Motoring in this country is getting increasingly depressing.

Gordon Brown and the car-hating government are doing their best to price us off the road. What’s left of our crumbling road network has been carpet-bombed with speed cameras and traffic calming measures to make our journeys less efficient and more polluting.

We’re branded planet-killers for daring to move about the place, despite the fact that just five companies in Britain produce more carbon dioxide together than all the cars on UK roads combined.

And, should we buy a car worthy of our hard-earned cash in defiance of the liberal do-gooders’ calls for everyone to stay at home and knit jumpers from recycled straw, some hoodie-wearing scrote will only carve his name across the bonnet using his front door key.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. Those who feel forced into down-sizing will find a market positively blooming with bright and shiny superminis.

Honda’s effort at bringing a little sunshine into our motoring lives is the Jazz.

The standard models can look a little fuddy-duddy, but in Sport guise, with body colour-backed headlights, chunkier bumpers and side skirts, it adopts a friendly, almost cheeky persona. It’s inoffensive enough to be left unmolested in car parks, a distinct bonus these days.

Inside, there’s an array of interesting materials. The dashboard plastics have a refreshing technical finish to them, while the doors and seats are clad with upbeat fabrics.

The switchgear on the centre console consists of not just the ubiquitous Japanese push-buttons, but also a series of oversized paddles that provide intuitive means of adjusting the temperature or selecting a different radio station.

The instruments, illuminated in red and white even during the day, are a model of clarity, while the sporty steering wheel features buttons to control the stereo and, on the automatic models, gear change paddles.

There’s plenty of space and adjustability for drivers of all shapes and sizes, and rear seat passengers are well accommodated, too, with plenty of foot-space.

It’s in the rear cabin of the Jazz that Honda’s best thinking becomes apparent. As in most superminis, the rear seats fold down to make way for load-carrying duties. It’s here that you’ll discover one of the Jazz’s party tricks – as the rear seats fold forwards, the seat base drops down, leaving space for the seat backs to form a perfectly flat load bay. You’ll have to remove the rear head restraints to do this, however, and you’ll likely need to slide the front seats forwards a touch to gain a little extra clearance. But here again, Honda have been thinking: there’s a lever on the side of the front seats, accessible from behind that, once pushed forwards, allows the front seats to slide freely.

If tall, rather than long loads are more your thing, the Jazz has that covered, too. The fuel tank has been relocated to under the front seats, while the rear seat bases can be hinged upwards. This creates a huge floor-to-ceiling height cargo area for carrying bikes, trees, etc, that’s unique to Honda. We think it’s a great example of lateral thinking. Honda call them ‘magic seats.’

As if that wasn’t enough seat origami for you, there’s more. Remove the front head restraints, and the front seats can be folded flat to create a bed. While that may carry too many ‘dogging’ connotations for some, there’s bound to be a more practical application, too.

For an urban run-around, most people don’t want to be bothered by sensations of steering feedback and seat-of-the-pants chassis involvement. That’s just as well, since Honda has instead focussed on giving the Jazz finger-light steering and an air of inner-city nippiness. The suspension goes about its job quietly and without fuss, although it can feel a little jiggly over pockmarked roads.

Engine noise is superbly contained, but wind noise does become far more noticeable at motorway speeds.

Around town, the CVT (continuously variable transmission) automatic endows the Jazz with a feeling of urgency that manages to continue up to dual carriageway speeds. However, as with many CVT systems, overtaking at speeds above 50mph is a process that requires careful planning: floor the throttle and you’ll be rewarded with little more than seeing the rev counter needle ping its way to the redline, and stay there.

Things aren’t much better if you use the Sport mode on the gear lever, or the seven-speed mode button on the steering wheel that instructs the transmission to use seven pre-set ratios rather than a single continuously variable one.

If you’re craving a little involvement, with the seven-speed mode engaged, the steering wheel paddles become operative, allowing the illusion of shifting your own gears.

The Honda Jazz starts at £8,795 for the 1.2 i-DSI S. That’ll get you air conditioning, ABS, magic seats, front electric windows and a CD player. We chose the 1.4 i-DSI Sport with CVT-7 automatic transmission which, for £12,695, provides climate control, sports styling, all-round electric windows, and a few other goodies.

While that may seem a little expensive given the competition, the Honda Jazz has one final trick up its sleeve: residual values. Expect the Jazz to return at least 58% of its value after three years, a figure bettered only by the Mini in this segment.

Insurance is a wallet-friendly group 4, while Honda servicing is competitive. Parts prices, particularly for items that suffer the most in urban living such as bumpers and headlights, are good, and these items can be replaced easily.

Fuel consumption for the 1.4 CVT-7 is 47.9mpg on the combined cycle – not much of a hit given the 1.2 manual’s figure of 51.4mpg. If you must ask about performance, the 1.2 manual hits 62mph in 13.7 seconds, the 1.4 manual in 13.3, and the 1.4 auto in 14.5.

We can’t help but find the Honda Jazz to be an honest little package. It’s incredibly practical, extremely easy to drive, cheap to run and unlikely to be the cause of road-rage or car-park envy.

In these troubled times, it’s just what we need.

The Honda Jazz is a very honest little package. It’s incredibly practical, extremely easy to drive, cheap to run and offers excellent residual values. It’s a little lacking in performance, mainly thanks to the CVT auto, but in the urban sprawl you’ll be hard pressed to find a more helpful companion. We can’t help but be charmed by it.
Our verdict: Our verdict: 4.5 stars out of 5