Review: Honda Jazz 1.5 and Civic diesel

The Jazz with its racy new snout
The Jazz with its racy new snout
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Honda makes one of the fastest and most exotic of rare cars, the NSX. It also makes a very hot hatchback called the Civic Type R.

Other Hondas tend to be what we could call a middle-aged drive. The Jazz, say, a supremely roomy five-door rival to cars like the Fiesta and Polo. Until now the latest Jazz has had no engine choice beyond the 100-horsepower 1.3 petrol engine.

The 1.6 i-DTEC Diesel engine from the Civic

The 1.6 i-DTEC Diesel engine from the Civic

This fits with the buyers – people who favour practicality over pace. For example, the “magic” rear seat which has a lift-up base, offering contained storage space behind the front seats. So to be overtaken by a Jazz is a surprise – but it does happen. You get a similar shock when a Renault Modus cuts in front.

Now there’s a Jazz with allegro. It has the 128hp 1.5 – the petrol engine also used in the HR-V. In the lighter, smaller Jazz it makes the family hold-all into a hot shopper, wiping time off the 0-62mph spring to reach 8.7 seconds with the six-speed manual gearbox. Fuel consumption suffers – dropping to 48mpg, with a rise in CO2 to 133g. Equipped with a CVT automatic shift, the 0-62mpg time is slower at 10 seconds but the economy and CO2 improve to 52mpg and 124g.

To fit the mid-season revamp, the Jazz gets a fatter face, more like the Civic. It gives the car a more purposeful stance. The 1.5-engined Civic is sold only in Sport grade for £17,115, based on the 1.3 SE grade. You can have one for £199 a month over three years.

Identifiers on the Sport include a thinner front “splitter” beneath the lower grille, and a triple-strake diffuser to the rear bumper – both finished in red to enhance that ride to the Camshaft Arms. You get LED headlights, side sill skirts, a tailgate spoiler and gloss-black 16-inch alloy wheels. The interior has a pinstripe pattern on the upholstery and a leather-skinned steering wheel and gear knob.

The Civic's refined looks match its classy performance

The Civic's refined looks match its classy performance

And so to the road. Honda Europe showed off the Jazz in Rome. Getting out of the fabled city in the teeth of incoming commuters was a ghastly fright. The terrors are on motorbikes, overtaking towards you with some godly protector.

The Jazz had pace to cope. The new engine is loud when revving – call it sporty or raucous. When up to speed the vocals fade – until you hit poor surfaces when we marked it down for road noise and chassis interference.

Verdict: Can be fun: test economy 45.5mpg. Other Jazz prices: 1.3 S £14,115; 1.3 SE £15,615; 1.3 EX £17,115.

Honda’s other new engine is a 1.6 turbo diesel, used for the first time in its Civic and coming out when diesel allure is tarnished. This is a comprehensively re-worked unit and completes the line-up for the highly aerodynamic hatchback – introduced last year with 1-litre and 1.5-litre petrol turbo engines rated at 58.9mpg and 46.3mpg and CO2 figures of 114g and 139g.

The diesel engine, like the Civic, is made with pride in Swindon.

It’s a strange time for diesel cars. Market demand in the UK and much of Europe is fading as governments call time on harmful nitrous oxide (NOx) emissions which are higher with diesel fuel. Its only benefit is more miles a gallon and corresponding lower CO2 emissions.

Legislators are demanding improvements and Honda says its Civic diesel is one of the first to meet the latest real driving emissions test, conducted on roads not in the factory – though it doesn’t reveal the NOx figures. Just that it is under the 80g limit. In contrast, the Jazz 1.5 petrol NOx is below 60g.

The new diesel is quiet, refined, a nice drive. The ride and noise refinement is sublime after the Jazz cacophony. My experienced co-tester criticised the gearshift action but these were low-mileage cars and it’s fair to say that some others had no complaints: ditto, the Jazz’s noise levels which we marked down.

The Civic diesel turns in some smart figures: the high torque 118bhp motor with a six-speed manual gearbox produces a 0-62mph time of 9.8 seconds, 80.7mpg and 93g of CO2. The test run from city to free-flowing rural roads recorded a less cheery 50.4mpg. This large difference is hard to explain.

Honda sold 178,000 cars in Europe last year, of which the Jazz and Civic made up half. In the US the Civic is the number one seller. In the UK, sales fell 8.8 per cent, against a market drop of 5.65 per cent. Honda does not make a profit in Europe but is bolstered by profits from west and east.

The Civic diesel is important for the moment, pending electrification. It helps Honda to meet corporate CO2 targets. It is available in four grades: S at £20,120; SE at £20,220; SR at £22,065 and the EX – with adaptive dampers – at £24,925. A three-year hire plan for the SE costs £249 a month.

It’s an entertaining drive, benefitting from the all-new chassis and the torquey flexibility of the diesel engine.

Verdict: Shows the driver appeal of diesel power for high mileage motorists.