First Drive

The Honda Jazz has been a global success since its 2002 launch with more than 2 million sold worldwide and 160,000 finding homes in the UK.

So it’s perhaps not that surprising Honda has evolved the existing model rather than giving it a more radical overhaul.

We drove the new Honda Jazz at its European launch in Frankfurt, Germany to find out what’s changed.

The new Honda Jazz exterior betrays subtle changes from the original supermini.

The bottom of the windscreen has been pushed forwards and lines on the bonnet, around the headlights and on the rear window have been sharpened (bringing it more into line with the groundbreaking Honda Civic).

But put the new and old car side by side – as Honda did at the European launch of the new Honda Jazz in Frankfurt – and the longer and wider nature of the new car become apparent.

And it is this which, along with moving the windscreen, makes a much more significant impact once you are inside the car.

We drove both the original Honda Jazz and its replacement and the increase of interior space – for passengers and luggage – is one of the new Honda Jazz’s greatest strengths.

More space than bigger rivals

Behind the wheel the environment has been made to feel much more spacious with the shift in windscreen position while legroom and shoulder room are improved for all occupants.

And when it comes to boot space the 399 litres offered by the new Honda Jazz not only beats all its supermini rivals but bigger cars including the Ford Focus, VW Golf and Renault Megane too.

Rear seats are easy to flip flat and the cinema-style “Magic Seats” enable motorists to tip the seat bottoms up and create a huge space in the rear footwells.

The new Honda Jazz also sees the introduction of what Honda has dubbed the Double Trunk with under-floor storage combining with the regular boot space to accommodate tall, delicate and separated shopping or luggage.

And while ten cup/bottleholders might seem a little excessive for a five-seater car, the design team has clearly set a mission to exploit every bit of extra space created by the expanded dimensions.

Behind the three-spoke steering wheel everything is simple and unfussy with three very-easy-to-read dials dominated by the central speedo while the sculpted dash combines good looks with the ability to hold maps and leaflets in place.

Quality interior

One of the reasons the original Honda Jazz has been there or thereabouts when it comes to driver satisfaction surveys is its bullet-proof reliability – and the quality of the new interior promises more of the same.

This should go some way to achieving Honda’s aim of capturing mature “downsizers” whose children have left home and are now looking to drive a smaller car in the face of rising fuel costs.

Buyers will have a choice of two new i-VTEC petrol engines – a 1.2-litre model and the 1.4-litre version we drove. Both deliver more power than their predecessors: offering 90bhp and 100bhp respectively. The 1.4-litre model has enough oomph to instil confidence when joining fast-moving traffic on the German autobahn.

The 1.2-litre model can cover the 0-62mph sprint in 12.5 seconds with a top speed of 110mph, 11.5 seconds and 113mph for the 1.4-litre model.

Both engines are coupled with a five-speed manual gearbox although the 1.4-litre model can be specified with i-SHIFT, Honda’s six-speed automatic gearbox which also enables drivers to change gear manually with the gearstick or using paddles.

Better ride and handling

We found the response of the automatic a little delayed and jerky and preferred the smooth response of the manual transmission.

CO2 emissions, fuel economy and insurance groups were not available at the time of publication.

Criticisms of an over-firm ride in the outgoing model have been addressed with the increase in the car’s size incorporating a lengthened wheelbase and greater distance between the front wheels.

This has created a more planted feel while improvements to the suspension and steering have also made the driving experience a better one.

We took both the new Honda Jazz and the outgoing model out on the streets of Frankfurt’s tram-lane scarred streets and found the new car was significantly better at soaking up the uneven surface. And that’s something which will reward the Jazz’s loyal fans (who account for 60 per cent repeat purchases of the car) with more comfortable journeys.

The Honda Jazz is available in S and SE trim levels for the 1.2-litre model and ES and EX for the 1.4-litre car.

Panoramic Roof

Standard features on the 1.2-litre S include 15-inch steel wheels, body-coloured bumpers, electric heated and adjustable mirrors, height-adjustable steering wheel, front electric windows, CD/radio, anti-lock brakes, electronic brake force distribution and brake assist. The top specification 1.4-litre EX model includes 16-inch alloy wheels, privacy glass, cruise control, hill start assist, leather steering wheel, height and reach adjustable steering wheel, climate control USB socket and panoramic roof.

We took a rear passenger trip in a new Honda Jazz with panoramic roof and the view up to Frankfurt’s clutch of skyscrapers was a great advert for a feature well-worth considering for those likely to have more than the odd back passenger.

The new Honda Jazz is a better car than its predecessor in many respects.

We would recommend buyers tempted by the 1.4-litre model’s automatic i-SHIFT option try it back to back with the manual gearbox.

But whichever transmission you opt for the new car offers a better driving experience compared to the outgoing model as well as bigger and better storage solutions which look certain to appeal to current Honda Jazz drivers.

And we reckon that hugely impressive boot space could well tempt motorists driving “bigger” more expensive hatchbacks to consider the new Honda Jazz a convincing alternative to their current model.

Key facts

Model tested: Honda Jazz 1.4 EX, Honda Jazz 1.4 EX i-SHIFT
On the road prices: £12,635, £13,590
Price range: £9,990 – £13,590
Date tested: September 2008
Road tester: Adrian Higgins