This brings back memories. A decade ago, we had the best years of our lives. We were university students in Melbourne, and we all had itty bitty hatchbacks.
With our gaggle of superminis, we buzzed around Australia like coked-up mosquitos. Singing, gallivanting, and just drinking in the beauty of the country, our spirits were infused with the vitality of youth and the romance of an undifferentiated future bearing infinite potential.
Being the petrolhead of the lot, naturally I had a Ford Fiesta. The posse of Yaris’, Holden Barinas and even Mazda 2s could not keep up on the Great Alpine Road, nor could the numerous first- and second-generation Honda Jazzes despite the best efforts of my plucky buddies.
They had the best view of the gorgeous countryside, however, being blessed with tall windows and wonderfully airy cabins.
Come dorm-room moving time, however, the Jazzes in the gang suddenly came into their own. With a flat load floor and those wonderful “magic” rear seats, the Jazz owners stood atop the halls’ popularity pyramids every summer.
Your experience of this new fourth-generation Jazz, of course, is not going to be similarly intoxicated with the sweet aroma of nostalgia like mine is. So, I do owe you a conscious effort at objectivity. Deep breath. Here goes.
THE IDEAL BODY STYLE
The small hatchback is a type of car that should be perfect for Singapore, and I recall a time when seemingly every single one of my Army Sergeants had one.
Five seats, versatile cargo capacity, wieldy dimensions and a generally sprightly countenance, one would think the city would be absolutely swarming with them rather than choked with giant SUVs. Today, however, it is a comparatively rare body type.
Shame, really, because the little Honda is very nice indeed.
Not that it will blow its own trumpet. This new Jazz tiptoes into your eyeline and shyly sits there until you wilfully draw your attention to it. With all the previous generations’ creases and styling flourishes ironed away, the Jazz looks neater but more anonymous than ever before.
It is no longer the kind of car you might find with aftermarket neon blue lights on the skirts or “MUGEN RACING” plastered across its flanks. The previous generations enjoyed dressing up in bright orange and blue.
This press review unit? Plain white. Ah Bengs all over Bishan mourn the loss of an icon. It is cute though, in an understated, friendly way. I like it.
TRICKS, NOT ILLUSIONS
Fortunately, the Jazz’s core virtues of being an absolute packaging marvel remains. It can still pull off that Harry Potter tent trick: conjuring a physics-breaking surfeit of interior space beyond what its tiny external footprint suggests it has any right to.
Much engineering thought has gone into this. The fuel tank sits beneath the front seats, freeing up space in the back and enabling those upward levering “magic” rear seat cushions.
A bicycle could be loaded through the rear door and conveyed upright this way. The engine bay is a high-score Tetris screenshot, and, despite the lithium-ion drive battery being under the boot floor, the rear seats still fold flat for a van-like flat load floor.
The Jazz is quite easily the best transport appliance in its class.
Another one of the Jazz’s signature characteristics, that of excellent visibility, has also been enhanced. The A-pillar is now 55mm thick from 116mm before, enabling a class-leading field of vision. I soon find myself very relaxed and very comfortable.
The rest of what your eyes fall upon inside is less impactful. The funky shapes and multi-coloured mouldings used by other manufacturers to make styling statements are eschewed for a buttoned-down ambience.
Plastics feel hard and hard-wearing in an expanse of black and grey. Nevertheless, the cabin exudes a reassuring aura of quiet and sensible quality.
The 9-inch infotainment screen is quick to respond, easy to read, and offers screen-mirroring capability.
A NEW HEART
Under the bonnet is where the big news is. There is a conventional 1.5L version on sale too, but, thanks to VES rebates, the hybrid version we have here is close enough in price to be a no brainer.
Honda bills it the e:HEV, and it juggles the engine, electric motor, and transmission in a complex and unique way. Understanding its operation requires a bit of explanation.
There is currently a spectrum of hybrid powertrains. One may consider the Toyota Prius at one end, with its electric motor assisting the petrol engine, which remains mostly fired up, in driving the wheels.
Nissan’s e-Power system in the Note occupies the other end. Here, only the electric motor powers the wheels, and the engine serves exclusively as a generator.
The Honda Jazz sits somewhere in the middle, juggling EV Drive, Hybrid Drive, and Engine Drive in a manner that is more electric motor heavy than the Prius but still directly engine-driven in some circumstances, mostly on the highway.
A QUIETER DRIVE
The outcome? A largely seamless and refined experience, but one without the chuckle-worthy, rabbit-like bursts of the Note, nor the thrummy eagerness of Jazzes past.
The car never feels all that spry, and, despite an on-paper 124hp, requires a fair amount of accelerator pedal travel to make quick progress.
The Nissan is ultimately more immediate and entertaining.
Handling, of course, aided in no small part by those giant windows, is neat, nippy, and undramatic.
An Opel Corsa has a more expressive on-road demeanour, but there is something to be said for the type of inoffensive fingertip-easy commute the Jazz delivers.
Honda Jazzes are, and have always been, very easy cars to recommend. They do the job and they do them uncomplainingly. This new one is no different, and I could see one slotting into most people’s lives easily.
Honda Jazz Luxe e:HEV 1.5 (A)
ENGINE 1498cc, 16-valves, inline-4, hybrid
ELECTRIC DRIVETRAIN Dual electric motors, lithium-ion battery
TOTAL SYSTEM POWER 124.3hp (92.7kW, 126PS) at 3500-8000rpm
TOTAL SYSTEM TORQUE 253Nm at 0-3000rpm
POWER TO WEIGHT 101.9hp per tonne
0-100KM/H Not available
TOP SPEED Not available
PRICE INCL. COE From $108,999 (after $15k VES rebate)
AGENT Kah Motor