The MPV (multi-purpose vehicle) is dead as the middle-class sedan. Virtually no one buys the Scenic, Picasso, Touran, Journey or Mazda5 any more. The Peugeot 5008, Verso and Honda FR-V found buyers in their heyday – even the odd-looking Fiat Multipla did – but these days you only see these models in used-car lots.

Then why does the Honda Jazz survive and soldier on? Because it’s an MPV in tight hatchback clothing. It looks (and is) small, yet offers plenty of space and seating configurations. And though it’s big on space, its size doesn’t intimidate buyers daunted by the idea of driving a vehicle that’s TOO BIG. (To my mother even a Corsa is slightly too big to maneuver.) The Jazz is ridiculously reliable too and regularly won reliability surveys. This made it quite popular with the gogos of the blue-rinse brigade. Yes, it’s not the last word in excitement, but the styling is, well, nice.

So here we are with a brand new Jazz, now built in India, like Honda’s Ballade, Brio and seven-seat MPV, the Honda Mobilio. I’m quite a fan of the Mobilio. It offers frugal fuel consumption, it’s pleasant to drive and it’s a car South African families can actually afford. But, as an example, the glovebox lid protrudes when it’s closed, which adds to its slightly low-budget character. And that’s my gripe with these “emerging market” cars.

So if I did own and drive a Ballade, I would wish that I had spent more and bought a Honda Civic, CR-V or CR-Z. Which brings us back to the new Jazz and its improvements over the outgoing model. Yes, even though it was on the cusp of becoming a premium mini MPV – and didn’t – it still delivers many benefits and improvements to owners.

First of all: The wheelbase is 3 cm longer than before, which means more legroom in the rear (but somehow the driver’s legroom feels limited) and a bigger boot. Secondly, vehicle stability assist (VSA) and six airbags are standard across the range. Thirdly, there’s a swanky new screen in the centre console that does a visual interface with smartphones, icons and all (only in the 1500cc derivatives).

Buyers can choose between a 1.2-litre (66kW, 110Nm, 5.6l/100km) and a 1.5-litre (88kW, 145Nm, 6.0l/100km). Neither is turbocharged, but the car weighs less than 1100kg, so the 1.5-litre mill gets the work done. (The 1.2 was not available to drive) The Jazz Hybrid has bowed out and there’s no diesel engine on the cards. Both engines are available with either a slick 5-speed manual ’box or an improved and more efficient CVT auto-box. All four configurations should be very fuel-efficient. 

In addition to the VSA and airbags, all derivatives are fitted with ABS and brake-force distribution, alarm and immobiliser, remote central locking, Bluetooth for hands-free calls, a full-size spare wheel and electrically operated windows and side-mirrors. The steering wheel has tilt and telescopic adjustment.

As you move up the model chain, more equipment is added: A bigger infotainment screen, two more speakers, cruise control, hill-start assistance, rear parking sensors, front fog lights, leather on the steering wheel and gear knob, but no leather on the seats. Prices range from R179 900 for the Jazz 1.2 Trend Manual to R264 900 for the Jazz 1.5 Dynamic CVT.

Although the Jazz fans will most likely be satisfied, the car didn’t quite make the leap forward that could be expected; for example the way the new BMW 3-Series improved on the old 3-Series. But for less critical buyers the new Jazz is an attractive proposition.

 

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