Honda Jazz vs Mazda 2

The Honda Jazz is a Driver Power favourite – how does it fare against the upstart Mazda 2?

jazz mazda 2

Ever since 2003, the Honda Jazz has finished in the top 10 of our Driver Power overall ranking. The highlight was in 2004, when the supermini-sized, MPV-shaped Japanese model grabbed the number one spot from a raft of more costly rivals.

The Honda has lasting appeal, but it’s coming to the end of its life in its current form. A replacement is around the corner, and due here before the end of the year.

Line the Jazz up next to one of its newest competitors, and it’s clear to see time is catching up with the Honda. While the cabin has long been key to its success, it comes at the expense of style – the Jazz’s upright shape isn’t as attractive as the Mazda 2.

Both superminis work best in striking metallic colours – and the new 2 really stands out. Its sharply rising waistline, distinctive front end and well conceived rear leave the Honda looking rather frumpy in comparison. As design is so subjective, though, it doesn’t carry any weight in a model’s Driver Power rating. And besides, when you climb inside, the Mazda has a far tougher act to follow.

Honda owners have always praised the Jazz’s build quality and reliability – rating the five-door sixth and third respectively in these areas of the 2008 survey. And it’s not hard to see why.

While the 2 is one of the newest and most solid small hatchbacks on the market, it simply doesn’t feel as well screwed together as the Jazz. Every surface, switch and shutline in the Honda has an air of precision that wouldn’t go amiss in an executive saloon. The Mazda’s dash is well designed – with the exception of its shiny black plastic trim – but it doesn’t come across as unbreakable.

In the rear, the 2 has even more ground to make up. The Jazz saw off stiff competition from MPVs, full-sized family cars and SUVs to be voted the most practical vehicle in Driver Power this year. Clamber into the back, and the seats and load area are the work of pure automotive genius.

Want to carry large items? You have two options. For transporting bulky boxes, the rear squabs can be lifted to give a tall, deep area behind the front seats. And if you need a more conventional luggage space, the seats fold completely flat in a light and easy motion. The Honda offers 690mm of legroom in the back – that’s 30mm more than the Mazda – while the load bay is wider and longer, too.

But does the Jazz have more space than most buyers need? Adults can travel in comfort in the Mazda with no trouble, and despite its compact proportions, the 2 should be practical enough for most buyers’ requirements, with a 250-litre boot capacity.

The newcomer’s MPV-like predecessor was closer in profile to the Jazz, and struggled to tempt customers because of its dumpy proportions. Unluckily for the Mazda, though, there’s more to the Honda than versatility and faultless reliability. You have also told us the Jazz is a breeze to drive, due to its precise steering, sharp gearchange, light clutch and responsive throttle. In addition, there’s a two-pedal CVT version, which is even easier to run.

From the driver’s seat, the Mazda takes a leaf out of its rival’s book, and provides no challenges, with only the sharper clutch requiring more concentration. In all other respects, however, the 2’s fresher underpinnings come to light on the road.

In recent years, the Jazz has only been marked down for its performance, brakes, handling and comfort. Despite minor improvements over the Honda’s seven-year life, its flaws have never been ironed out.

Although it’s agile enough, the Jazz suffers more from body roll than the Mazda, and the suspension doesn’t have the same ability to soak up the bumps. In contrast, the 2 has the feel of a cut-price hot hatch; it’s eager to turn in to every corner and inspires confidence whether you’re driving in town or at higher speeds.

The Mazda also scores with its wider range of engines, which includes a diesel. Prices for the basic three-door 2 start from £7,999, and rise to £11,899 for a high-spec five-door. That makes the five-door-only Jazz look expensive, as it ranges from £9,177 to £12,270.

Honda has produced one of the most practical, reliable and well built small cars of all-time with the Jazz. And although cheaper alternatives now come close in several key areas – and also add a dose more desirability – the model appears guaranteed to remain a Driver Power favourite. We look forward to seeing how the impressive new Mazda ranks in our 2009 survey.

Family car test: Skoda Octavia vs Ford Mondeo

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