Honda Jazz 1.3 i-VTEC SE
List price: £15,145
Target price: £14,532
The Jazz is spacious and practical, and very well equipped, but can it justify its high price?
Seat Ibiza 1.0 EcoTSI 95 SE
List price: £14,555
Target price: £11,214
A refreshed interior and a more efficient three-cylinder engine look set to up the Ibiza's standing
Skoda Fabia 1.2 TSI 90 SE
List price: £14,005
Target price: £12,329
Spacious, good value and great to drive, this is the one to beat in the competitive small car class
These small cars have big responsibilities. They need to be spacious, safe, stable and fast enough for the odd motorway jaunt, and perfect for taking the stress out of muddling through town traffic.
We’re testing the 1.3 petrol Jazz - complete with its trademark Tardis-like cabin – against the Ibiza EcoTSI with its low CO2, turbocharged 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol engine. The Fabia is here with the keenly-priced and smooth-revving 1.2 turbocharged petrol that we favour.
What are they like to drive?
The new 1.0-litre turbocharged engine is a great addition to the facelifted Ibiza range. The turbo kicks in early and delivers punchy performance, and you can hold high gears comfortably around town if you want, even though you do have to rev the engine quite hard to get the best from it.
The Fabia’s 1.2 four-cylinder turbocharged engine is similarly flexible and has plenty of oomph and a sharper throttle response, but there’s a more noticeable surge when the turbo kicks in and it’s best kept in its mid rev-range.
Meanwhile, the Jazz is ultimately the slowest car here, and the hardest work, too, because you have to rev the non-turbocharged 1.3-litre engine hard to get good acceleration. The gear ratios are quite short, too, so at 70mph in sixth gear the Jazz’s engine is revving frantically at more than 3100rpm at 70mph; the other are spinning away at a more relaxed 2800rpm.
All of these cars have responsive yet consistent steering that’s ideal for navigating awkward town roads and car parks. They’re also stable through fast corners, although the Fabia has more body lean than the others, and body float over dips and crests in the road are more noticeable in the Skoda and Seat.
Our trio avoids the unnervingly vague high-speed steering that often hampers the cruising ability of small cars, so long journeys aren’t something to worry about. Ride comfort is adequate in all, too; tatty town roads have them bobbing about a bit, but they remain composed despite being a touch unsettled over sharp-edged bumps and ripples – the Seat is worst in this respect.
All are comfortable around town, although the Jazz is less well judged at high speeds, when bigger intrusions such as expansion joints can catch it out momentarily. The Jazz is certainly the least refined, due to its coarse-sounding engine. It’s noisier than the quiet burble in the Ibiza, and particularly the smooth engine in the Fabia.
All suffer noticeable road and wind noise at motorway speeds, although the Seat is worst for road noise and the Jazz for wind flutter, making the Skoda quietest overall by a small margin.
Most irritating is the Honda’s sensitive initial throttle response and slightly vague clutch, which makes it easy to accidentally over-rev the engine when pulling away, although on the plus side it does have the best gearshift; short and precise, where the Seat and Skoda’s shifts feel sloppy by comparison.
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