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Honda Jazz 2003 Review

The Jazz fits right into that distinguished family tree.

It's just that, in the grand scheme of things, she would much prefer to get around in a nice big four-wheel-drive vehicle or comfortable sedan than one of the more modest baby cars I bring home from time to time.

But after a few days of Jazzing around the place, she had decidedly changed her tune. "It's got lots of room for a little thing, hasn't it?" she let slip. "And it's very nice on the highway. It doesn't even really feel like a small car."

Now that, surely, would be music to the ears of the good folk at Honda.

Mind you, they should be getting very used to hearing praise for the funky little Jazz, which has struck a chord with just about all the critics since it arrived on the scene last year.

My colleagues at The Courier-Mail even deemed it to be their Car of the Year, ahead of luminaries such as the fabulous Mercedes-Benz E-class, and the acclaimed new BA Ford Falcon.

So the Jazz had plenty to live up to when it came to visit our place and, I have to say, it did not disappoint.

That's a recurring theme with Honda -- which invariably produces cars that are well-engineered, fuss-free and rewarding to drive. The Jazz fits right into that distinguished family tree.

We drove the top-of-the-range VTi-S -- nicely fitted out with the bigger 1.5 litre engine (there is also a 1.3 litre Jazz), alloy wheels and plenty of creature comforts -- but in a five-speed manual rather than the tricky, seven-speed automatic with the steering-wheel controls that has won so many admirers.

But selecting the gears myself was no hardship in this very smart little hatchback.

While it takes up next to no space in the garage, the cockpit of the Jazz is remarkably spacious. There is plenty of leg room and shoulder space for two adults in the front -- and still with oodles of space for three kids, side by side and legs stretched out, in the back. It has at least as much space as any of the mid-sized European sedans we have driven recently, which cost twice as much.

On top of that, the Jazz has an impressively large cargo space in the rear hatch.

There are also numerous storage nooks, parcel shelves and cup-holders dotted around the cabin.

It comes with airconditioning, electric windows and mirrors and a pretty decent CD stereo, which is nicely integrated in the modern-looking centre console.

The dash, while a bit plasticky, has a high-tech look with its bold, circular dials.

How did Honda fit so much into such a small space?

Well, the design of the Jazz is, shall we say, quirky: short and stubby at the front, a high roofline and chopped-off tail.

My wife likened it to a shrunk version of the Odyssey people-mover (another Honda we loved) and she is pretty close to the mark.

It is not exactly unattractive, but it lags behind rivals such as the Mazda 2 and Citroen C3 in the style stakes.

Its compact size makes the Jazz an ideal city car -- the engine's 81kW make it lively enough to dart around in traffic; its light steering and gearbox make it a breeze to turn and park.

Even with a full load of two adults and three kids, and the airconditioner running, the engine coped remarkably well.

On the highway, it performs with equal aplomb. The ride is solid and reassuring and it cruises happily and quietly at 110km/h, without any sense that the engine is under stress.

As you would expect, the Jazz is miserly on fuel. Expect to get well over 500km between refills of its 42 litre tank (that's about $30 worth at current prices). Over that distance of combined city and highway driving, we managed a frugal 6.5 litres per 100km for the week.

You will pay almost $20,000 to get into a Jazz with airconditioning (our test model costs $22,490), so it's not the cheapest of the baby hatches around. But I'd place it near the top of this category -- shading the Citroen C3 and VW Polo, both of which we rated highly.

The Citroen had more gadgets, but not as much space or power; the Volkswagen was about as big and better finished, but lacked the Honda's performance.

For big families, the Jazz would make the ideal second car -- perfect for picking up kids from school and groceries from the supermarket.

If your clan is more modestly sized, the Jazz is big enough and capable enough to be the primary family sedan.

DETAILS: Five-door, front-wheel-drive hatchback; 1.5 litre, four-cylinder engine with 81kW power; five-speed manual gearbox.
FEATURES: Two airbags, ABS brakes with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution; airconditioning, electric windows and mirrors; CD stereo.
COST: $22,490.
RIVALS: Citroen C3 Exclusive ($20,990); Mazda 2 Genki ($22,195); Renault Clio Privilege 1.6 ($23,990); Peugeot 206 XT 1.6 ($22,990).
FOR: Fun to drive, plenty of space.
AGAINST: At this price, it's competing against some bigger rivals.
SUMMING UP: Everyone seems to love this car. Count me in.

Pricing guides

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Range and Specs

GLi 1.3L, ULP, 5 SP MAN $3,450 – 5,995 2003 Honda Jazz 2003 GLi Pricing and Specs
VTi 1.5L, ULP, 5 SP MAN $2,990 – 4,995 2003 Honda Jazz 2003 VTi Pricing and Specs
VTi-S 1.5L, ULP, 5 SP MAN $5,499 – 6,999 2003 Honda Jazz 2003 VTi-S Pricing and Specs