HONDA does not have bragging rights for launching the first efficiency-optimised light car in the market (that honour falls to Volkswagen and its Polo 1,2 TDI BlueMotion), nor can it claim to offer the most fuel efficient petrol-electric model in South Africa (that’s the Toyota Prius) … However, by virtue of the Insight, CR-Z and now the Jazz Hybrid, Honda has brought petrol electric technology to the compact and light-car segments, which not only represent a major portion of the market, but one in which efficiency/cost of ownership is more crucial than ever.
Being a pioneer has its drawbacks, though … uncertainty over market reception of a product due to a lack of awareness or conservatism on the part of consumers is unavoidable. What does count in the favour of the recently launched Jazz Hybrid is that it is based on Honda’s strong-selling hatchback and CAR’s reigning best buy in the light-car segment. It can be differentiated from its (also recently facelifted) siblings by its slightly lower ride height, blue tinted surrounds on the head- and tail lamps, as well as a transparent grille and reshaped air intake, both of which are said to reduce drag.
Whereas the test team’s responses to the aesthetic qualities of the Hybrid’s exterior ranged from “subtlety updated” to “futuristic, but not kitsch”, the vehicle’s interior drew much praise. The updated Jazz range sports a darker, single-colour dashboard and the rear seats can now recline but, because the boot floor of the Hybrid is raised by 123 mm to accommodate the battery and Power Control Unit (PCU) system, and a spare wheel under the boot board, the luggage volume (232 dm3) is slightly less than on conventional models.
Therefore, when the rear seats are folded flat, they drop down lower than the boot floor. This minor concession is a tribute to the nifty interior packaging of the Jazz, because the Magic Seats still offer a multitude of configurations to serve various load-carrying needs.
From a driver’s perspective, the Jazz offers a high seating position behind the wheel, but the view is otherwise dominated by the model’s Eco Assist function that uses the ambient lighting of the speedometer (ranging from green to blue to red) to advise the driver on how their driving style is impacting on fuel economy. Fuel Economy 101 suggests that one can minimise fuel consumption by maintaining momentum and avoiding excessive acceleration or deceleration in everyday driving conditions. So, if a driver tailors throttle and braking inputs to the real-time feedback of the Eco Assist, there should be a real-world improvement in consumption …
On CAR’s fuel run with this test unit, we almost matched our calculated fuel index for the model (5,28 litres/ 100 km) in recording 5,52 litres/ 100 km on the 151 km route. For those Hybrid drivers who are fastidious about achieving optimal mileage from their cars’ fuel tanks, there is an Econ mode than can be activated by a switch on the dash. In this mode, the engine’s power and torque outputs are reduced by four per cent, the electronic management system adapts the CVT’s shift pattern and smoothes out accelerator inputs to optimise throttle position and engine speed, the absorption of regenerative brake energy is increased and the air-conditioning operates more frequently in the recirculation mode and shuts down during Idle Stop mode.
Unfortunately, the Hybrid’s engine/transmission configuration (similar to that of the Insight, which we tested last year) does not offer much driving involvement. Although the combined torque output of the engine and electric motor is more than that of the 1,5- litre Jazz, the operation of the CVT transmission imparts a dull, droning driving sensation. To its credit, however, the Jazz’s ride and handling characteristics have been livened-up. The weighting of the steering, while still light and quick, feels more substantial in the on-centre position and the ride is more forgiving on poorer road surfaces by virtue of tweaks to the anti-roll bars and dampers.
As a package, the Hybrid exacts a premium of nearly R15 000 above its Executive 1,5 automatic sibling, but for drum brakes at the rear, smaller wheels and a lack of a panoramic sunroof, it has the same (generous) specification, but should consume 2,76 litres less fuel per 100 km according to CAR’s fuel index. With the inclusion of a four year service plan and the expected life cycle of the battery projected at 15 years or 200 000 km, the Hybrid still constitutes good value.
Despite its compact dimensions and hybrid technology, this Jazz doesn’t set a benchmark for fuel efficiency; its turbodiesel rivals have it licked. However, in light of its price, specification and packaging, this model is arguably the most balanced hybrid in the market. After experiencing the engaging nature of the Honda CR-Z, which blends efficiency with driver enjoyment, we wish the Jazz Hybrid had a manual ‘box … One thing is sure, though: before electric cars can gain critical mass, a hybrid configuration will offer the best efficiency in terms of petrol-engined transport.