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All That Jazz

by Tabitha Hergest


It's okay coming from a human, cheeky when performed by a baboon, but inanimate objects such as cars don't perform well on the grinning front.

The point, it seems, is that grinning is a voluntary act, an act expressing pleasure.  You know when someone is happy because they are smiling - it's that, rather than the smile itself, that has the value.  Therefore, seeing a grin on a car makes you think not so much of adorable character but rather of an immoveable rictus - as worn primarily by the dead.

When it comes to Japanese cars we, at the Voice of Albion, aren't easily impressed.  You see, a car is more than a machine, more than the sum of its parts and, if you really want to get the best out of it, it has to have character.  Japanese cars traditionally do character like a JCB does ballroom-dancing - they build cars to be perfect transports rather than drivers' friends.

If there's one Japanese company which changes that, however, it's Honda.  The company has a sporty, zestful aspiration which sees even its most mundane models wear a thread of gold through the tawdry plastic of the dash, a weft of silk against the warp of cloth, a high-octane punch in the dreary diesel.  We saw this with the space-age Civic which, of all Japanese car companies, seemingly only Honda was capable.

But oh dear - the Jazz doesn't really live up to either part of its name.  For a Honda, it is mundane, dreary - not the sort of thing you'd append a complex time signature to without it falling apart.

It wasn't particularly unpleasant to drive - indeed, the marathon 12 hours we spent behind the wheel was devoid of nasties: the engine was smooth, the brakes performed well, the handling was good, with no discernible understeer, the 5-speed manual gearbox was okay.  In fact, the gearbox was one of the biggest surprises for, 'though not in itself remarkable, it did prove to be notable because of the addition of cruise control.

You read correctly - cruise control - in a manual transmission car.  And it works perfectly too - unlike the units fitted to automatic cars, this one actually kept speed steady whether on flat, incline or slope.

Another joy was the rain-sensing windscreen wipers - which saved a lot of faff on the rainy motorway, with precipitation from the air and spray from the roads otherwise necessitating a good workout on the wiper stalk and, as all men know, when you do two things at the same time, your proficiency at either of those things halves.  Of course, reliance on such things can lead to difficulties as well, when the thing suddenly stops working.

One of the good things about the Jazz, therefore, is the lack of gadgetry.  Yes, you have the electric windows and mirrors without which, these days, a car would be seen as distinctly third-class - but there is also a lack of the seemingly peripheral hardware that fills many cars these-days - the sat-nav in-car entertainment console, for instance.  Instead, there is just a panel beneath which is a radio and a CD player and, below the heating and air-conditioning gubbins, a couple of coy-looking USB and power sockets.

And there was another low-tech surprise: Magic Seats.  Not content with having a split seating arrangement in the back - how very ordinary - the Honda has a system where you can either lift up the seat to create an expanded well or, if you leave the seat where it is but fold the seat-back down, you can have a more conventional expansion of the luggage compartment.  Because of the seat design, you can even stow long items under it, should you wish also to carry your full complement of passengers.

Would I buy one?  No.  But then I'm not a hatchback kind of girl...

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