x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

In a crowded field, the Honda Jazz remains a standout runabout

Road Test With a flood of new smaller models being brought to the UAE market, the 2011 Honda Jazz is - besides a solid bargain - intelligently designed, practical and fun.

The lurid green paint job might not be to your taste but the Jazz is an easy car to like.
The lurid green paint job might not be to your taste but the Jazz is an easy car to like.

The Honda Jazz is intelligently designed, practical, frugal and fun, discovers Neil Vorano

Fuel costs money. Here, not so much; but around the world? Whew! It's enough to make you walk. Almost.

Because of this, the small-car market is booming; automakers are releasing new or updated small models yearly, eager to get in on the mass-volume boom. Even in the UAE, a land where seeing Ferraris, Bentleys and big Mercedes on the road is so common that it's now humdrum, small cars still have their place. In fact, even more so these days - the price of fuel, while still cheap, has risen recently, and a many people either can't afford or just don't want to pay for a large, expensive car anymore. And car makers have responded here, bringing in new small models to an already crowded market.

Every year, these little cars are getting better and better - more options, better performance, sharper looks and higher build quality. So how does a car maker ensure its models stand out enough for those of us who are, how shall I say, gentle on the dollar?

First of all, you target the market; a small, inexpensive car isn't generally going to be bought by a staid executive or a large family, it's going to be a student, or a young couple, or it'll be a second car. So you make it fun. Or useful. Or both. And the Honda Jazz seems to have enough of these elements to make it worth a look.

C'mon; even if you don't like the electric green this test model comes in, you've got to admit that it looks fun. Even though Honda did a mild refresh of the Jazz - or Fit, in the American, Japanese and Chinese markets - for this model year, it still retains the quirky, tall appearance that it started with in 2001 when the first generation debuted. And while you may like it or hate it, the real appeal is when you sit inside.

From the driver's seat, the view is incredible; a humungous windscreen and the large greenhouse behind gives an unparalleled panorama of the world; even the large A-pillars are so far away that they don't pose a problem. And if that weren't enough, look up - well, hit the switch above the rear view mirror first. Because that will unfurl the cover of an entire roof made of glass; it doesn't open up, but it creates the feeling of having much more open space inside the compartment; very airy and bright, and the feature is a rarity on even more expensive cars.

Being inside isn't too bad, either. Yes, the plastics and fabrics are on the cheaper side, but the dash is laid out creatively and the seats are comfortable to sit in. The radio controls are simple to use and it has a USB port for your iPod - very important for the targeted younger crowd (and me). The steering wheel is adjustable and sporty looking and you've got all your standard fare of power windows, door locks and even cruise control on this model. Of course, there is air conditioning, but it struggles in high heat and the fan has to be left on the "high" position nearly all the time. As well, there is a small cool box atop the glove box, just big enough for two cans of Coke. No satnav, but there's not much else you'll want for in this car, considering its level.

Another appealing feature is the cargo area; Honda refers to its second row of seats as "magic seats", and while that might be a bit of corporate hoo-haw, they certainly are amazing. With a pull of a lever, the split seats fold all the way down to create a flat floor, with plenty of room for large items, and there is almost enough room for a six-foot-tall person to lie down in. The only downfall to the rear is the spare tyre cover, which is made of cardboard.

Performance is not really this car's forté. But even with just 98hp from its 1.4L engine, the Jazz is surprisingly zippy, especially if you keep it around town. The five-speed automatic gearbox works well in keeping the revs in the right range - especially in sport mode - but under heavy acceleration the little four-cylinder buzzes through the cockpit, making a raucous complaint at the heavy workload imposed on it. Highway speeds are no problem - once you get there - but passing may involve a bit of planning on the driver's part.

But that small engine also delivers excellent fuel economy, even in the sport mode on the transmission. It's listed at just 5.5L/100km, and that's pretty well where the little fuel economy gauge nestled between the clocks stayed at when driving around town or at steady speeds on the motorway.

The handling and ride are decent, leaning more towards firm and sporty - and by sporty, I mean deft handling in city traffic, not clipping apexes on a track. But its suspension is more than capable enough to soak up potholes and speed bumps without jarring passengers.

Overall, I was impressed with the Jazz. Not only is it inexpensive to buy, it's inexpensive to run and, if you couple that with a sunny disposition and useful versatility, it makes for a small-car alternative worthy of consideration.

More of the latest models, from city-friendly hatchbacks to the Bugatti Veyron, road tested at Car Reviews.