly what we want it to do, and it’s really peppy – that’s why we call it Peppy.” Not quite Purple Nurple, but still a very apt name for a Jazz!

 

If in doubt about the power of the 1.5 Jazz, check out the comparison table below. Those extra few kilowatts in a light car really make a difference.

What it’s up against

Brand / ModelEnginePowerKwFuel L/100km (combined rating)Price Highest to Lowest
Mazda 2 GSX Hatchback 5dr Skyactiv-Drive 6sp1.5 litre, 4-cyl, DOHC VVT815.2$26,425
Honda Jazz RS1.5 litre, 4-cyl, DOHC VVT975.4$26,900
Ford Fiesta Trend Hatchback 5dr PowerShift 6sp1.5 litre, 4-cyl, DOHC VVT825.8$25,490
Kia Rio Hatchback 5dr SportShift 4sp1.4 litre, 4-cyl, DOHC VVT806.3$25,790
Hyundai i20 GLS Hatchback 5dr Auto 4sp1.4 litre, 4-cyl, DOHC VVT73.55.9$26,990
Holden Barina CDX Hatchback 5dr Auto 6sp1.6 litre, 4-cyl, DOHC857.0$25,990
Toyota Yaris ZR Hatchback 5dr Spts Auto 4sp1.5 litre, 4-cyl, DOHC VVT806.3$27,190

The good and the bad.

ProsCons
  • Space
  • Performance
  • Economy
  • Handling
  • Equipment levels
  • Design
  • Engine a little on the noisy side at times
  • CVT operation

What do we think?

Could I live with the Jazz as our everyday driver? Sure could! The Jazz has that certain something. Most likely it’s just a combination of all parts of the car working well together. The space, performance, handling, space. Did I mention space? The rear legroom and size of the boot in the Jazz surely sets a benchmark in this class, and then there are the Magic Seats for bonus points. Add a short body for easy parking and Honda have a winner.

Not that it’s all roses and honey. The engine is surprisingly louder than I would have liked, and the CVT is not my favourite part of the car. The Toyota CVT-transmission cars I’ve driven recently are much better.

These things are small when it comes to the Big Picture. The Jazz lived up to my expectations, and exceeded them in some areas. I can’t wait for the next model release – hopefully Honda will improve that transmission – or you could just buy a manual!

The bottom line is there is a reason you see lots of Jazz’s driving about. A great little car. I wanted to give it a 4.5 Chevron rating, but couldn’t quite get it there. So close.

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For more information on the Jazz range, check out Honda New Zealand’s website

Vehicle Type5-door hatchback
Starting Price$23,700 (1.3 litre, 4 Cylinder, DOHC 16 valve, i-VTEC, Atkinson Cycle, chain driven)
Tested Price$26,900
Engine1.5 litre, 4 Cylinder, DOHC 16 valve, i-VTEC, Direct Injection, chain driven
TransmissionCVT (6-speed manual available)
0 – 100 kph10.0 seconds
Kerb Weight1050kg
Length x Width x Height3955x1695x1525
Cargo Capacity359 Litres
Fuel Tank40 Litres
ANCAP Safety Ratings5 Stars
Warranty5 Year unlimited kilometre Warranty and 24 hour, 7 days a week, with National Roadside Assistance.

 

Fred Alvrez
How on earth to start this? I've been car/bike/truck crazy since I was a teen. Like John, I had the obligatory Countach poster on the wall. I guess I'm more officially into classic and muscle cars than anything else - I currently have a '65 Sunbeam Tiger that left the factory the same day as I left the hospital as a newborn with my mother. How could I not buy that car? In 2016 my wife and I drove across the USA in a brand-new Dodge Challenger, and then shipped it home. You can read more on www.usa2nz.co.nz. We did this again in 2019 in a 1990 Chev Corvette - you can read about that trip on DriveLife. I'm also an Observer for the Institute of Advanced Motorists - trying to do my bit to make our roads safer.

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