With recent developments in wiring technology allowing manufacturers to load up even the most mundane cars with the latest gadgetry, increasing interior space appears to be the latest challenge.
Against scientific logic, cars seem to be growing more on the inside than on the outside and Honda is right at the sharp end of these developments with the surprisingly roomy Civic. Now the Jazz supermini has been given the Tardis treatment.
But it would be wrong to suggest the new Jazz is all about space. It has been some time since Honda had a competitive presence in the sector and the new Jazz also promises strong performance and economy from its 'dual and sequential ignition' petrol engine.
The trouble is that competition in the supermini sector has never been so tough. This year has already seen the launch of an all-new Volkswagen Polo, Ford Fiesta, Citroen C3 and SEAT Ibiza, while the older cars on sale, such as the Renault Clio, Fiat Punto, Toyota Yaris, Vauxhall Corsa and Skoda Fabia provide strong opposition.
Key rivals for the Jazz will be the Ford Fiesta – the new class leader for handling and ride – and the Volkswagen Polo – the supermini quality and space benchmark.
The mid-spec Jazz SE, with a list price of £10,295, sits almost midway between the Volkswagen Polo 1.4S at £10,980 – now with air conditioning as standard – and its rival from Ford, the Fiesta 1.4LX, also with aircon, which is priced at £9,995 on-the-road.
The Jazz has the middle ranking position on running costs for depreciation, behind the Ford Fiesta but ahead of the Polo.
The Jazz is predicted to retain 40% of its value after three-years/60,000-miles, working out at 9.71 pence per mile. Although the Polo retains a higher proportion of its cost at 42%, its higher list price works against it, translating into depreciation of 9.81 ppm. Meanwhile the Fiesta retains 38%, equating to depreciation of 9.47ppm thanks to its lower front end price.
Our figures show the Jazz would be the cheapest to keep on the road over three-years/ 60,000-miles, with a servicing, maintenance and repair figure of 1.83ppm. The Ford is a little more expensive on 2.04 ppm, while the Volkswagen costs 2.25ppm.
The fight so far has been won or lost on very small margins with the Fiesta and Jazz very close on comparative running costs and the Polo about half a penny behind. It is on fuel costs though that the Jazz comes into its own, though, with its 1.4-litre DSI engine giving it a significant advantage over its peers.
At nearly 50mpg compared with 44mpg for the Fiesta and 43mpg for the Polo, significant savings could be made in running the Jazz over a three-year term.
The Honda works out nearly a penny per mile cheaper on fuel than the Fiesta and more than a penny per mile cheaper than the Polo. The Jazz also has a comfortable advantage over its rivals in carbon dioxide emissions thanks to its ultra-low fuel consumption.
At 134g/km it falls into the 15% band for company car tax and will remain there during the scope of the current rules. Should the Government continue to tighten the regulations year-on-year beyond 2005, then the Jazz can be expected to remain in the lowest band for some time.
The Fiesta and Polo are in the lowest band for now, but next year the Polo will fall into the 17% tax band and the Fiesta driver will face BIK tax at 16% in 2004/2005. While the Fiesta's lower list price would favour its driver for the next two years, the benefit-in-kind tide will then turn in favour of the Jazz.
None of these cars are particularly costly to run over three-years/60,000-miles and with good specification levels and ample interior space, all three make a powerful fleet case for downsizing. However, in a cost-conscious sector of the market, with higher public sector sales, even one penny per mile makes a difference, so on running cost grounds, the Jazz gets the nod ahead of the Fiesta and Polo.
Behind the wheel
THE Jazz looks a little unconventional when compared to the standard supermini. Its tall, one-box shape is in danger of going down the Toyota Yaris Verso styling route, although its sloping bonnet which almost matches the rake of the windscreen does help it achieve a degree of dynamism in styling.
The large headlamps give it a 'cute' face and the large glass area and tall doors add to the sense of airiness. What makes the Jazz so different is its innovative passenger seat functions.
The rear seats can be folded flat to offer a voluminous luggage area, but an extra feature allows the seat cushions to be folded up into the seat back so more fragile items can be carried in the rear footwell.
With the rear seats folded, the Jazz offers the sort of luggage space that would put some medium estate cars to shame and with the front passenger seat fully reclined, it can accommodate objects up to 2.4 metres long.
The driving environment takes some cues from the latest Civic, minus the dashboard-mounted gearstick, and with attractive round heating and ventilation controls and prominent individually cowled dials. Although you sit high up, the driving position is comfortable and the controls are pleasant to the touch, including the dimpled steering wheel and gear knob.
Zippy performance is provided by the 82bhp engine which also produces 88lb-ft of torque at a handy 2,800rpm. Despite having similar torque outputs to the 1.4-litre Polo and Fiesta, the Jazz feels friskier.
However, the Polo and Fiesta are both better at offering driving enjoyment than the Jazz. The Honda's steering is too light and does not offer enough feedback to embark on spirited driving – not a priority for buyers of a standard supermini, but if Ford and VW can offer it, why not Honda?
The Jazz does not feel quite as solid as the two rivals chosen here, driving more like the Citroen C3. This isn't to disparage the Jazz or the C3, it's just that you are more conscious of some of the lightweight materials used, whereas the Ford and the VW feel more substantial. However, the Jazz is a comfortable driving companion, whether around town or on the motorway.
THE Jazz is a highly competitive car in a sector where excellence is common. It is the most versatile and practical supermini by far, represents good value in SE guise and provides class leading economy and strong performance. However, I prefer the driving enjoyment and comfort provided by the Fiesta, which is almost as cheap to run as the Jazz.