Does petrol-only range hold back class’s most flexible car?

The Jazz very nearly took the victory here – factor in its low list price and the cost saving of choosing petrol over diesel, and it’s the smartest financial choice. What lets it down is its sluggish pace.

Think of a word to describe the Honda Jazz, and ‘practical’ will be among the first into your head. The Japanese supermini has a huge cabin, and its clever rear seats can teach a Swiss Army knife a thing or two about versatility – but the little Honda is also more than deserving of a place in our economy test.

While there is no diesel version, the 1.2-litre petrol should be capable of 53.3mpg if the official figures are to be believed. And with unleaded around 10 per cent less than diesel, the Jazz could well cause an upset. A strong start saw the Honda return an impressive 50.2mpg on our trip, which is a lofty 94 per cent of the official economy – closer than all of its rivals managed. Despite this, the Jazz sipped its way through £24.40 of unleaded on our economy marathon, leaving it in fourth place at the pumps.

With relatively high official CO2 emissions of 125g/km, the case for the Honda looks a little sketchy – until you consider its remarkable price. At £10,990, the Jazz is cheaper than all our cars bar the Subaru. In fact, the Honda costs an incredible £1,955 less than the Ford, and undercuts the VW by a tempting £3,125 – offsetting the annual £120 road tax bill that results from its higher emissions. And the money left over will also buy plenty of petrol.

So how has the firm managed to come up with such an attractive price? The Jazz must be completely spartan inside, right? Wrong. Choose this SE spec, and you get air-conditioning, alloys and four airbags. The stylish dash isn’t full of blanked-off switches to remind you of the bits you’re missing, and overall the cabin feels like a regular supermini – a spacious one at that – rather than a pared-down eco champion.

Life with the Honda isn’t completely without compromise, though, because its 1.2-litre engine is short on punch. While there’s not much wrong with the unit itself – it’s smooth, willing and refined – it struggles to shift the car’s 1,086kg bulk, so the Jazz has trouble keeping up with traffic. In a car the size of the Justy it would be a riot, but the 89bhp engine proved lethargic at the test track, where the Honda took 12.8 seconds to sprint from 0-60mph.

The petrol unit also lacks torque, so even slight motorway inclines will have you reaching for a lower gear ratio to maintain speed – and even that may not be enough to prevent you holding up lorries in the inside lane. The rest of the package provides a mixture of excellence (the slick gearshift) and mediocrity (ride comfort) – although what’s hardest to ignore is the limited pace.

Ultimately, the Jazz isn’t the most economical car we tested, but it got closer to the official figures than its rivals. It also offers the cabin practicality of a family car – all for a seriously attractive price tag.

Details

Chart position: 2WHY: Super-efficient base petrol Jazz brings unbeatable practicality to economy ranks.

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