The Honda Jazz is famed for its practicality, reliability, efficiency and ease of driving. Enviable qualities all, but it doesn’t exactly scream of excitement. The Japanese manufacturer is seeking to address this with the launch of the new flagship Jazz Sport, and in doing so reel in a few younger buyers to go with the car’s current, more mature audience.
It was inevitable the word “Sport” would appear in the mix, wasn’t it? Even if its use might be somewhat dubious for a car that despite gaining 28bhp over the standard Jazz still only has 128bhp, and also goes against the current trend by not using a turbocharger.
In fairness, Honda knows more than most about how to build engaging naturally-aspirated engines, and the 1.5-litre i-VTEC unit installed in the Jazz is certainly surprising when it gets going.
Part of that is thanks to its willingness to rev (admittedly noisily), but it’s also due to a six-speed manual gearbox that has a delightfully precise action and what appear to be ratios borrowed from one of Honda’s motorcycles. That the gear indicator nags you to be in sixth when travelling at 30mph kind of says it all.
On the plus side this does mean the Jazz Sport feels energetic when you accelerate hard, working your way up through the gears knowing that each change will dump you right back where all the action happens north of 5,000rpm.
This allows the Jazz to nail a semi-respectable 8.7 second 0-62mph time despite having only 114lb ft of torque. That’s for the manual version by the way – the CVT auto takes 10.1 seconds to do the same sprint.
The downside of this gearing is that it also means the engine is buzzing away at more than 3,500rpm when you’re cruising at 70mph in sixth, which in a relatively small car that isn’t terribly good at shutting out noise is as draining as it sounds. Throw in the way the Jazz never feels truly planted at high speed, and seats that lack thigh support, and the result is a car that doesn’t excel in motorway conditions.
Nor is it one blessed with the dynamic verve promised by that Sport badge. Indeed, extra power aside this car doesn’t appear to drive any differently from a more moderately priced Jazz. The light steering and good visibility make parking easy, but with no feel through the wheel and a lot of body lean in corners there’s not a great deal to cause excitement. It’s not like the Jazz has particularly soft suspension either, for at low speeds it is still noticeably bumpier than something like a Ford Fiesta or Seat Ibiza.
What we have here then is not so much a Honda Jazz hot hatch, but simply one that is faster than before. To reflect as much it does also look ever so slightly tougher on account of its 16-inch gloss black alloy wheels, a small splitter under the front bumper, a modest rear diffuser, a tiny roof spoiler and minimal sill extensions. Admittedly it’s still no Civic Type R when it comes to visual thuggery, but that’s probably for the best.
Same goes for the interior, where there’s a new upholstery pattern but not a whole let else. Still, that does also mean the Jazz remains a remarkably practical small car, with a 354-litre boot that will put many small crossovers to shame, and acres of room in the back seats.
As with any other Jazz, those seats tilt and fold in all manner of ways too, including the bases lifting like a cinema seat to allow you to carry tall items. Yes, we’ve seen it for some years now, but it’s still both clever and potentially very useful.
Less impressive is Honda’s seven-inch infotainment system, which is saved parly by the fact you can plug your phone in and use Android Auto or Apple Carplay, but still frustrates for being so unnecessarily complicated in other ways.
Finding a new radio station, for example, can be so fiddly that it’s sensible to pull over in order to be able to apply full concentration to the task in hand. And while operating the satnav is marginally easier, the £610 that Honda charges for it does not represent good value.
While this all sounds as though we are being lukewarm about the Jazz Sport, that is not to say it's a bad car. That engine and gearbox combination make it genuinely surprising in some ways, and while it’s still about as exciting as a built-in wardrobe, for purely practical purposes there remains little in its class that gets close.
As for attracting those younger buyers, however, we remain to be convinced.
Honda Jazz Sport Navi
TESTED 1,498cc four-cylinder petrol engine, six-speed manual gearbox, front-wheel drive
PRICE/ON SALE £17,890/now
POWER/TORQUE 128bhp @ 6,600rpm /114lb ft @ 4,600rpm
ACCELERATION 0-62mph in 8.7 seconds
TOP SPEED 118mph
FUEL ECONOMY 39.2mpg/47.9mpg (EU Urban/Combined). On test 47mpg.
CO2 EMISSIONS 133g/km
VED £205 first year, then £140 per year
VERDICT Faster rather than more fun, the Jazz Sport doesn’t add a whole lot extra to Honda’s small car offering. However, there’s still plenty here to appreciate for those who want a practical and reliable car, only this time with a little more performance than before.
TELEGRAPH RATING Three out of five stars