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The case for the Honda Jazz

The Honda Jazz raises more questions than it answers. Sensible, fuel-economical, comfortable, safe, reliable – and boring? The Jazz is regarded by car enthusiasts as an ‘old person’s’ car, is it really? The Japanese are talented at busting niches wide open, repackaging cars and at providing vehicles so that do everything right that they simply blend into the background.

Is this an ode to the Jazz? Well, no. What is the aim of the article, then? To make you step away from that shiny, much-hyped SUV thing and into a car that is overlooked by so many.

Did you know that Honda’s engines regularly outscore just about every other engine in terms of quality and reliability? It’s true. Americans call it the Fit and Europeans call it the Jazz, but no matter its name on the back of it there is an unfortunate stigma in Europe and locally that just won’t leave it: it is a favourite car of the aged. Despite Honda’s attempts to, ahem, Jazz it up, this model still can’t step out of that shadow. For the majority of car buyers, they don’t actually care about that. They seek a car that’s reliable, spacious and has enough gadgets to pique the interest of youngsters.

What is the Honda Jazz?

Technically-speaking, the Jazz is a B-Segment vehicle, a subcompact passenger car. It competes against the likes of the Volkswagen Polo, Renault Clio, Ford Fiesta, Hyundai i20, Kia Rio, etc, but it blurs the design lines thanks to very clever interior packaging.

The latest – fourth-generation – Jazz will arrive in South Africa soon, so there are some fantastic offers on brand-new third-generation models. However, for the best bang for your bucks, look towards the used car market. The third-gen model was launched in 2015, so we’ll stick with this one as examples are aplenty and quality is fantastic.

There are three trim lines: Trend; Comfort; and, Elegance. Each one is well-specced in terms of features and safety systems. They are all equipped with an audio system with AUX and USB inputs; remote central locking; aircon; electrically-operated windows; power steering; cloth upholstery. The Comfort level adds Bluetooth connectivity; foglights; multifunction steering wheel controls; 15” alloy wheels. The Elegance trim line adds cruise control; foglights; electrically-operated and folding exterior mirrors; 16” alloy wheels; PDC rear sensors; and, climate control.

Underneath that boxy shape, Honda’s Jazz boasts what they call Magic Seating. It is a multi-configuration interior design created from moving the fuel tank from the rear corners of a car to a central position. The seats can fold in a 60/40 split, but that’s not really different from other cars in the class. What makes the Jazz’s seats “Magic” is that the seat backs can be moved forwards so that they lie flat for large items or you can even move the seat benches forwards up against the front row’s seat backs for an even larger loading area.

There are three engine derivatives to choose from: 1.2-litre; 1.3-litre; and, our choice of the bunch a 1.5-litre. All engines are incredibly reliable, but we like the feeling and revvy nature of the 1.5-litre. It is a DOHC with i-VTEC technology with some clever continuously variable cam phasing. Transmissions available are a 5-speed manual or a CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission). For the most convenient driving experience, go with the CVT. For more fun, go for the manual. It uses only 6.0-litres/100km of fuel to make it respectably fuel-efficient while still offering up 88kW and 145Nm for spritely urban driving and comfortable highway cruising too.

What changes did the facelift bring?

This model underwent a mid-lifecycle update in 2017 where it was equipped with new front and rear bumpers and LED daytime driving lights. A few more paint colour options were also added to the palette, but it was the Jazz Sport’s introduction at this moment that created the greatest hype. That model, however, doesn’t form part of this article.

What should I look out for on these cars?

It is a Honda. These are true to breed and there are nearly zero customer complaints or problems mentioned on forums and from three dealers we called. The Jazz is one of the most reliable cars on the market, but a few little niggles were mentioned and are worth passing onto you here.

It goes without saying that due diligence when researching and verifying any car’s service record is vital. The same still applies to a Honda Jazz. If you should happen to go for the CVT transmission models, you should investigate when the automatic gearbox’s fluids were changed. On a test drive, check for any gearbox shudders. If it shudders and judders when pulling away from idle, it is either nearing its gearbox service schedule or it is in need of a mechanic’s TLC.

The majority of Jazzes are used as runabouts and Moms’ cars, so check for scuffs, dents and dinged alloys. Take the car onto a highway as part of your test drive to see how it responds to enthusiastic acceleration – most of these cars were never driven hard and therefore might feel a little lazy when revving through the gearbox.

Which one should I buy?

There are a number of Jazzes on the market with low mileage, the same specifications and in similar colours. There prices are all evenly matched. We’d recommend the 1.5-litre model for the fun-to-drive engine, but there isn’t really a ‘bad’ Jazz model.

As for the trim levels, look at the Comfort and Elegance models; they offer a fantastic selection of features to make for a car that’s hard to beat.

What about this particular one?

A dealer is selling this rather fetching 2016 Honda Jazz 1.5 Elegance CVT. Offered with a low mileage of less than 32,000km and with a price tag of R199,900 it is all sorts of good. It has new tyres, been serviced, and is ready to go.

This one is equipped with steering wheel-mounted gear shift controls; 16” alloy wheels; cruise control; climate control; PDC rear sensors; cloth upholstery; aircon; power steering; electrically-operated windows and exterior mirrors; remote central locking; foglights; and 6 airbags.

Conclusion

There are hatchbacks aplenty on the used car market. Which one should you buy? Apart from personal preference, it would be difficult to match the value, quality and reliability of the humble Honda Jazz. It doesn’t pretend to something it isn’t; doesn’t aim to fool users with unnecessary features that push the price up. This is honest motoring at its best.

The one advertised above is a beauty. We have driven it ourselves to find it as impressive as its salespeople told us. It is almost as good as a new car, but at about half the price. We’d prefer this over a Ford Fiesta or a Volkswagen Polo Vivo.

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