Chicken Jazz

In the final episode from six months of making the best of bad luck with cars (overshadowed by other events, of course), our correspondent reflects on his brief experience of the Mk3 Honda Jazz.

Jazz Mk3 – looks nicer in sherbet bon-bon yellow than LG white (source: Auto Express.

2020 will hold a particular memory for me (as well as the obvious): it brought with it a series of unfortunate events regarding the Robinson fleet. Unusually, this did not involve sir’s C6, but the FIAT 500 and the Škoda Octavia (twice).

The positive side was the opportunity to drive cars never sampled before. I’ve already covered the delights of Škoda’s Scala, which was with us for an extended period whilst the Octavia had its alternator sorted. On this occasion, I offer you another motoring benchmark; the Honda Jazz Mk3.

At this point, were this a You Tube video, you’d probably have pressed pause and found something else to watch, but I ask you to humour me for a few more paragraphs because I was delighted to find this Jazz a far more interesting proposition than I had previously reckoned-upon.

Said Jazz – a low spec car with plastic wheel covers and no rear-parking sensors in brilliant white – came to spend time with this family Robinson as a courtesy car whilst the FIAT was at the body repair shop. This, in turn, came to pass after an unpleasant man in a Honda CRV side-swiped our Tychy 500 at speed whilst my wife was driving, and then blamed her for being on the wrong side of the road.  She was not, but it enabled him to challenge who was at fault and hit our NCB as well as his own, no doubt. That sound you can hear is a further dent being hammered in my belief in human nature.

Now, I have to admit, whilst I am always appreciative of being offered wheels whilst my cars are receiving attention, my heart did not exactly sing when I realised what was being proposed as a courtesy car – murmur might be a more accurate description. I find this particular iteration of the Jazz lumpen, especially on the outside (albeit it is not much better within).

In white, it really does resemble the love child resulting from an entanglement between its predecessor and a small industrial refrigeration unit. Alternatively, for some reason it made me think of the sort of car that Clarkson, Hammond and May would fashion out of white goods and a Metro as part of a challenge on Top Gear.

From the rear – surely the lights flanking the rear window were a stylistic afterthought? (source: Auto Express)

No, the Mk3 Jazz is a stylistic fall down a flight of steps in my opinion. I have always admired its immediate predecessor, which I think still looks fresh and modern, and the original Jazz (or Fit in its homeland) was very innovatively packaged, offering a lot of space for a small family in a sub-compact package, even if I thought it a little awkward from certain angles.  

The Mk3 very much belongs to the small-car-cum-MPV school of creativity. Not necessarily a bad thing, but in this case, definitely not a good thing. The expanse of metal above the rear wheels looks distortedly out of proportion, making the wheels themselves look tiny.

The designer (or maybe their mate/ successor/ mortal enemy, it’s hard to tell) then clearly felt that something had to be done to disrupt this great expanse of metal and so added a huge, kinked swage of a rising wedge, carved into the front and rear door panels (on each side, I might add), flowing (if one is generous) into the rear lamp cluster. 

The nose looks cluttered and Honda commits a further sin by adding sporty extensions to the front and rear bumpers and sills on at least some versions. And that’s without mentioning the rear lamp arrangements. 

It’s not good. Inside, the dashboard looks like a poorly aligned collection of hard and soft plastic modular elements that have been melded together; it looks heavy and overbearing and like no one could be bothered to style it at all. Even the infotainment screen has that aftermarket afterthought look about it (and served-up very little info or ‘tainment relative to its size and prominence on the dash). There are attempts at practicality, with dash-top trays and cubbies, but they just exacerbate the cluttered effect.

Pictures do not do justice to how poorly integrated/ styled the modules of the dashboard actually look (source: Auto Express)

Hence, with expectations dampened, I waved away the offer of a whistle-stop tour of the controls and decided to put the radio on and schlep the 8 miles back home. Unexpectedly, this lasted all of 10 seconds.  

The first nice reminder that it’s still a Honda came when I twisted the key to start the engine – the instant catch and then settle into silence. I wondered whether the start-stop had kicked-in (it hadn’t). Here was one of those legendary, sewing-machine smooth, Honda four-pots; it took me back to my Mum’s old Rover 213S which came with Honda’s 12-valve that was such a deliciously smooth and zippy engine.

Second, and even more of a shock to the senses given the context of what you see and touch – the gearchange. Another Honda legend preserved – mechanical, precise, narrow of gate and fun to slide via a short-lever that’s a little low set – and completely incongruous with the rest of the car. Combine the two and I found I wanted to engage with the car, working out the optimal point of gear changes sensing the power and torque characteristics of the engine (which does get a bit rough at higher revs).

Unfortunately, the steering and chassis were more easily forgettable (nope, literally no recollection) but at least that’s consistent with the car’s overriding raison d’être, which I discern to be an easy, relaxing and comfortable ride. Moreover, the car was quiet – at least compared to its predecessor (my Mum currently has a Mk2 and the NVH levels from the chassis are awful), and, even less surprisingly, the FIAT 500 for which it was providing cover.  

The front driver’s seat was high-backed and has those shoulder wings which I also experienced in the Scala, only these were more pronounced and definitely made me more hunched than I would have preferred. I do hope these don’t catch on because we’ll all end up with spine curvatures. It is a roomy small car, with plenty of space in the back and a decently sized boot.

Latest, Mk4 Jazz retains mini-MPV profile, but is much easier on the eye than its predecessor (source: CarGurus)

Overall, I am not surprised these cars are popular with the more mature consumer – once I got over giving the engine and gearshift a major workout, I settled into the underlying rhythm of the Jazz and really enjoyed the mechanical refinement. I also started to admire the car’s focus; it is no fashion-statement, but it does take a no-nonsense approach to delivering to its practical, comfortable brief. My wife also loved it. I imagine that the automatic gearbox would fit the brief rather better than the fun but rather out of character manual.

Which probably explains why Honda UK only sells the new version of the Jazz as a hybrid with a very clever-clogs self-guided gearbox which I struggle to begin to explain and so won’t even try. This new Jazz also represents, in my opinion, something of a return to form from a design perspective. 

There is a slightly uncomfortable similarity with the Vauxhall/ Opel Crossland X from the rear ¾ view, but I like the cleaner, simpler lines and that it still retains its out-moded but highly practical mini-MPV style. The interior is really very nice – simple, clean and blessed with proper, physical HVAC controls. Of course, there has to be a hideously contrived crossover version, called Crosstar, which is best ignored, but, otherwise, I’d be quite happy to own one of these.  

I really like this interior – simple, stylish, effective (source: Motoring Research)

And so, the Jazz Mk3 reminded me of that age-old saying, that one should never judge a book (just) by its cover. I found myself both delighted to be proven wrong and also once again warming to Honda as a result.

Author: S.V. Robinson

Life long interest in cars and the industry

15 thoughts on “Chicken Jazz”

  1. Never driven one of these, but I always liked the Honda engines and loved the manual gear change. The dashboard of the current Jazz is indeed a big improvement. However I don’t like the way the centre screen is attached. Also the graphics on both screens look hopelessly clumsy.

    We won’t see a lot of the small Honda, though. Over here they’re asking VW Golf money. You do get a hybrid for that money, but a base Yaris with ICE is 25% less.

  2. Good morning S.V. I’m sorry to hear about the unfortunate incident with the 500, and especially so to hear of the other party’s dishonesty, but karma will deal with that in due course. Has the 500 been repaired to your satisfaction?

    I couldn’t agree more about the Jazz. The new one is a considerable improvement, but I don’t like the way the D-pillar is disconnected from the bodysides and am unsure about the ‘underbite’ front end: the way the nose turns down above the grille makes it look like it has been in a minor shunt. Still, hopefully it’s a sign that automotive design might be calming down somewhat. Let’s hope so. The latest HR-V is also encouraging in this regard:

    I’d prefer if it didn’t have the annoying and unergonomic ‘hidden’ rear door handle, but applaud it’s simple, clean lines.

    1. Hi Daniel, yes, thank you the repairers did an excellent job; one would never know that anything had happened to the FIAT, which is most welcome.

      I agree with your observations about the new Jazz, resolving them would improve the car further – I think it’s just a relief that things have improved over the previous car.

      The same goes for the HR-V, it’s a much calmer car than that it replaced, and is almost Mazda like in its looks (quite like a larger version of the MX-30 on which you are not so keen, from memory).

    2. Well observed (and remembered) about the MX-30:

      It’s mainly the ‘coach’ read doors that I find overly fussy. It would make a nice two-door car though…

    3. I wonder why the shutline between the doors wiggles about like that.

    4. Hi Jonathan. I think the shutline is actually ‘straight’ but there’s a sharp indent in the lower door skins that’s not obvious in the photo above, which makes it look otherwise. You can see it better here:

    5. The new HR-V’s rear door handles really do ruin an otherwise clean design. It’s the next worst thing to customizers shaving only the rear door handles of their four-door cars to make it abundantly clear they really wanted a 2-door.

  3. More grounds for hope? The new Toyota GR86, a replacement for the GT86:


    The rear ‘difusser’ is a bit clichéd, but otherwise I really like it.

    1. Yes, agree. Maybe a little derivative, but, as you say, happily not overwrought.

    2. For my liking there’s too much going on in the rear. I especially don’t like the bit between the rear lights and rear spoiler. Also the side skirts need some work.

  4. I’m sorry to hear about the the 500, S.V. It’s remarkable how events sometimes cluster together; I always take the view that it gets all the bad stuff out of the way all at once.

    That was a very interesting review, especially that you found the mk 3’s ride quality to be okay – some reviews moan about it. I agree about the dashboard, though – I don’t mind (actually quite like) the design, but the materials look very cheap and hard. That has been fixed in the latest version, of course.

    It’s odd – the Jazz is a car I really like, but forget about. It’s a shame, as they make some really good stuff. A friend’s wife has a Jazz, bought on the basis that she has zero interest in cars and there’s a Honda dealer in town. She absolutely adores her Jazz, though. I think she likes its practicality.

    That said, the prices are quite chunky, starting at £2k more than a Polo in the UK, for example, before discounts. I’m sure that’s easily fixed by negotiation / buying a pre-registered car.

  5. Thanks for your thoughts on the Jazz, SV. It’s a very rational car and, to confirm the stereotype, I’m considering replacing my mom’s Fiesta with a WR-V, the plastic-cladding version sold here. Given the popularity of crossovers, I’m surprised to see that it is not sold in the UK.

    In Brazil, there is a popular Instagram account that only features images of crashed Fits / Jazzes. The demographics of Jazz buyers may have something to do with it, but the repairability of the car’s boot lid adds to the amount of damaged vehicles.

    https://www.instagram.com/fitbatido/

  6. The Jazz must be a good car, since it keeps on winning COTY in Japan, but for me the split/double ‘A’ pillar means I would never go near one. Honda styling can be pretty hit&miss, and for me the brand new one is a miss.
    I’ve no idea how the new model HRV looks in the metal, but in photos it seems a bit bland. There was nothing wrong with the looks of the old one in my opinion – it was the interior that needed work. Ergonomically it was pretty poor, and those magic seats were less than magic if you had to sit in them for any length of time.

  7. Jazz Mk1 : dull, inacceptable styling, yet still unsurpassed in its coherent and addictive mix of Drive Experience satisfaction and innovative, utter practicality and ease of living with.

    Jazz Mk2 : styling fault of the Mk1 succesfully erased, however it came with
    an even bigger disaster – a ride quality that suffers from inexistence. It does not have a ride quality. It even qualifies well for concluding it does not
    have a ride, at all.

    Jazz Mk3 : never tried one, but with that styling, never wanted to – have to accept fully what S.V.R. shares in his brilliantly honest and refreshing review.

    Jazz Mk4 : yet to see, styling is better than Mk1 and Mk3, but far from Mk2’s
    (Sportshoe emulating, but nevertheless) attractive looks.

    GR86 : thinking of pre-ordering one, sight unseen, wheel unturned.
    Mr. Toyoda’s ‘blitzkrieg’ is to be definitely celebrated by any
    true driver, I think.

  8. So I’ve owned one for just over a year now. I agree that the engine/transmission is (mostly) good, I get “only” around 38mpUSg from the 1.5 (130hp)/6MT because I can’t resist going to the redline in 2nd on onramps and keeping my foot down in 3rd. Very much the old “VTEC kicks in, yo” acceleration. The only quibbles are that the tach really should’ve been to the right of the speedometer where your hand on the steering wheel, or the spoke while turning right, doesn’t block its’ sweep. That and 6th should be much taller, or they should’ve just kept the gen 1/2’s 5 speed. I skip-shift from 3rd to 6th a lot and mostly use 4th on hills.

    Handling is good enough that I don’t regret not getting the sport suspension, although I would’ve if it was included in the Sport trim level rather than being an accessory costing $1500(!) in duplicate parts and dealer labor. As it is I just bought the base-model LX.

    The dash design at least avoids the tacked-on iPad look. Everything that should have a physical knob, button or lever does, there’s no touchscreen at all. The backup camera screen has been more useful than I thought it’d be in a small car. I wish they’d spent more of their limited soft-touch budget on the driver’s door panel instead of putting it all on the passenger’s side of the dash.

    Sadly, Honda chose not to sell the 4th gen in America so I haven’t seen one in person. The face is…challenging. I’d call it aggressively non-aggressive, like it’s trying too hard to look cute while the rest looks more function-forward, like a better executed/less melted version of the latest Mercedes look. Here the gen 1/2/3 Fits are a car without a demographic, you see all types and ages driving them, they were the go-to “small but not a s–tbox” option.

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