THE previous generation Honda Jazz was something of a dark horse. Despite me and most of the motoring press telling you and anyone else who would listen that it was pretty much spot on in almost every department, it remained a second favourite to some of the more default supermini choices.

Ye t those who did their homework were rewarded with an uncommonly capable, honest and unpretentious little car.

The current version still looks like a Jazz, but has more of a grown-up feel without falling victim to unnecessary dimension increases.

And there's a new twist - Honda has introduced its proven and reliable hybrid technology alongside the established 1.2 and 1.4-litre petrol engines

Changes to the exterior have not been purely cosmetic.

As well as giving the car a new look, the revised front and rear bumpers have also been designed to reduce drag.

Design features have also been added to distinguish between the Hybrid and petrol versions.

Leather upholstery makes a welcome appearance in the range - in EXL specification - while further work has been done to improve the ride quality of the original Jazz - which gave an over-firm ride - with revised suspension settings adding to the driving experience.

But it's when you be slide comfortably inside that the Jazz really starts to impress.

A large dose of feelgood factor has been added, thanks to better materials, a more appealing design and improved equipment levels.

What's more, the designers have spent yet more time trying to squeeze even more from the interior dimensions.

The design puts the rakish windscreen further forward, helping the sense of space.

If the Hybrid is not for you - and you might well end up doing some sums about improved economy versus a higher price - the regular 1.2-litre unit is more than capable, but the 1.4 has the extra oomph that gives confidence out on the open road and at a motorway cruise, loaded up or not.

If there's anything to criticise the Jazz for, it's that it doesn't provide as much entertainment behind the wheel as some of its rivals.

But that's like criticising a supertanker for being less wieldy than a speedboat.

Ify ou want a supermini with sparkling responses you can have one, but it won't have the practicality, ease of use or bulletproof feel of the Jazz.

Its boot is something to marvel at: roomy for its class with a versatile two-tier floor and a basement storage well below which is all of 600 mm square and 200 mm deep. The rearmost section of the floor folds and angles and slots into a variety of positions, even offering a net sling, to take and keep stable your goods and chattels.To match such a feature you would usually be shopping way above the Jazz's price tag.

Then instead of just dropping forward in a cursory sloping extension of the boot, customary in this class, the rear seats slide and fold into a flat through-floor. Engineers hold sway in Honda design, you feel. And this so-called “Magic Seat” system comes with all versions.

An interior furnished with comfortable seats, good legroom and clear instruments, which generously gives you a double glovebox, is let down storage-wise by its narrow, finger-trapping door pockets, but that is a common criticism in an age of broadened seats and bulked-for-strength doors. Pockets these days have been squeezed in more ways than one.

A 20-strong Jazz range at prices rising to £18,970 matches either of two petrol engines, a 90PS 1.2 or 99PS 1.4, with manual or CVT automatic gearboxes and seven levels of trim.

On the road, the 1.4-litre Jazz hits most of the right notes. Steering and gear change are light and easy. The ride is still on the firm side and at higher speeds there’s a degree of road and wind noise, but for the most part you will find the Jazz matched with this engine nothing but a joy for everyday motoring.

Performance is not startling and in eco interest there’s a carrot and stick system of green dashboard lights, to either pat your back when you are driving economically or nag you to change gear.

What you will almost certainly find is that the Jazz will deliver 50mpg-plus motoring, handle vast loads when required and prove to be ultra-reliable.

At a glance

Honda Jazz 1.4 i-VTEC EXL

Price: £17,195 (Jazz range from £11,695)

Engine: 1.4-litre petrol developing 99PS

Transmission: Five-speed manual (CVT optional)

Performance: 0 to 62mph in 11.8 seconds; top speed

Economy: 50.4mpg combined

CO2 emissions: 129g/km