Tuesday 17th November 2020
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First drive: Honda Jazz e:HEV. Image by Honda UK.

First drive: Honda Jazz e:HEV
The Jazz’s fourth outing sees it channelling some EV styling quirks, as it goes hybrid-powered.

 



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Honda Jazz e:HEV and Crosstar

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

Honda's latest version of its Jazz supermini now has a hybrid powertrain and even a funky, fresh crossover model, called the Crosstar. Can the Japanese car, which has often laboured with an image problem of being a favourite of elderly clientele in the UK, finally push its way to the front of the class in Mk4 guise by playing all the right notes?

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Honda Jazz e:HEV EX
Pricing: Jazz range from £18,985, EX from £21,385, car as tested £22,035
Engine: 1.5-litre four-cylinder i-VTEC petrol plus twin electric motors and lithium-ion battery pack
Transmission: front-wheel drive, single-speed fixed reduction gear
Body style: five-door hybrid supermini
CO2 emissions: 104g/km (VED Band 101-110 Alternative Fuel Vehicles: £145 first 12 months, then £140 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 61.4mpg
Top speed: 108mph
0-62mph: 9.5 seconds
Power: petrol 97hp at 5,500-6,400rpm, electric motors 109hp, quoted system maximum 109hp
Torque: petrol 131Nm at 4,500-5,000rpm, electric motors 253Nm, quoted system maximum 253Nm
Boot space: 304-1,205 litres

Model tested: Honda Jazz Crosstar EX
Pricing: Jazz range from £18,985, Crosstar from £22,635, car as tested £23,585
Engine: 1.5-litre four-cylinder i-VTEC petrol plus twin electric motors and lithium-ion battery pack
Transmission: front-wheel drive, single-speed fixed reduction gear
Body style: five-door hybrid supermini crossover
CO2 emissions: 110g/km (VED Band 101-110 Alternative Fuel Vehicles: £145 first 12 months, then £140 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 58.9mpg
Top speed: 107mph
0-62mph: 9.9 seconds
Power: petrol 97hp at 5,500-6,400rpm, electric motors 109hp, quoted system maximum 109hp
Torque: petrol 131Nm at 4,500-5,000rpm, electric motors 253Nm, quoted system maximum 253Nm
Boot space: 298-1,199 litres

What's this?

Honda's super-practical supermini, souped-up for its fourth outing in almost 20 years. Yup, the Jazz Mk1 launched in 2001 and, through the past three generations, it has built up a devoted following for its spacious cabin (brought about by an MPV-like, almost monobox exterior design), clever packaging ideas (like a central fuel tank) and steadfast Honda reliability. Thing is, none of these attributes are what you might term, um... youthful, and so the Jazz has always been disdained as the fuddy-duddy car in the B-segment supermini battle.

However, what with the company's racier side (Type R, Formula 1, World Superbikes etc) and the glowing appraisal of the electric 'e' city car (the artist formerly known as the EV Concept), Honda certainly knows how to build a machine which can transcend any blue-rinse connotations. So here, hoping to be infused with a little more of this side of Honda's DNA, is the new Jazz. It borrows much of its 'smooth pebble' surfacing from the Honda e and any other must-have technogadget of the 21st century, lots of featureless white surfaces apparently making the onlooker subconsciously think of science-fiction-y things and the like.

Weirdly, though, despite the fact that many will no doubt say this is the best-looking Jazz yet (no comments about 'low aesthetic bar to clear', please), we're not massively convinced by it. Sure, it does appear a bit more cutesy than any of its forebears, but it's nowhere near as distinctive nor appealing as the original-Civic-apeing Honda e - in fairness to it, how could it possibly hope to be? - and neither does it have a very strong personality of its own. There's more than a hint of Vauxhall Crossland X to the rear view of the Jazz Mk4, for instance, especially so if we're talking about the Crosstar derivative (more anon).

Still, it's not ugly on the outside and even though we reckon the old Jazz Mk3 was a little more stylishly idiosyncratic to look at, the same cannot be said of the new car's interior. This is where the latest Jazz has come on leaps and bounds. Its 'Magic Seats' in the second row, which tumble down incredibly easily and for which the squabs neatly clip up to the backrests to allow the carrying of tall items in the footwells, are preserved and so is the cavernous rear legroom for passengers in the back, while the boot is a useful 304 litres. Yet it's up front where the real gains are made, as the quality of all the major touchpoints has been seriously enhanced, while the previously lacklustre proprietary infotainment system has been replaced with a much sharper, much more responsive effort that's finally up there with the class-leading systems. It has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, too, so you'll probably end up using your own smartphone's interface anyway, but it's good to know Honda has made the HMI effort. Furthermore, there's a nice, crisp digital instrument cluster in front of the driver, the excellent two-spoke steering wheel from the Honda e is included, and there's a general feeling of real quality throughout. Sure, the dash top and the door cards are made of hard, brittle-to-the-touch plastics, but unless you spend all your time prodding and poking these areas of the car's cabin, you'll realise that Honda has spent money improving the Jazz's interior in all the right places.

UK specs run SE (from £18,985), SR, EX and then Crosstar EX, the latter classifying as a flagship trim all of its own. We'll come back to it in just a second, but in essence there's a £1,200 price walk to make for each specification you step up, apart from the EX to Crosstar move, which is £980 more than the EX e:HEV upon which it is based. That 'e:' nomenclature, by the way, will signify all future Honda hybrids and it once again ties things into the e city EV. Anyway, those prices might look pretty robust, but Honda will counter by citing both a high standard specification on the Jazz Mk4, and also decent PCP figures.

On the former score, even SE models come with Idle Stop, EV Mode, climate control, auto lights and wipers, adaptive cruise control (yes, adaptive), heated electric door mirrors, an intelligent speed limiter, the Magic Seats, LED daytime running lamps, 15-inch alloys, Bluetooth, DAB, a five-inch Monitor Audio infotainment set-up with a 180-watt, four-speaker sound system, Traffic Sign Recognition, Lane Departure Warning and High Beam Support System as standard. Move up to an SR model and wireless Apple CarPlay connectivity, fabric/leather upholstery, front and rear parking sensors, and the Honda Connect infotainment on the nine-inch touchscreen (including DAB, Apple CarPlay with a cable connection and Android Auto) all come into play, while high-ranking EX cars like our test vehicle gain Smart Entry & Start (keyless entry and go), Blind Spot Information including Cross-Traffic Monitor, a leather steering wheel and shift knob, heating for the steering wheel and front seats, a rear-view camera, 16-inch alloys and Garmin satnav mapping for the Honda Connect system. As to PCP prices, find a 20-22 per cent deposit and, at 5.9 per cent APR, you'll pay £199 per calendar month (pcm) for the e:HEV SE, rising by £20 increments on each trim to £259pcm for the Crosstar EX. Add metallic paint to the mix and the list price goes up by £550, increasing the PCP figures on each model by £10 each.

We've mentioned the Crosstar EX enough by now and it's time to look at it in a bit more detail. Starting at a hefty £22,635, it is a Jazz e:HEV EX with a kit list enhanced by water-repellent fabric upholstery, an eight-speaker, 376-watt Premium Audio system, the option of a two-tone exterior, Crosstar-specific 16-inch alloys, a 30mm-taller ride height, and Crosstar-specific exterior styling, chiefly the roof rails, mirror caps and lower-body black cladding. You'll more easily spot a Crosstar at the front, where the regular Jazz models' bar-type nose arrangement is replaced with a more conventional slatted radiator grille on the crossover, this switch also necessitating a redesigned lower airdam. Engineered to take on the likes of the Ford Fiesta Active and the Toyota Yaris Cross, it's an understandable marketing ploy from Honda but not one we'd recommend; we'll expand on this more in the driving section below.

The regular Jazz Mk4 has a much tougher field to overcome than the Crosstar, its rivals including (but not limited to) such excellent machines as the UK's perennial showroom favourite in this sector, the all-round talented Ford Fiesta, as well as the super-handsome Peugeot 208, the sparkling SEAT Ibiza, the much-improved Renault Clio V, the almost-as-pragmatic Skoda Fabia and, of course, the default premium option in the form of the Volkswagen Polo. Even Toyota has a smart-looking new Yaris inbound, complete with both hybrid drivetrains and a drool-inducing homologation-spec GR flagship version. It's a fearsome crowd to overcome, so what has the Jazz got up its sleeves?

How does it drive?

Honda has adapted the Intelligent Multi-Mode Drive (i-MMD) system as seen in the CR-V Hybrid, only here it is attached to a 1.5-litre i-VTEC nat-asp engine, rather than the 2.0-litre unit of the CR-V. Peak power is a modest 109hp, but look at the maximum torque - 253Nm, which comes courtesy of the electric motor. Coupled to Honda's Electronically Controlled Continuously Variable Transmission (eCVT) and driving the front wheels only, even on the rugged-looking Crosstar, the 0-62mph time of sub-ten seconds only tells half the story of just how lively the Jazz is off the line. Seriously, from 0-30mph or even 0-40mph, it feels like one of the quickest cars on the planet. You plant the throttle and it just hooks up its petrol-electric drivetrain and scoots off down the road, surprising many, many other vehicles in the process. Being schooled off the lights in Bracknell by a baby-blue Jazz Crosstar was simply too much for one bloke in a current Mercedes E-Class, who then proceeded to drive like an utter berk through the rest of the 30mph zone at what looked like twice the legal limit.

The Jazz also sounds good. Yes, as a small-capacity normally aspirated four-cylinder engine, the supermini can become a trifle coarse if you make it hunt for its redline, but as Honda has engineered the eCVT to mimic gearshifts, with a rise-and-fall rev pattern, you get none of that hideous mooing noise you normally get on cars with CVTs, the old Jazz Mk3 automatic included among their number. Further, Honda's brake recuperation system seems mighty efficient, which we've noticed on the larger CR-V Hybrid too, so there's normally always some battery charge in the lithium-ion pack and therefore the Jazz e:HEV drives on electric power far more often than you'd give it credit for when simply glancing at the specs. With its 1.5-litre i-VTEC dormant and not introducing vibrations to the cabin (it doesn't add much even when it's on, mind), you can then focus on the Jazz's excellent ride quality, its remarkably civil refinement and a suite of major controls which are wonderfully well judged.

Seriously, the steering is lovely. It makes the simple act of placing the Jazz on the road a doddle and it's so intuitive and nicely geared that you don't even notice it after the first few roundabouts. This, coupled with that punchy hybrid powertrain and one of the Jazz's new design features, makes it a magnificent urban conveyance. And the design feature in question is the new, 'widescreen' windscreen. Redevelopment of the crash structure incorporated into the A-pillars has improved the view out the front of the Honda to a 90-degree field of vision, much more than on the old Mk3. This vast and airy front glasshouse makes the new Jazz feel like a much larger, grander car than it is, without needing a massive road footprint to achieve such a task.

So the Jazz is brilliant at its core-brief driving and it's economical too, managing a 58.6mpg figure with little fuel-saving effort on our part on a route that included meandering through the Surrey Hills, tromping along the A3 through the Hindhead Tunnel and then negotiating the congested urban roads of the south-east. Can it do the unthinkable and score a full house by providing a surprisingly interesting drive when you're concentrating on the handling? Well... no, sadly. It can't. Oh, it's by no means bad; the steering remains excellent even when loading it up and moving at speed, there's plenty of grip from the chassis, a notable lack of excessive understeer and fairly impressive body control, given how comfortable the suspension is, but at no point does the Jazz actually feel like it's approaching 'fun', never mind 'thrilling'. Still, it doesn't need to be a road rocket - we're waiting for a hopeful follow-up to the strangely alluring Mk3 Jazz Sport, a Mk4 e:HEV with a boosted 1.5-litre engine and the sort of performance chops to bloody the noses of the likes of the Fiesta ST and Polo GTI. Come on, Honda, get it announced, stat.

Which leaves the last par here for the Crosstar. And here's why we think it's only a four-star, maybe even a three-and-a-half-star car, when the regular Jazz is so brilliant: it doesn't feel any different to the regular e:HEV. This means, driven in isolation, it's just as enjoyable and just as impressive as its lower-riding Jazz siblings. But as you pay considerably more money for a car that is no more comfortable, not quite as sharp to drive, has less boot space (by six litres, which isn't much, admittedly, but the point remains valid), is slower for acceleration and top speed, and which is a little harder on fuel and more polluting for CO2, we're not sure why you'd want the Crosstar instead of the 'plain' Jazz. OK, the cabin fabric just about ensures that the interior feels a bit different on the Honda crossover model, but despite the 30mm jacking of its suspension, the driving position is appreciably unchanged. Unless you adore the Crosstar's exterior styling, or you're really into slatted radiator grilles, or you crave a Jazz with a banging sound system on which to play some jazz in a self-referentially ironic fashion, or you're absolutely dependent on water-resistant seats (there's probably an old-people gag in this, but we'll refrain from commenting for reasons of decency), then we think this model of the new Jazz range is perhaps a trifle unnecessary. Certainly when the standard e:HEV is such a cracking little thing.

Verdict

The Honda Jazz has always been the most practical supermini in the sector but, with this fourth-generation car, it's now also one of the best; if not quite on the class podium, then surely nipping at the heels of the machines which occupy the top slots. It's still not the sexiest vehicle to either drive or to look at, despite the aesthetic allusions to the Honda e city car, and its major issue is that it's pricey compared to its main rivals, but in other regards the Jazz is vastly improved over its predecessor and it has an excellent hybrid drivetrain to work with too. Avoid the overpriced, underwhelming Crosstar model and you've got an excellent B-segment hatchback, right here.

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Exterior Design

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Interior Ambience

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Passenger Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Luggage Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Safety

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Comfort

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Driving Dynamics

4 4 4 4 4 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 30 Jun 2020









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2020 Honda Jazz and Crosstar UK drive. Image by Honda UK.2020 Honda Jazz and Crosstar UK drive. Image by Honda UK.2020 Honda Jazz and Crosstar UK drive. Image by Honda UK.2020 Honda Jazz and Crosstar UK drive. Image by Honda UK.2020 Honda Jazz and Crosstar UK drive. Image by Honda UK.

2020 Honda Jazz and Crosstar UK drive. Image by Honda UK.2020 Honda Jazz and Crosstar UK drive. Image by Honda UK.2020 Honda Jazz and Crosstar UK drive. Image by Honda UK.2020 Honda Jazz and Crosstar UK drive. Image by Honda UK.2020 Honda Jazz and Crosstar UK drive. Image by Honda UK.








 

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