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The first- and second-generation Honda Jazzes are clearly hewn from chunks of iron ore — they're both tall-boy Yaris-sized five-door hatches. Despite wearing fresh new duds, stylistically the changes are evolutionary: cuteness has been toned down a notch or two, while a slash here and a bulge there help to amp up the implied sense of sportiness. The biggest change is that Honda has moved the base of the windscreen forward, creating a brighter, airier cabin. Although this change does help outward vision, it did make us feel like we were piloting a people mover at times.
Although the interior design is rather avant garde, we do wish that Honda had delved further into colour spectrum than just grey and black. Plastics throughout the car are hard but feel durable, while quality seems to be beyond reproach. Although we do worry about the dashboard's multitude of different bits and pieces squeaking and groaning with age.
At first glance the air-con and audio controls seem to have been slapped down randomly by Martians but, with a little bit of use, Honda's thinking is clear. For the audio system, there's a large LCD screen and well spaced buttons taking up a large portion of the dash. Meanwhile, the majority of the air-con controls are sandwiched between the radio and the instrument cluster, and consist of big, easily twistable knobs. Additionally the mid-range VTi and top-of-the-range VTi-S feature simple-to-use audio controls on the steering wheel. On the downside, the very comfy, space age leather-bound wheel obscures some minor controls, like those for the electric mirrors. However, it does adjust for both height and reach, so finding a good driving position is a much more likely prospect.
There's a large, configurable display residing in the centre of the speedometer, allowing you to flick between seatbelt indicators, average and instant fuel consumption, distance to empty, driving time and average speed, as well as configure speed warnings. Oddly though, the instrument display glows red at night, while the rest of the cabin is backlit in pale green.
There are plenty of spaces to stash the detritus of life, like a multitude of bins, two non-lockable gloveboxes and no less than 10 cup holders. But the star of the show is what Honda dubs its Magic Seats. By relocating the fuel-tank, normally sited underneath the rear seats, to a position underneath the driver and front passenger, the rear seats drop and fold down flat, creating a space large enough for a washing machine, a heavy day's shopping at Bunnings or a catnap. The base of rear seats also fold up against the seat backs, in the event that you have something taller but narrower to lug around, while the front seats recline to an almost flat position. Thanks to a tallish roof and the high seating position, there's plenty of space in the car for two six footers to sit behind one another.
On the safety front there's front, side and curtain airbags, as well as four-wheel disc brakes and anti-lock brakes. As far as cabin tech goes there's a stereo that sounds particularly tinny when listening to either an AM or FM station, but which improves markedly when you stick a CD in or connect it, via a 3.5mm auxiliary jack, to an MP3 player. Although there's no CD stacker, the player will recognise MP3 and WMA files stored on disc. Flicking between tracks and albums is controlled via the rather neat five-way controller. Shame then that the iPod connector available overseas isn't even an option here. Bluetooth hands-free is also left out, but at least it makes it to the options list.
Despite the S in VTi-S presumably standing for sport — your Honour, the prosecution cites the bigger tyres, alloy wheels, side skirts and chin spoiler as evidence — the Jazz will never have you slipping into a reverie about blasting through the streets of Monaco on the way to your maiden Formula One victory. It will struggle with a full complement of passengers or luggage, but the 1.5-litre four-cylinder is adequately peppy, nicely refined and spins frenetically in true Honda fashion to a high cut-off point. In enthusiastic driving, we witnessed fuel consumption of 8L/100km in a mix of city and highway driving.
Naturally, because of the car's height, the Jazz rolls around a bit when thrown into corners. Budding Ayrton Sennas will be further put off by seats which, while comfortable, aren't really in the mood to hold you in place during a Scandinavian flick. Steadier progress is rewarded by a pleasant ride and a nice manual gearbox, which shifts cleanly between its five gears and has a dimpled gear knob similar to the one on the VW Golf GTI. If you're not inclined to use your left foot, there's also a five-speed automatic available. The steering, which while rather light and insulated from what the tyres are thinking and feeling, isn't too bad — indeed we've witnessed poorer steering set-ups in cars that are five times more expensive. The cruise control works nicely, with controls on the right steering wheel spoke and separate lights for on and active particularly worthy of mention.
Jazz the musical style relishes spontaneity, whereas Jazz the car is a product of rational thinking. Nonetheless its abundance of space, cheery outlook on life and clever engineering — we're looking at you Magic Seats — are more than enough to earn it an Editors' Choice award.