The first-generation Honda Jazz was a revolution among small hatchbacks. With its large interior, "magic" seats, frugal engine and joyfully nimble handling, it was an instant hit everywhere it was sold. The second-generation model was better in almost every way, but it was bigger, heavier and seemingly not as frugal as the original. This third-generation iteration represents a return to the continuously variable transmission that made the first-gen a high-mileage hero among economy cars. It also features a full chassis refresh compared to the second-generation car. Are the good times back again? Let's find out.
The Jazz features some of the same sharp styling elements as the Honda City, including the cutaway shoulder line, but the already boxy layout is more van-like than ever with this third-generation model. That said, the proportions are a bit cleaner than the previous Jazz, and there's a Volvo-ish flair to the rear flank and lights. The split-level grille is a bit easier to swallow in this all-black implementation than the chrome one on the VX, but the 15-inch wheels aren't quite as nice as the ones on the VX or the City.
For three generations now, the Jazz has been wowing us with its incredible interior flexibility. The fold-flat rear seats are a one-touch affair now, and reveal a mind-boggling amount of cargo space. Fold the front seats forward and you have bed space enough to camp in if you don't have the height of a basketball center. Interior plastics are a step up from the previous car and light years ahead of the first-generation Jazz, as are ergonomics. The seats are still set low, but better thigh support makes that less of an issue than before.
While it's tuned more for smooth acceleration than gutsy acceleration, the new torque-converter-equipped CVT features solid "shifts" and a positive feel that was lacking in the old CVT. A long final drive keeps revs down on the open highway, leading to impressive fuel economy. Over 20km/L is possible if you keep speeds down to around 80kph. City economy is reasonably good for a compact automatic, but not stellar. The new torque converter makes for better durabilty and performance, but the trade-off is a little more gas usage sitting in traffic versus the old clutch-pack-equipped CVT.
RIDE AND HANDLING
While the Jazz rides reasonably well, tall 175/65 R15 Bridgestone Turanza tires don't provide the most tactile of feedback, and the steering is overly light. That said, handling is sharp and agile, and the Jazz rarely ever sets a foot wrong. It's still no patch on the Fiesta, but most owners won't care. They might care, however, about the noise over certain road surfaces, but it's a minor nit rather than a major drawback. The generous greenhouse and bigger blind-spot front-quarter windows provide for great sight lines, and the Jazz is one of the easiest cars of its size to punt around in traffic.
The 1.5 V gets ABS, dual airbags, keyless entry and a good (though not exceptional) sound system. Not quite as exciting as the VX and the VX+ with their nicer interior trim and integrated touchscreen infotainment systems, and the stereo system looks more like a messy afterthought than a proper factory head unit. That said, there is the enticing fact that the V offers you the option of a slick-shifting manual transmission to go with that delicious 118hp 1.5-liter motor. Sadly, very few buyers will go for that option.
The Honda Jazz was a transformative product for the market segment when it was first released over a decade ago. Even with the increased competition from other subcompact hatchbacks, there's nothing out there that can quite match its combination of amazing interior space, frugality and quality. More than any other hatchback, the Jazz most successfully poses the question as to why you'd need anything bigger.
SPECS: HONDA JAZZ 1.5 V CVT
Engine: 1.5-liter L15 variable-valve timing I4 gasoline
Power: 118hp @ 6,600rpm
Torque: 145Nm @ 4,800rpm
Drive layout: FWD
Photos by Niky Tamayo