Thursday 29 September 2016

All that Jazz . . . the spacious little Honda is crowned our Car of the Year

Supermini with tardis-like interior wins top spot

Published 29/11/2015 | 02:30

It has been a strange year, dominated at the end by scandal, which has at last seen major breakthroughs on the alternative power front. Hybrids are especially taking off but even pure electric cars are beginning to get better ranges. Next year may not be the time to buy one, but by 2020 the variety of hybrids available will be amazing, taking in every size, style and cost of car.

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As for this year, there weren't the great stand-out models across all sectors that I was expecting. The Jaguar XE didn't make the impact expected, however the Mercedes-Benz C-Class Coupe did and the Volvo XC90 is gaining a lot of fans.

The Mazda CX-3 and Hyundai Tucson bring something special to the crossover market, while the Skoda Superb lives up to its name in the family executive car category. Nor can you be unimpressed by the new Audi A4.

However, both of the latter two cars have been affected by the wider VW emissions scandal and cannot go forward as candidates for the Sunday Independent Car of the Year while all the issues still have to be resolved.

In April, I was fortunate to be driving two Hondas during a very stressful family time and was absolutely delighted to be doing so. There is always the feeling of pure solid reliability about the marque.

They have been making excellent cars for years, especially for families, and were at the forefront of the SUV/Crossover movement. However, their smaller cars have never been neglected and while some aspects of the Civic's styling still leaves me cold, you cannot fault it as a superb family car to rival the Golf.

Yet the smaller Jazz, first introduced in 2002, has often been more innovative, becoming Tardis-like in the way it offers such great and flexible room in a very compact package.

The new model is even better and its 1.3 petrol engine is flexible, economical and with just the right amount of poke. Yet in its spec, build quality and rock-solid value, the Jazz outscores its rivals. It has shot up to the top of the Spray Towers shopping list because of its adaptability, space and prestige.

I would have liked to go with Geraldine's choice but Martin Brennan agrees with me, as does my colleague Philip Hedderman, the motoring editor of the Herald, who has designed this supplement, so the 2016 Sunday Independent Car of the Year is the Honda Jazz. Congratulations.

In 2015, we were treated to a host of expensive and affordable, fast and economical new cars, so giving our motoring Oscars to the best wheels we've driven over the past 12 months is always a difficult task, writes Geraldine Herbert.

Competition in the fast- growing compact crossover sector showed no sign of slowing down in 2015 and three arrivals in particular stand out: the Suzuki Vitara, Jeep Renegade and the Mazda CX-3. The new Vitara builds on Suzuki's strong reputation in the four-wheel drive sector with sleek looks and keen pricing, while with plenty of iconic Jeep styling touches the Regenade is arguably the most distinctive in the class.

But it is Mazda's CX-3 that proved the best surprise. It is fun to drive, with sharp handling, well equipped and very stylish, and would be my pick of the bunch in the very competitive Compact SUV sector.

Another Mazda proved even more impressive this year, the all new MX-5. Since the first generation's arrival in 1989, the MX-5 has attracted a loyal following for its smart styling, beguiling character and affordable price tag and has become the world's best-selling sports car.

Honda's supermini, the new Jazz, has been completely revised from bumper to bumper, inside and out. It now sports a new and lighter chassis, a spacious and upgraded interior but unfortunately time just didn't permit a chance to drive it on Irish roads, so it will be one of my contenders for next year's prize.

Three stand-out saloons were also launched this year, Ford's Mondeo is unrivalled when it comes to handling and driving, but at this stage, due to the delays in launching it in Ireland, it is now almost four years old and is let down by the interior quality.

Skoda's Superb is the most imposing of the bunch and for sheer value for money, comfort and space, it is very hard to beat. Finally, my choice for Car of the Year goes to Volvo's XC90. As with the original version, Volvo has set new standards for safety, versatility and interior space.

With a starting price of €70,950, the XC90 is expensive, but if you are one of the lucky ones to have a generous budget it would be hard to recommend a better family car.

Buying a new car or negotiating a Personal Contract Payment deal (PCP) is probably one of the biggest financial decisions we will make in the coming weeks and months advises Martin Brennan.

There are great deals with low interest rates and the choice from bargain-basement models to the luxury brands has never been better.

But the wide choice and mushrooming number of derivatives of some models can be confusing, so stick to the old adage of "what you buy now, you have to sell later".This thinking ahead should also apply to PCP agreements, which tend to roll over and keep you tied to the same brand for years.

Value-for-money models, rather than the exotic that can depreciate alarmingly, should always be to the forefront. Increasingly, safety technology, hi-tech infortainment systems and longer warranties are the big selling points, so opting for the better kitted-out models will reap dividends now in terms of enjoyment, safety and peace of mind - and in trade-in deals in three years' time.

Those opting for a small family car should consider the Honda Jazz, which I am driving at present. It is crammed with big car features, such as air conditioning, auto lights and wipers, front and rear parking sensors, alarm, alloy wheels, electric folding mirrors and a safety pack that includes forward collision warning, traffic sign recognition, cruise control and intelligent speed limiter and lots more - all for €19,345 ex-works.

The Honda badge has a top reliability rating and this new, more spacious model, bordering on the next segment up, comes with a new 1.3 litre petrol engine that has a good fuel-consumption figure - Honda says 5L/100km - my figure is 7.2L/100km, which is still good in heavy traffic.

When the engine is mated to a new CVT automatic transmission (€1,500 extra) the fuel-performance figure improves, according to Honda. A higher spec model with reversing camera, keyless entry and start, climate control and privacy glass is available for €20,400 ex-works.

In the large family car bracket, the Skoda Superb impresses with the level of comfort, driving quality and above all, space - all at a reasonable price for one of the best-built models available.

The Superb has long been a favourite but is pipped at the post by the new Jazz with the extra space and specification at a very competitive price.

Sunday Independent

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