DESPITE its many good points, Honda's Jazz supermini has always had a bit of an image problem.
Frankly, its design was a little dull and it's always been seen as an unexciting five-door hatch for people ‘of a certain age'.
That said, I've reached the stage - or should that be age - where my appreciation of the third-generation Jazz was much higher. It was certainly the best-looking so far.
So, I was disappointed by the looks of the new fourth-generation Jazz. With its short nose, long roofline and cabin-forward style it is unmistakeably a Jazz albeit a tad longer and lower but some of its predecessor's youthful dynamism has been lost.
There is, however, a good reason for that. The Jazz has been redesigned from the ground up to be the first car in Honda's current line-up to go hybrid only in a bid to attract buyers interested in better fuel economy and reasonable running costs but without losing the spaciousness and practicality it's known for.
So, the latest Jazz is powered by a 1.5-litre petrol unit and two electric motors delivering a total output of 108mph and a useful 253Nm of torque.
This is matched with Honda's newly-developed Electronically Controlled Continuously Variable Transmission or e-CVT. With this, the engine sends drive through a clever single fixed-gear ratio to create a direct connection between moving components. The result is a smooth and reassuring transfer of torque with a linear feel during acceleration, similar to that of a ‘normal' gearbox.
The Jazz comes with three driving modes. Most of the time you'll be in Hybrid Drive, which combines the engines and battery in the most effiicent way possible. EV Drive runs the car solely on electric power and is normally used when moving off or travelling at low speed. Engine Drive simply does what it suggests.
Honda claims the Jazz EX will officially return 61.4mpg on the combined cycle so I was immensely pleased with the 62.4mpg I achieved. It's worth adding that, at no time during my time with the Jazz, it never returned less than 60mpg.
The EX is the range-topping trim - SE and SR are the two others - and it features adaptive cruise control, aircon, a larger nine-inch infotainment screen with Bluetooth and DAB radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, parking sensors, heated front seats, a heated steering wheel and satnav, as well as rear privacy glass, a reversing camera, and 16-inch alloy wheels.
The Jazz's interior is minimalist yet classy. The central touchscreen and seven-inch digital instrument cluster are simple and easy to read. Interestingly, in response to consumer demand, Honda has reinstated physical controls for key functions, with large, tactile, dials for heating and ventilation positioned underneath the touchscreen.
The Jazz includes plenty of space for the driver and four six-footers can easily be accommodated without any worries about knee or legroom. Despite the 10mm lower roofline, head room is still exceptional.
Front seat occupants benefit from Honda's newly-developed ‘body stabilising' seats which come with three centimetres of extra padding and better lumbar support. To support taller drivers like me, the steering wheel is now two degrees more upright and the range of adjustment has been revised to allow the wheel to come closer to the driver. In the rear, there's class-leading leg space and the thickness of the seat padding has been increased by almost 2.5 centimetres.
Key to maximising cabin room was the positioning of the fuel tank in the centre of the chassis beneath the front seats. This enables the Jazz to retain Honda's versatile rear Magic Seat configuration that offers both fold-flat or flip-up seat flexibility for accommodating cargo of various shapes and sizes. The new design also permits a wider tailgate opening. The Jazz's boot is a decent 304 litres, rising to 1,205 with the rear seats folded.
Jazz occupants are now protected by 10 airbags, including two near rear side airbags installed in the rear seats and a new front centre airbag installed in the front seat.
Honda Sensing, the company's suite of active safety technology, comes as standard, offering automatic emergency braking, a forward collision warning system, lane keep assist, lane departure warning and a traffic sign recognition system, among a host of other features.
It has been enhanced by a newly-developed front camera that improves its field of vision and night-time operation. It can detect pedestrians where there is no street lighting and can also apply the brakes should you cut across or turn into the path of an oncoming vehicle.