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The fourth generation version of Honda's Jazz supermini looks to shake off its image as the senior citizen's poster child. June Neary checks it out.
Although it's fair to say that my days of being asked for ID when buying alcohol are but a distant memory, I'm not about to pick up my free bus pass just yet. Nevertheless, the news that I was about to get a Honda Jazz on test generated a whole week of ribbing from my other half, not helped by the discovery of a packet of Werthers Originals and some Tenalady pads in the glovebox that one of the wags in the office had slipped in when it arrived. If age brings wisdom, then it's surely a compliment that so many older buyers have chosen the Jazz over its rivals. Older buyers want a comfortable and practical car that's easy to drive, easy to get in and out of and which offers excellent reliability. So do I. Although Honda is starting to bring younger customers on board with models like the HR-V crossover, it might take a while. In the meantime, I think I'm thick-skinned enough to put up with the jokes, although it did get a bit much when the car was given an office nickname based on a piece of intimate jewellery featured on The Only Way Is Essex. That one was nipped quickly in the bud.
The latest MK4 model certainly still looks like a Jazz. Slightly bulbous and unthreatening it remains but some of the detailing is now a bit sassier. At the front, the split A-pillars are designed to improve forward visibility and there's a pair of larger headlights and a chunkier bumper compared to the old model. It's still pretty compact though, measuring in at about 4-metres in length. At the rear, the previous model's vertically-stacked lights make way for more conventional horizontal units. Choose the SUV-inspired Jazz Crosstar model and you get roof rails, an elevated ride height, black plastic cladding around the wheel arches, two-tone paint and a bespoke grille, all in an attempt to introduce more of a Crossover vibe to this supermini. Inside, Like most Hondas, it never really feels heavy and bulletproof in the way a German car does, but you have faith that it's put together with an almost fanatical attention to detail. I liked the huge windscreen that imparts a genuine feel of airiness up front. I liked the wider 'body-stabilising' front seats supposed to reduce fatigue on longer journeys and the dash has a more minimalist, uncluttered look. Its centre touchscreen has smartphone-style swipe technology and incorporates wireless 'Apple CarPlay'/'Android Auto' smartphone-mirroring. There's also a digital instrument cluster. Otherwise the Jazz formula is as good as it ever was. Honda's 'Magic Seats' continue whereby the back seats can fold down in one fluid motion into the footwell with the headrests in place. Lift up the rear seat cushion against the rear seat back and there's a tall protected space in the rear seat footwells for items like plants. Boot capacity measures 298-litres, with space extending to 1,203-litres with the 'Magic Seats' folded.
The only Jazz engine choice is now a 1.5 litre i-VTEC mild hybrid petrol unit with 108bhp of power. It's mated to a CVT auto transmission, the sort of thing that feels jerky in a Prius but works smoothly here. Most of the time at the wheel of this Honda you'll be in 'Hybrid Drive', which combines the engine and the battery pack in the most efficient way possible while recovering electricity from deceleration and storing it for future use. 'EV Drive' forces the Jazz to run in electric-only mode (though it can only do that for very short distances). And the 'Engine Drive' setting combines the petrol engine and the electric motor output for maximum performance. In this mode, the e:HEV powertrain gives the Jazz a 0-62mph time of 9.4 seconds and a maximum speed of 108mph.
Where Honda has started to feel the pinch is in competition from rapidly improving Korean companies. The Jazz has always been one of the more expensive superminis and that continues to this day, with entry level pricing typically around £1,500 more than its Korean rivals. Now, it's true that you'll recoup some of that when the time comes to trade the Jazz in, but not all of it. I'd advise that you do the sums and drive all the rivals before coming to a decision on the Honda's relative value proposition. The range itself is relatively straightforward. Prices start at around £19,000 and there's a choice of four trim levels - 'SE', 'SR', 'EX' and 'Crosstar'. Specifications are generous across the range. Standard features include adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist and automatic headlights, plus there's 'Apple CarPlay' and 'Android Auto' smartphone-mirroring. Black paint will be the default cost-free option while six other paint shades are also available. The Crosstar version is exclusively available in two-tone combinations with a gloss-black roof. Infotainment and connectivity benefit from a much improved voice command system, the Honda 'Personal Assistant', first seen on the little Honda e. This is basically a next-generation voice control system in that it can respond to multiple commands: for instance "OK Honda, find me an Indian restaurant with WiFi and free parking". I tried that one myself.
After accepting that you won't create much of a splash outside a fancy restaurant by pulling up in a Honda Jazz, things get a whole lot better. It has a lot of really useful qualities that demonstrate the detailed understanding Honda has of its core customers. Yes, those core buyers may be more into Billy Fury than Tinie Tempah but if they're smart enough to know a good thing when they see it, more power to them. I could manage with a Jazz quite well. It's a car that never has to try too hard and that's a refreshing quality in a market that's increasingly populated with shouty newcomers.
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