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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.