Review: 2023 Honda Jazz RS is a spirited compact hatchback that is actually quite sporty

2023 Honda Jazz RS
Photo credit: Tarmac Life

By Dave McLeod of Tarmac Life

Soichiro Honda, the founder of Honda, is famous for saying: "If Honda doesn't race, then there is no Honda."

That emphatic statement is the core ingredient (albeit not exactly F1) of the new Jazz RS e:HEV. 

The brand's popular hatchback has been given some RS treatment and recently I got to spend some time with it.

While the thought of Honda's compact city-dweller being 'sporty' may raise a smirk or two, especially as it now has a clever hybrid powertrain, I'm here to say the RS model is both bolder looking and more performance-led.

In terms of dimensions and core panelwork, the Jazz RS's footprint remains the same as its dialled-down counterparts: even the Honda badge has a blue surround to indicate that it's a e:HEV. However, being an RS means it gets a new RS specific grille complete with the coveted RS letters, a bolder RS front bumper and bigger air vents for better airflow.

My review model came in a pirate-loving crystal black pearl that contrasted well with the subtle red and chrome accents and rode on 16-inch alloys that hugged the road surprisingly well. The rear has an RS-specific roof spoiler, more RS (and e:HEV) badging, an RS bumper and also an RS exhaust tip, and despite its compactness, there's still enough luggage space for a trip to the racetrack. There's even a flip-up floor that reveals an extra stowage area (for stuff you want to keep out of view).

Under the tiny bonnet is the new and very smart Honda e:HEV system, which is basically two motors in one - what a deal. It's a 1.5L VTEC engine that acts as a generator (so doesn't actually touch the wheels), sending power via a converter to a small battery that drives an electric motor that moves the wheels. Both the conventional engine and electric motor have had their output increased over the regular e:HEV (so you now have 78kW/127Nm and 90kW/253Nm respectively), and yet can still boast 3.8l/100km fuel-efficiency and 68g/km in emissions.

2023 Honda Jazz RS
Photo credit: Tarmac Life

Not only is the Jazz RS more sporty on the outside but it embraces some of that sporty character on the inside too, with bright yellow contrast stitching tastefully found on areas such as the dashboard, steering wheel and seats.

While on the matter of seats, not only have they been specifically designed for anti-fatigue (something I was thankful for during my road test), but they also come coated in a tactile ultra-suede fabric that's easy on the eye and even easier on your rear.

There are a huge amount of stowage and storage areas - not just for such a small hatch, but in general - with a dedicated space for your smartphone. There are also a couple of strategically placed cup holders that allow the AC to heat or cool your beverages: a clever and very useful touch.

The nine-inch infotainment screen is the standard set-up to the other Jazz models, modern and easy to use with colour-coded apps. However, for some bizarre reason, the clock had the 12 sitting where the three should be. Not really an issue unless you're a military buff - 'watch my six' would have a whole new meaning.

Again the instrument cluster is the same as in the non-RS e:HEV, with a digital centre screen bookended by two fixed gauges that show the petrol and battery levels - although you only really have control over the fuel. Personally I would have liked more RS-ness about the screens, but that's just me.

2023 Honda Jazz RS
Photo credit: Tarmac Life

My time with the Jazz RS had me head north to Whangārei for a weekend away for my son's football, a chance to stretch the hatch's legs and test out those seats.

Now as some of you may know, my partner (bless her), tends to overpack so I was a little concerned. I needn't have been. Not only does the Jazz come with Honda's 'magic seats', meaning the rear seats can be configured in 18 different ways, but the three large bags actually fit without any 'magic' required.

Visibility in the Jazz is exceptional thanks to the large, 90.2-degree wide angle windscreen, making the view out front so good and uncluttered: even the wipers are hidden below the eyeline. And for those that need additional help, Honda sensing is there to eliminate blind spots and keep you in between the lines.

2023 Honda Jazz RS
Photo credit: Tarmac Life

Admittedly the RS is not mind-blowingly quick off the line (just under nine seconds 0-100km/h) and the eCVT doesn't help with the sensation of oomph, but it gets up to speed well and holds it there throughout the drive.

Despite the rough road surface, the Jazz RS handled the tarmac well with low road and wind noise and feedback through the steering wheel made me feel connected to what was going on below. Particularly since not only the engine and body work has been fettled with, but the suspension and steering has been improved too. It's certainly no Civic Type R but it certainly can stand up for itself around the corners, when allowed (both by the road conditions and family). I took bends with a bit of vigour and it hung on no problem, even with its skinny-ish tires.

Then there's the hybridness of the RS, something I was grateful for in these days of high fuel prices. Although I made good use of the four stages of regen braking (via the paddles), I didn't exactly go easy on the throttle to Whangārei and back. I averaged 4.3l/100km on my 377.5km trip, meaning I returned the Jazz RS to Honda with around 316km of range still available - not bad after a week's use (and from a fuel tank about the size of my thumb).

I have to say I rather enjoyed my time with the RS. Sure, it's not exactly ferocious in its sportiness, but it's the quickest in the range and when you throw in its enthusiastic handling ability, you get a Jazz that's bolder-looking and really fun to drive. It's Soichiro's racing spirit wrapped in a compact city-dwelling hatch.

2023 Honda Jazz RS
Photo credit: Tarmac Life

Why you should: The Jazz RS offers a bit of pep to your step while keeping emissions and fuel economy low. It stands out from its siblings in looks and handling too.

Why you shouldn't: The engine makes itself known under heavy acceleration and the eCVT offers little in the way of audible enthusiasm.

What else to consider: There are still a fair number of hotter and/or hybrid hatches out there: the Swift RS, Yaris, Corsa, Rio, BMW 1, Audi A1, Golf, etc, all with various states of performance and efficiency. Go wild and try them all.

Tarmac Life