Upgrades to motors and engine give newly facelifted mini-MPV more power for the same economy
Jazz music has endured in popularity as many of its contemporaneous genres have dropped into history, and so too has its Honda namesake, which has just been updated while a supermini cull is occuring.
Essential to its ongoing viability are its relatively high price – £27,000 is the minimum you will pay – and the low impact on Honda’s fleet emissions made by its innovative e:HEV powertrain.
‘Update’ is far more accurate than ‘facelift’ in this instance, because said hybrid system has been the primary target of Honda’s attention, while the external design changes are limited to a refreshed front grille design, restyled bumpers and a change to the headlight surrounds.
That applies to both the vaguely 4×4-mimicking Jazz Crosstar driven here and the regular Jazz models – which now include one with revised chassis settings to offer “a more engaging experience for Jazz owners looking for sportier performance”. Wait, those exist!?
The e:HEV system combines two electric motors, a battery and a 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine with a variable-ratio transmission, which we’ve always found in any Honda to operate at an efficiency close to its impressive official figures. In the Crosstar, that was previously 58.9mpg and 109g/km of CO2 – and it still is, despite output having risen from 108bhp to 120bhp. Impressive stuff, resulting from upgrades to both the motors and the engine.
Undoubtedly the accelerative potential will take you by surprise if your only experience of it is getting stuck behind the average Jazz buyer – who has probably been one since it came on 78s. It’s satisfactorily quick whether from stationary or when already rolling.
It puts you in mind of a fully electric car at times, through the smoothness and linearity of its performance, not to mention the lack of combustion noise. That’s because the Jazz often runs as an EV in low-speed driving, and if not then it’s operating in hybrid mode, with the engine effectively working as a generator to charge the battery that feeds the motor. On the motorway, the engine will clutch onto the front wheels itself, but still it’s at times assisted by the electrical componentry, and still I saw EV mode activate at above 50mph on occasion.
It all sounds overly complicated, but in practice it feels anything but. You simply drive as you wish while the powertrain instantaneously works out which is the optimum operating mode; you needn’t press anything or adapt. And unless you really floor it, engine revs don’t intrude like they do in some hybrids.
The effect is that often the only way you can tell which mode the powertrain is using is by a little symbol in the digital instrument display. Honda claims it to be “seamless” and we’re not arguing.
The other result is fuel economy: even on a mixed-roads test route that included some enthusiastic usage, our Jazz returned 56mpg. This is good when compared with most superminis, although the only other hybrid one, the Toyota Yaris, claims up to 68.9mpg.
Like the Yaris, the Jazz rides flatly and perhaps more firmly than you would expect – even in the case of the Crosstar, which sits 37mm higher than usual, due to some extra suspension travel. It’s generally comfortable enough but still lacking some sophistication, particularly in the way it shares shocks from broken surfaces.
The Jazz leans more than most if you challenge it through corners, but you can still keep up a good pace through the countryside – not, I hasten to add, that there’s any suggestion whatsoever of the new Jazz Advance Sport being engaging.
With its unusual one-box shape (the upright driving position and forward-leaning windscreen make it feel like a shrunken MPV from inside), the Jazz inflicts a touch more wind noise upon you at high speeds, but rolling refinement otherwise impresses. ‘That bit’ of the M25 was notable for the opposite of the usual reason.
Another benefit is the spaciousness of the interior: tall drivers will be happy and the rear is equally adult-appropriate, which is never a given in a supermini, while the boot is big and, as ever, the rear seats flip up cinema-style, so you can get that dracanea home undamaged.
Only some materials colours have been changed inside – to our delight, as Honda’s interior designers are in their best era right now. ‘Yo no bi’ translates from Japanese as “recognising the beauty in everyday items refined over time to make them even more beautiful and ergonomically satisfying for their specific purpose”, and absolutely all the materials in here look swish and feel nice (Toyota take note), you can control the climate almost subconsciously, thanks to buttons and dials (almost everyone take note), and the touchscreen infotainment looks at home on the dashboard, has a succinct software layout and doesn’t glitch (Volkswagen Group take note).
Jazz drivers want comfort, practicality, ease of use, affordable running and reliability, and that’s what they will continue to get, even if it does come at a considerable expense.
As for Crosstar spec? It still feels like the equivalent of someone sticking a modern synthesised bassline under a classic Miles Davis trumpet solo: jazz expanded but not enhanced.