Honda Jazz S

Before Ford, Vauxhall, Renault, Mitsubishi or Smart so much as dreamed of creating a supermini- MPV, Honda had already broken the small car mould. In its three-year production run, the Jazz has not only scooped the top Auto Express Car of the Year title

The Jazz has long been criticised for its limited range, so the new engine is welcome. With acceptable performance, excellent economy and a slick manual box, the new 1.2-litre entry-level model is a good performer. Equipment is minimal, but the Honda is still the most practical, best-packaged small car on the market.

Before Ford, Vauxhall, Renault, Mitsubishi or Smart so much as dreamed of creating a supermini- MPV, Honda had already broken the small car mould. In its three-year production run, the Jazz has not only scooped the top Auto Express Car of the Year title, but also grabbed first place in the Driver Power 2004 reliability and satisfaction survey.

The main drawback for Jazz buyers, though, is the one-engine line-up: an efficient 1.4-litre petrol is the only option. However, as part of the Honda's first major overhaul, it has gained a new entry-level 1.2-litre model. And Auto Express was keen to find out if the best small car on the market has been improved. Turn the key and it's clear Honda's engineers have applied their considerable expertise to making the powerplant quiet and refined at low revs. The hum is barely audible at idle.

On the move, noise levels increase, but the engine only becomes coarse when driven to its limits. That might not sound like a problem, but with only 77bhp on tap, the unit has to work hard to keep up with the traffic.

Honda claims a 0-62mph time of 13.7 seconds, leaving the base model only 0.8 seconds behind its 1.4-litre sibling, but some drivers will be left wanting more power. If performance isn't your top priority, you will probably find the 1.2-litre variant's pace perfectly satisfactory, with the slick five-speed manual gearbox taking the effort out of keeping the engine spinning in its powerband. On motorways, cruising is easy work at 3,000rpm in top gear. And, as you would expect, the 1.2 is incredibly efficient. Ask any Honda sales rep why there is no diesel and you'll be told that there's no need, because the entry-level petrol car returns 51.4mpg in the combined cycle. What's more, its CO2 emissions are only 129g/km, placing the 1.2 in the lowest company car tax bracket and making it one of the most efficient engines on sale today.

Styling changes are restricted to redesigned bumpers on the 1.2. But higher-spec models get revised light clusters and Accord-style indicator repeaters in the wing mirrors, which only serve to emphasise the basic appearance of the 1.2 S seen here. Inside, more costly models come with a fresh centre console and revised dials. Jazz S owners will still benefit from the build quality, amazing versatility and enormous space that makes all variants so accomplished, but the lack of standard kit means the cabin looks sparse.

The trouble is, Honda will only sell 1.2-litre models in entry-level trim, with few goodies available on the options list. The choices offered don't include air-conditioning, rear electric windows or, more importantly, side airbags.

At £8,600, the 1.2 S costs £1,900 less than the cheapest larger-engined Jazz, but saves only £413 over the outgoing entry-level 1.4. Buyers won't find a more practical supermini-MPV for the money, but they will have to put up with a measly specification.

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