2010 Honda Jazz

The Good:
– Spacious interior
– Fun handling
– Excellent fuel economy
The Bad:
– Hard cabin plastics all over
– Not enough power
– Gets pricey with options

The Honda Jazz is the anti-thesis of the small-car genre. Redesigned for 2009, the Jazz aims to offer as much space as possible, without extending beyond the footprint of a sub-compact hatchback. The Japanese firm has truly outdone itself in its quest for storage volume.

Now in its second generation, the exterior design has evolved to become even more of a wedge. The mousy design isn’t attractive in the traditional sense, but appealing in its own futuristic alien-loving kind of way. Unlike Yaris and Tiida drivers, no Jazz owner has ever been accused of being a boring person, or a soul-less drone, or an accountant.

Our somewhat-pricey Jazz had all the optional goods possible, the most obvious being the 16-inch alloys, the paddle-shifters, the panoramic glass roof, the 16-inch alloys and, of all things, rear power windows. And yet, the cabin still feels like the economy car that it is, with hard plastics on every inch of the interior beyond the seats, floor and ceiling. But at least the textures are pleasant and the door panels get a thin layer of cloth.

The basic fabric seats can be manually-adjusted high enough to give a high driving position, which gives the feeling of driving around in a glass bubble, especially since the Jazz has quite possibly the largest windshield ever. Indeed, legroom front and back is good for most adults under six feet, and merely adequate for those taller, but there is enough headroom for Shaq and his Taliban headgear, if he chose to wear one. Frankly, no car needs this much upward space.

There are eight cup-holders moulded into the plastics, although it isn’t as impressive when we realised four are door-mounted bottle holders, and the other four are all for front passengers. There are even two glove-boxes, with the upper one cool-able by redirecting a/c air towards your stored drinks. The regular boot is easily accessible, but only good for one big suitcase. Aside from other uncovered cubbies and pockets, the real interesting bit is the “Magic Seats” setup in the back. The trademark rear bench can split-fold flat just like in any other hatchback, but the rear-seat bottoms can also fold up instead and create a tall cargo space where the rear seats used to be. While the applications for such a feature are dubious, we liked how easy it was to configure them either way.

The extra-long dashboard is even stranger in its non-symmetrical design, but the controls are big and easy to figure out. The manual a/c is good in January afternoons, helped a bit by the 3M tint on our tester, while the 4-speaker stereo is acceptable if you place more importance on USB/iPod connectivity than on bass. Other than the usual power accessories, keyless entry, front-side airbags, cruise control and the huge panoramic glass roof, there aren’t any other tech features to speak of. Its simplicity may be a good thing in the long run.

Also simple is the 1.5-litre 4-cylinder engine, good for 118 hp at 6000 rpm and 146 Nm of torque at a high 4800 rpm. For all its i-VTEC gimmickry, we only managed 12.7 seconds during our 0-100 kph test, with lots of loud high-revving action and seemingly weighed down by the glass roof. The 5-speed automatic does fine on its own, but there are optional paddle-shifters that can be somewhat fun, even with a slight delay in responding to inputs. On the other hand, the trip computer on our tester seemed pegged at a remarkable 6.9 litres/100 km during the entire two days we had the car. Coincidentally, our recent Honda City tester was almost 2 seconds quicker and slightly more economical, with the same engine.

The Jazz handles very well too. Indeed, the suspension tuning is very sporting, and the Jazz might’ve given the expensive Mini Cooper a run for its money if it had wider tyres and proper brakes. As is, the 185/55 tyres run out of grip too early and the rear drum brakes allow a bit of sideways swaying under hard braking. Still, body roll is limited and the tyres behave predictably at the limit, gradually understeering without drama. The steering is soft and yet has some useful feel, while the ABS-assisted brakes can be precisely controlled. And the proper handbrake was a great diversion on wet roads.

The Jazz isn’t the most comfortable of cars though. Its sporting suspension and short wheelbase also deteriorates ride quality to almost the same level as our BMW M Roadster. It is bearable of course, but we’d assume buyers of econo-boxes do not prioritise a firm suspension when shopping in this category. It is also rather loud at highway speeds due to wind noise and minimal noise insulation. It is no wonder then that its Thai-built cousin, the City, is an intentionally softer-handling car.

The Honda Jazz remains an interesting choice in a segment dominated by boring cars that do not push the boundaries of conservatism. With space-age styling, space-age cargo management and space-age fuel economy, its focus is obvious. The superior handling is a bonus, while its downfalls in ride and power may be overlooked by those who simply refuse to be seen in a City.

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