I AM told that in land-scarce Tokyo, there are office blocks the width of a man's outstretched arms, pubs with seats only at the bar, and car parks with jacks that hold one or two cars above the one on the ground.
It is hardly surprising then that the ingenuity of the Japanese shows up in the cars they make. Even so, the Honda Jazz still manages a few surprises.
The Jazz is about the same size as a Mercedes Benz A-Class but it manages to pack in so much usable space and versatility that it puts much bigger cars to shame.
Like the A-Class, the Jazz's in-line four cylinder engine is very compact which allows it to be mounted transversely, freeing up more cabin space. Its fuel tank is moved forward to beneath the front passenger seat, which in turn frees up more floor space.
The Jazz offers three basic user modes when it comes to carrying your goods and chattels.
First, the cargo carrying utility mode with rear seats folded flat which allows the Jazz to swallow a bicycle with the front wheel removed.
Second, the long mode with the left rear seat folded flat and the corresponding front seat's backrest inclined all the way, which swallows a bicycle with the front wheel attached.
Lastly, the tall mode. With the rear seats folded upwards against their backrests, a deep potted plant-carrying stowage area appears. The extra space comes from the relocated fuel tank.
In the normal passenger carrying mode, the Jazz is about average in terms of space. It will take two adults in the back in comfort, three would be a squeeze. Three kids in the back would fit in neatly, but there could be a problem if child seats (especially full-size ones) are involved. However, there is a better than average sized boot, unlike some other cars in the sector.
On the move the Jazz is typical Honda - smooth, silent and solid. Its 1.4-litre engine is a marvel. It has two spark plugs for each of its four cylinders to maximise combustion efficiency. It produces an admirable 83PS at 5700rpm.
It is mated to a five-speed manual gearbox which is slick and a joy to use. The engine's peak torque is available from 2800rpm which means the Jazz can easily overtake slower traffic. Acceleration to 62mph takes 12 seconds with a top speed of 106mph.
It is a small car, but it feels like a much bigger car. the ride may be a bit firm for the purposes it will be used for - mainly as a town car - but, on the other hand, it handles very well for something wedge-shaped.
Fuel consumption is excellent - 48.7mpg in the combined cycle in the test car.
Overall, the car is pretty smart. Space and versatility are high and build quality is what you expect of Honda.
The Jazz comes in three trim levels - S, SE and, as in the test car, SE Sport which means it added a CD tuner, side airbags, locking wheelnuts and intermittent rear wash wipe to the standard kit.
It also comes in a nice range of colours including, wait for it, a nice line in pink - which prompted a few comments from colleagues.
The SE Sport costs £11,295 although the range starts at £8,995. Nice car, pity about the colour.
- Alistair Coull
A BEST seller in Japan, the Jazz is still trying to establish itself in Britain where its name hasn't entirely caught the imagination of the motoring public.
It is Honda's first venture into the modern supermini league but the strange model name doesn't quite convey what the Japanese marvel is really all about.
I guess it is supposed to suggest a lively, fun car - and in many ways it is - so why does it conjure up images of short-lived 'special edition' cars marketed in the summer to buoy up flagging mid-year sales?
However, once I got over this identity crisis and preconceived ideas, I was in for a pleasant surprise. For the Jazz reflects Honda's glowing reputation for flair and build quality - but with a jazzed-up personality.
The Jazz is certainly an agile mover, light and breezy to drive - though with a 0-60mph sprint in 12 seconds it isn't going to get you over-excited. It is far from being the fastest supermini in its class, but the 106mph Honda is nippy and its 1.4i-DSI engine is so frugal that you cannot fail to achieve the 50mpg combined driving figure.
Even in town the Honda is quite capable of 40mpg and, if you are very green-minded and have lots of time, you could idle along with a feather foot in the mid-fifties which would allow you to boast 58mpg to your pals. For most of us, though, an average of 50mpg is impressive enough.
Honda's little big car, as it is billed, really is a mini on the outside with big car statistics in the cabin.
Its new Global Small Platform, which allows the gas tank to be tucked neatly below the front seats, offers enormous practicality and versatility, providing outstanding floor space - with or without the rear seats in situ.
Such versatility must make the Jazz a serious consideration for those with an eye on the mini-MPV market, the supermini segment or the city car category: the Jazz seems to cover the criteria of all three.
Honda's ability to provide an all-embracing model to meet a multitude of demands is bound to put the Jazz well into the spotlight once the British public realises what a gem it is.
The compact contours of the Jazz give it the cute factor and, wait for it, in a pearlescent grapefruit pink, it can't fail to have an impact. One thing's for sure, you won't have difficulty spotting it in a car park on a grey, drizzly day in mid-winter.
All-round vision of the Jazz is very good and the cabin ergonomics and tailoring are neat, functional and classy.
If I really had to crib about the zippy new supermini, apart from its Pink Panther persona - and even that grows on you - it would be to criticise its slightly jaunty ride.
And while the 1.4-litre power unit copes well in the urban jungle and on the highways, it needs some gentle persuasion to kindle the revs on more demanding gradients.
By the way, in Japan the name for Jazz is Fit, which clearly might not have been a good idea here in Britain.
- Val Jessop
Honda Jazz 1.4 i-DSI SE Sport
Mechanical: 82bhp, 1,339cc 4 cylinder diesel engine driving front wheels via 5-spd gearbox
Max speed: 106mph
0-62mph: 12 secs
Combined mpg: 48.7
Insurance group: 3
CO2 emissions: 137g/km
BiK rating: 15%
Warranty: 3yrs/ 90,000 miles; 6yrs anti-rust; 3yrs paint