I LIKE the Honda Jazz. I like its style and I like the way it drives. And I also like its value. While not perfect, it is a good buy in a segment full of good buys.
The question for buyers though is which of the sharp-handling, sprightly and easy-to-own cars from a quality small car field, best meets their needs and personality.
The mention there of the ?personality thing? is quite deliberate. Buyers in this segment - the small car segment - will want a car that connects with them, reflects their lifestyle values and says something to the world.
Whereas family buyers will arguably be driven by more practical and utilitarian concerns, buyers trying the Jazz on for size will be looking for a car that is fun to own, easy on the pocket and light on the eye.
No surprise then that each of the better small cars (and we're talking Fiesta, Mazda2, Jazz, Fiat 500, C2 and Yaris here) is loaded with personality and comes with its own appealing and quite individual charms.
In that short list in the sentence above, they are all very good cars. Each is fun to drive, easy to live with and sharp at the wheel.
And while each is different, none will disappoint. But one of them is best for you. Which is it, better still, which is you?
Perhaps it's the Jazz. We'd better have a close look at it then.
Versatile, appealing style
The first thing you'll notice is that the 2009 Jazz ? released August last year - is bigger externally and internally than the model it replaces. And whereas the older model was funky and cheerful enough for its time, it now looks slightly bus-like compared to the sharp styling of the new.
The new shape works. The Jazz sits nicely on its wheels, has an individual style all of its own and manages to marry East and West in a superbly practical and appealing shape.
The steeply raked screen, rising from a pert nose, gives the front more ?edge? than the previous model. The curve of the roof, dropping slightly into a narrowed rear, softens the upright stance while adding appeal to the lines around the rear hatch.
Inside, that large screen adds to the sense of space in what is a brilliantly spacious interior.
Though standing on a small footprint, head and legroom is excellent, thanks to the upright stance. Also at the head of the class is access to the front and back. (Useful in getting small children in and out of car-seats or unloading the booty of shoes and designer clobber from the Saturday morning excursion to DFO.)
Inside, there is little to complain about in the way things work, though, arguably, it loses a bit of personality here.
The dash, doors, seats ? shale grey and black throughout ? are perhaps a little sombre and not quite in keeping with the Jazz?s fun-feel, but they are typical Honda quality.
Ergonomically, it works very well. Getting settled and comfortable behind the wheel is easy: slick little gearshift nicely at hand, controls and audio easily operated and understood, terrific all-round vision? it is easy to see why the Jazz has been a winner for Honda.
While the seats are a tad flat and lacking the thigh bolstering of, say, the Fiesta, they proved comfortable around town and on a couple of longer stints at the wheel heading up the Hume. And with good quality interior fabrics, you get a sense those seats will take an awful amount of punishment without discolouring or losing shape.
The dash? Hmm... not so sure about its lines. To these eyes, there are too many fussy parts to it. It's as if Honda tried too hard to funkify things and ended up giving us something that is neither particularly funky nor especially stylish. (Perhaps that particular focus group hit the saki before getting down to business.)
But perhaps you like it. (And you probably disagree with my choice of dog as well.)
Speaking of pooches, you could put a St Bernard in the back seat and still have room for your third-favourite friend back there. The brilliance of the Jazz shape means that interior space is at the top of the class.
On the road
So, brilliant ergonomics and nice-enough interior, but driving it ? fire it up - and more of the Jazz?s strengths emerge. Honda?s i-VTEC engines are sheer delight. Beautifully balanced, responsive and with a nice edgy rasp when stretched, they yearn for an enthusiastic hand (and foot).
With 88kW @ 6600rpm and 145Nm @ 4800rpm available in the 1.5 litre VTi and VTi-S models (that we drove), and 73kW and 127Nm in the smaller engined 1.3 litre GLi, acceleration is brisk away from standstill and when shooting for gaps in the traffic.
Certainly, on the move, there are no disappointments from behind the wheel. The action of the ?golf-ball? feel gear-shift through the five-speed gate is slick and satisfying, with a precise gate and nicely weighted ?slots?.
Like the Fiesta, it too feels a cog short on the highway, but, though also pulling 3000rpm at 100km/h, things settle into a nice hum on the highway.
The electric power steering, though a little numb at the dead-ahead is otherwise precise and ideal for slotting the Jazz around the ?burbs.
My recall of the older Jazz was that it was a little under-done in the suspension. Perhaps I was having a bad week, but my view was it lacked sufficient travel and was a little wearing on a longer drive.
No such complaints with the new model. While sharing the basic layout of the previous model - McPherson strut front and torsion beam rear ? Honda has jiggled with the suspension settings to improve ride quality and handling.
The H-shaped torsion beam now has larger bushings, altered spring lever ratio and extended trailing arm lengths. Up front, the castor geometry and bushes have come in for a makeover. The result is a palpably improved and more supple feel to the workings below.
Last thing to mention is the fuel economy. Who needs an expensive hybrid when you can snag a Jazz at $16,990 for the 1.3 litre Gli manual, returning 5.8 l/100km, or for $20,490, the 1.5 litre VTi manual, returning 6.4 l/100km?
(The five-speed auto versions add around a $2k premium, and knock a margin off those fuel figures.)
It?s a beaut little car, the Jazz. Good value, versatile, and brim-full of personality. Try it on; if it?s the right fit for your lifestyle, you will be very happy with it.
Tim?s Big Statement
?Why people buy SUVs for school-shuttle and shopping duties ? and that never see a bush track or a mountain stream - is a mystery when they could buy instead something as practical and appealing as the Jazz. They will not only save the better part of ten big ones, but they will rediscover the joy of driving (and look cool into the bargain).
The Jazz might be bested (and it?s line-ball) by the Fiesta and Mazda2 for driving dynamics, but it edges them out for versatility.?
* Excellent buying in a neat package
* Fabulous all-round vision
* Zippy engine and light, tight manoeuvrability
* Slick, fun, five-speed box
* Interior room (on a small physical, and environmental, footprint)
* Would like an extra cog in the ?box
* Dash design is overly fussy
* Interior is a bit sombre (for my tastes)
* Slightly ?numb? feel to the wheel at ?dead-ahead?