Honda mildly tweaks the looks of the third-generation Jazz supermini for the 2018MY, but also takes the opportunity to introduce a more potent, 130hp 1.5-litre VTEC petrol at the top of the line-up. A special-order car here in Ireland, the Jazz Dynamic is no junior hot hatch, but it's a surprisingly peppy performer and, we reckon, worth the extra outlay.
In the metal
Globally, how many examples of the Jazz supermini (also known as the Fit in some markets) do you think Honda has sold since it launched in 2001? Two million? Three million? More? Well, it is more; considerably so, actually. In fact, Honda has shifted more than seven million Jazzes in 17 years, so before we even being assessing the facelifted and improved Mk3 model, you can wipe that smirk off your face and put the multitude of 'old age pensioner' jokes and jibes you're thinking of to one side for a moment, so that we can get on with this review rationally and not make snide remarks such as 'you'll never get to the bingo hall quicker than in the new 1.5-litre Jazz'. Ahem.
This is a very important car to Honda. One that deserves some serious consideration. The Jazz has always done the supermini formula a bit differently, opting for a mono-box shape to make the most of its diminutive footprint. It is therefore a simply brilliant piece of packaging, in a way the MINI three-door (for instance) most emphatically is not. The Jazz has a big, well-shaped boot and those clever tumble-and-fold 'Magic' rear seats. Along with acres of legroom in the back like you simply would not believe of a car that's 5mm shy of four metres in length; no, seriously, with the driving seat in position for a six-footer, there's enough room in the back to allow someone the size of Richard Kiel to get comfy. It's ridiculous how capacious it is. And it's all thanks to Honda stoically continuing to allow function to rule form; you might not like the Jazz's blobby appearance, but with that high, arching roof and a centrally-mounted fuel tank down below, this feels like it is the roomiest hatchback this size of a BMW 3 Series Gran Turismo.
For the new model year, Honda has very, very gently primped the looks by introducing a 'solid wing' grille at the front, as seen on the bigger Civic and, having a little tweak of the air intakes lower in the bumper. Same minor fussing at the rear, too, where, if you're the most eagle-eyed of Honda fans, you might pick up on different outer grilles and a linking trim strip between them, but we seriously doubt most people would even notice the changes once they were aware of what had been altered. There's also a new body colour, Skyride Blue metallic, which is a rather fetching pale shade that suits the lines well enough. Nevertheless, the Jazz remains a distinctive and possibly divisive looking supermini, although we think the Mk3 Jazz is more youthful in appearance than any version that has gone before.
However, while the 102hp/123Nm 1.3-litre VTEC model continues in the line-up, for the first time in Europe we now also get the 130hp/155Nm 1.5-litre four-cylinder VTEC engine. This can, like the 1.3, be mated to either a six-speed manual gearbox or Honda's Continuously Variable Transmission (for another €1,500), but goodness knows why on Earth you'd opt for the latter - OK, it's a teensy bit better on fuel; the CVT's 52.3mpg and 124g/km CO2 means you'll be paying €10 a year less road tax, but you'll wish you were forking out the extra cash annually once you've experienced the CVT's criminal lack of refinement at high revs. Also, while the manual 1.5 is no quicker flat out than either its CVT sibling, nor the manual version of the 1.3-litre Jazz, just take a peek at its 0-100km/h time - 8.7 seconds is pretty damned sprightly and the 130hp CVT takes another 1.3 seconds to achieve the same speed.
Furthermore, the 1.5-litre Jazz comes in one trim, called Dynamic. This adds a front splitter, rear diffuser and boot spoiler to the Honda's exterior, as well as some red pinstriping and extra black detailing around the vents. Plus, black alloys. Now, while not exactly transformative stuff, there's a weirdly perverse appeal to a Honda Jazz that's sporting a diffuser and dark rims. So we kind of like the 1.5 Dynamic, before we've even got in and driven it. But are we looking at the most unusual warm hatch in the world here?
Umm... no. No, we're not looking at the most unusual warm hatch in the world. What we've actually got is a Honda Jazz that drives much like the 1.3 model, only with a modicum more straight-line punch. No bad thing, of course, as we've always been impressed with the way the Mk3 Jazz comports itself - it's refined for cruising (if you don't pick the CVT) and yet reasonably vivacious in the corners, belying its upright appearance with decent road manners. The new 1.5 model is fully 2.5 seconds quicker for 0-100km/h than the 1.3 manual and that performance really does show out in traffic. The Honda feels genuinely lively, despite its lowly peak torque at high revs, because it only weighs around 1,100 kilos in this guise.
As with most non-Type R Honda VTECs these days, there is no high-revs moment when the second cam takes over, but instead you enjoy a long, clean pull of acceleration right up to the Jazz's 6,750rpm redline. It remains smooth with bigger numbers on the rev counter, as well, while it feels more than flexible enough to execute overtakes on slower-moving traffic in its higher gears. OK, it's not the most shocking of summations when we're talking about cars with modest outputs in the first place, but the extra 200cc, 28hp and 32Nm of the 1.5-litre Jazz all make themselves most welcome in the Honda. This is a much more willing performer than the 1.3 model.
What it isn't, of course, is some sort of Ford Fiesta ST-lite. While the steering is pleasant enough on the Jazz, and the six-speed manual is an absolute cracker (nice, taut action and short movements around the gate), this is not a car that intends to goad you into cornering on the door handles. It'll grip keenly, resisting understeer up to some quite impressive speeds and keeping a watchful eye on its body movements during spirited cornering, but it's not going to suddenly have you wondering what a Jazz Type R would feel like. Indeed, there's a part of us that wonders why Honda didn't go and make its supermini truly 'Dynamic', by blessing it with the 200Nm, 1.0-litre VTEC Turbo found in the Civic and uprating it to, say, 150hp in the process. Cost, presumably, and the fact that Honda's obviously not confident that even the 1.5 will find a lot of buyers in this part of the world, but it's an intriguing thought, isn't it?
What you get for your money
The 1.5 Dynamic is €1,280 more expensive than the top-spec 1.3-litre EX model with the same manual gearbox, which is presumably why Honda Ireland has decided the sportiest Jazz has to be special order here. Despite this, what you get is a car loaded with all of the EX's toys, such as all-round parking sensors, the seven-inch Honda Connect infotainment system, automatic high beam, the Dynamic Safety Pack (comprising Forward Collision Warning, Traffic Sign Recognition, Intelligent Speed Limiter and Lane Departure Warning), 16-inch alloys, climate control, a reversing camera, keyless entry and go and leather trim for the steering wheel and gear knob - among more.
If you're not interested in the 1.5 Dynamic, then know that all 2018MY Jazz variants - the 1.3 trim lines run SE, ES and then EX - come with at least air conditioning, cruise control, the City-Brake Active system, electric windows all round, auto lights and wipers, a multifunction steering wheel, LED daytime running lights, six airbags and those trick Magic Seats in the rear. Which, in short, means the Jazz is generously equipped from entry-level to flagship.
Has Honda cooked up an unexpected driver's delight here with the 1.5-litre Jazz Dynamic? No. Has it introduced a slightly more powerful new model to the line-up of a supermini we've always thought was near the top of its class? Yes. It's a bit pricey and not the sharpest tool in the box, but with 130hp, Honda's clever hatchback is nicer to drive than ever. Just steer clear of the CVT version and you can't fail but to be impressed to some degree by this Japanese B-segment contender.