Facelift, gloss black 16 wheels and a fresh range of colours transform the Jazz

Facelift, gloss black 16 wheels and a fresh range of colours transform the Jazz

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The Jazz has always had a reputation for being the car for people who aren't interested in cars. The styling was always vanilla, the engines strong on economy but less than overflowing with power, ownership hassle-free and cheap, resale values strong. Now, Honda wants to keep the strengths, but spice things up. Enter the Jazz 1.5 i-VTEC Sport. 

The facelifted and newly-engined car arrives just as Honda Motor Europe has some good news. A deep decline in sales volume over several years appears to have bottomed, and in the UK, HME's number one market, the brand is even going against the trend with rising deliveries. Year to date, Honda has now overtaken Mini in Britain.

The 2TF series Jazz for European countries is built in Japan

The CR-V (model code: 2WS) and Civic (2SV) are HME's only locally manufactured models. The first of these will be phased out later in the year and replaced by the 2HX which has been around in other regions since 2016. It won't be made in England, though, HME having taken the decision to source the C segment SUV from Japan. That's also where European markets' current 2TF series Jazz is built.

This little car has been around since July 2013, which is when the first of multiple factories began manufacturing it. European countries did not receive the car until 2015, which is why the mid-life facelift for this region has only been available here for a few months even though it debuted in Japan last June. 

HME has specified a second engine for its latest Jazz, a 96kW (130PS) 1.5-litre petrol i-VTEC unit supplementing the 102PS 1.3-litre engine. The diesel which has been available for India's locally built car continues to be ruled out for EU markets, and the same applies to the Hybrid which has been so successful in Japan. 

Due to the lack of power, the little Jazz had never been anything special to drive, so it comes as a pleasant surprise to discover the difference that the new engine makes. The facelift also lifts the looks of the car to the point where for the first time it stands out against rivals, and in a good way. The press review model was finished in an especially attractive blue, and glossy black 16-inch alloy wheels proved to be a good match for the GBP500 worth of optional 'Skyride' paint. 

The luggage compartment's capacity is 54 litres (VDA), rising to 897 with folded seats.

The Sport Navi model grade costs GBP17,765 and this adds a Garmin system to the Sport trim level. Can you tell Honda is trying its best to shed the Jazz's image as the car of choice for people who look ahead as they drive but not behind or around them? It was ironic that I suffered a puncture and had to use the compressor and bottle of sealant, which meant a maximum speed of 50mph had to be observed. OK, enough jokes about the model's image, which is really a compliment to Honda as the car has such a great reputation for reliability, minimal running costs and longevity. 

Are the people who belt along at 30mph in national speed limit zones wanting to save fuel? If so, they could risk living a little and learning that their Jazz will still return a great average when driven at 60mph. We're talking 45+mpg and that was achieved over the course of the days before the limited speed enforced by the sealant. It had to stay that way too, as a long weekend and the novel 16-inch rims meant local fitters had no replacement tyre availability. 

Using the 'mobility kit' was simplicity itself, incidentally. Remove the valve cap, screw in a lead as if you were pumping up a bike tyre, guide the neck of a bottle of goo onto a thread attached to a little compressor, switch this pump on (having plugged it in to the 12V outlet) and wait. After a couple of minutes, the needle on the gauge has climbed to the pressure advised by a sticker in the door jamb. Disconnect everything and you're on your way. The big downside is what happens if there is a gash in the tyre. That can be disastrous. In my case, the Jazz would have been stuck by the side of the road. Manufacturers should fit all cars with a spare tyre. And not charge for it either. 

Ironically, most vehicles which have one of these mobility kits below the boot floor have a well where a tyre should be. The little Honda has an especially deep and roomy luggage compartment, its VDA capacity being 354 litres, rising to 897 with folded seats. And even though it's less than four metres long, there is oodles of space for passengers.

Honda's wonderful 'Magic' 60/40 split seats remain the class standard and cannot be praised enough. One gentle tug and the squab tilts in sync with the backrest and you have a flat floor in seconds. Some of the reason why others haven't copied the design is the positioning of their cars' fuel tanks. In a Jazz, it's under the front seats.

The upholstery looks good, but there's bad news too. Unlike, say, Mazda, you could never mistake Honda for a premium brand if the Jazz's cabin is any indication. It's all about keeping costs as low as possible. Examples? There are visible screw heads sunk into recesses in the door handles and the bolts which keep the seats in place are exposed with no attempt having been made to cover them with plastic trim or carpet. 

There are little fins below the back bumper in a gloss-grey mock-carbon fibre finish. I immediately thought of the NSX.

Speaking of the floor covering, the chosen material doesn't look or feel like carpet. Instead it has the texture of the thinnest possible fleece which feels as though it has been glued to moulded cardboard.

The ingenious Magic Seats are covered in a soft cloth and neoprene mix but even here, an obsession with cost is visible: there is a seat-back storage pocket behind the front passenger but no such luxury for anyone sitting aft of the driver. Seriously? Not even SsangYong or Suzuki does that. No wonder Honda is so profitable when it is being this ruthless in saving yen. 

It should come as no surprise that there is no keyless start/stop, nor is there an electric parking brake. The HVAC controls are three knobs, the air conditioning is a separate button and the same applies to demisting of the back window/mirrors. This is all fine, but some will consider it old-fashioned and cheap. Really though, it's about keeping things simple and non-distracting. 

The interior's unrelenting dark grey which was the default colour of the car provided by Honda UK is thankfully improved by a light coloured headliner. This appears to be made from the same material as the floor covering. If this is sounding like harsh criticism, it isn't. The reason to point out all these things is to demonstrate how Honda can build a B segment car in Japan in relatively low volumes for Europe, sell it with non-premium pricing and in so doing, also turn a profit in the region. How it does that must surely come down to eliminating even the tiniest potential sources of non-essential cost when specifying components. 

Glass being so much cheaper than metal is likely some of the reason why the Jazz has such generous glazing. You cannot see the front end of the car from the driver's seat but the rear is easy to judge due to the wiper which sits at the base of a commendably large window. Those to the sides are equally deep so children will be happy about that. 

One touch I really liked about the looks are the fins below the back bumper in a gloss-grey mock-carbon fibre finish. I immediately thought of the NSX but would non-obsessives? No matter, as it's a great piece of design for anyone's eyes, even if they know nothing of the Honda and Acura supercar. A three-element valance at the front end completes the look. Both extremes also have a red-painted line, an inspired touch which visually widens what is quite a narrow car.

The refresh for this car just goes to show how it's possible to create a stand-out model from a previously indistinct one.

The Jazz is strong on standard safety equipment, with all cars for Europe fitted with rear disc brakes, something that the UK's segment leader cannot boast about its Fiesta. Honda's City-Brake Active system (CTBA) is also standard. This uses a laser to scan the road at speeds below 20mph, automatically applying the brakes if an imminent risk of collision is detected. Pre-braking as well as audible and visual warnings will occur, followed by full autonomous braking if these are ignored.
 
Advanced Driver Assist System (ADAS), a bundling of other safety-related technology, is optional for the base trim but standard on mid and upper grades. It includes: Forward Collision Warning, Traffic Sign Recognition System, Intelligent Speed Limiter, Lane Departure Warning and High Beam Support System.

Honda has tuned the car's suspension and steering for the preferences of European drivers and our higher speeds compared to some other regions. This has to be the most enjoyable Jazz since the first, super-light one back in the early 2000s. The steering could be weightier and the dampers a touch firmer but really, even as it is, the chassis set up of the Sport and Sport Navi show a fitness that wasn't there pre-facelift. If you'll forgive the pun.

The refresh for this car just goes to show how it's possible to create a stand-out model from a previously indistinct one. The zingy new engine which loves to rev is a big factor. If Honda could be persuaded to spend a touch more money on the interior, then it would have a B segment hatchback which people might even consider paying a premium for.