It may not be the best looking small car and its price tag will cause an intake of breath, but the new Jazz is terrifically practical, good to drive and massively well equipped as standard.
In the Metal:
To be fair, the Honda Jazz has never been a car that was about its looks. The original was tall, narrow and just a little bit geeky. This new one is chunkier and perhaps a little more characterful to look at but it's also a little dumpy and not especially sexy. There is none of the Fiesta's Aston-Martin-style grille or the Polo's carefully chamfered corners here. Honda doesn't seem to mind though - the whole idea of the Jazz is to maximise space and practicality within the smallest possible overall footprint. So, here is a car that measures a mere 3,995mm long yet which, thanks to a 115mm boost in rear legroom, is claimed to offer the same amount of passenger space as the mighty Mercedes-Benz S-Class. It has a 354-litre boot, when many rivals dip under the 300-litre mark. It has stretching room in the back seats, pretty much unique in the segment.
Perhaps it's not surprising then that the interior is the Jazz's selling point. Aside from some rather cheap plastic under the windscreen and atop the door cards, all of the cabin surfaces are layered with a thick sheen of sheer quality. It puts pretty much every major rival to shame in that regard. The dash is clean and relatively uncluttered, the instruments big and clear and classy. The demerits? The front seats are too short on under-thigh support, if you're tall, and some of the rear seat space has clearly been gained by limiting the rearward travel of the front seats.
It's very versatile though. Fold the back seats and you have 1,314 litres to play with and, of course, the Jazz keeps the 'Magic Seats' that the first generation model introduced - flip up the seat bases in the back and you have a tall, slim space in which to load tall, slim items. The Jazz will be the friend of the plant lover or art collector. Or the serial flatscreen TV buyer.
The Jazz's 102hp 1.3-litre petrol engine is a classic VTEC Honda unit - long on revs and tech, short on torque. It's a little uncouth at times, revving quickly and smoothly to the 6,500rpm redline, but without a tuneful sound, more of a harsh buzz. Still, while 123Nm feels like a very underfed torque curve in these turbo-happy days, the Jazz is still well ahead of most of its opposition on power. In fact, it's 40hp ahead of some similarly priced rivals. It's efficient too - Honda's engineers have designed the engine to run on the more economical Atkinson cycle at low rpm (it keeps the inlet valves open for longer to allow the engine to breathe more efficiently) before switching to the traditional, more power-friendly, Otto cycle as the revs rise.
It's best sampled with the new six-speed manual gearbox, also a classic Honda creation. It's short of throw, slick of action and wonderfully mechanical in feel at a time when most cars seem to be adding more and more rubber and baulk to their manual shifts. The Jazz will never be a ball of fire in performance terms, but work the happy little gearbox and rev the engine out and you can make peppy progress.
Just don't, whatever you do, go for the CVT automatic option. Honda made great play of the fact that it has tried to tune this gearbox's responses and shift patterns to European tastes, but like all of its kind it basically lets the engine rev noisily and painfully while gathering speed at what feels like the rate of a disinterested sloth. The manual may not be any faster in fact, but it's faster by far in feel.
The Jazz's chassis is up to the challenge at any rate. It has really lovely steering - well weighted, quick-geared and with just enough feel to give you confidence in the corners. Honda says it has raised the rear roll centre and beefed up the anti-roll bars and you can feel that the whole car seems to be slightly raked up at the back, pointing its nose enthusiastically at the tarmac. You'd never believe it looking at the pudgy, tall body but the Jazz displays lovely mid-corner balance and only the slightly bouncy ride quality puts you off. It's also refined (when not running with the dreadful CVT) and keeps wind and tyre noise well at bay.
What you get for your Money:
Initially, it looks too expensive. A price tag starting with a €17 just looks like too rich a pie for the supermini segment, but you need to dig a little deeper. First off, with the last generation model, the majority of Honda Ireland's customers were speccing their cars up to €20k and beyond. Secondly, the most basic and cheapest of the last-gen Jazz made up just seven per cent of sales. Thirdly, when you compare it with the best-selling derivatives of Fiesta or Yaris, the Jazz is only slightly more expensive but is stuffed to the gills with standard equipment. Air conditioning, cruise control, Bluetooth, remote auto controls on the wheel, an autonomous City Braking system, automatic headlights and wipers - most of these items are (expensive) optional extras on rivals, so the Jazz, when looked at in the round as it were, is actually offering far better value for money than most of the competition. Plus it's roomier and, being a Honda, is exceptionally unlikely to have you reaching for the Niggling Fault Hotline as the years roll on.
There are a lot of high-end optional extras too including a Dynamic Safety Pack that includes forward collision alert and lane keeping assist, but also has an automatic speed limiter that reads road signs and tries to stop you running over the limit. Potentially useful, but in practice it's too fallible and irritating. There are also such things as Honda's Connect touch-screen infotainment, leather trim for the wheel and gearshift and more iPod and HDMI connection points than you can shake a USB cable at.
Since 2001, there have been three cars that have shared the crown of the supermini market - the Jazz, the Fiesta and Skoda Fabia. The new Honda Jazz maintains that Troika's grip on glory and at the moment probably has its hand highest up the trophy.