How times change.
|AT A GLANCE|
|Power plant: 1.3-litre i-VTEC four-cylinder petrol engine, combined with electric motor in parallel hybrid system. Combined output is 72kW at 5800rpm, and 167Nm at 1500rpm.|
|Running gear: Front-wheel drive. Continuously variable automatic transmission. MacPherson strut front suspension, torsion beam axle at the rear. Speed sensitive electric power-assisted steering.|
|How big: Length 3900mm, width 1695mm, height 1525mm, wheelbase 2500mm. Kerb weight 1178mm.|
|How much: $31,500.|
|What's good: Hybrid technology saves fuel, car still has that wonderful cargo capacity, sound ride and handling.|
|What's not: Bodyshell getting dated, luckily due for replacement next year.|
|Our verdict: We think the hybrid is the best of the current Jazz lineup.|
The company certainly wouldn't have expected the hybrid to become the most popular Jazz - after all, its launch price of just under $30,000 was higher than standard Jazz models which could be purchased from around $22,000.
But as it turns out, the hybrid has almost become the most popular Jazz. In fact it could have if there hadn't been supply constraints. Latest statistics show that 208 of the hybrids have been delivered since the model entered the market during the first quarter of this year, with Honda holding back-orders for another 36.
As far as I'm concerned those statistics underline the fact that these days hybrid technology is fully accepted as simply another means of getting a vehicle around - just like petrol and diesel fuel, manual and automatic transmissions, and front, rear and all-wheel drive.
As I said at the start, how times change.
It also shows that motorists - and you can guarantee they're almost all private buyers - are recognising the value for money equation on offer with this hybrid, which I personally consider to be the best Jazz yet made.
The vehicle retails for $31,500, and for the money the owner is rewarded with excellent performance, the ability to get average fuel consumption down into the low 4 litres per 100 kilometre mark and even lower, and yet the car retains all the excellent roominess that has been such a feature of the Jazz.
And it's going to get better, too. A brand-new Jazz - called Fit in other parts of the world - has been unveiled in Japan, and Honda claims the hybrid version will be more efficient than any other hybrid on sale in Japan, with an average fuel consumption as low as 3.3 L/100 km.
The new model is expected to be launched in New Zealand next year.
Meanwhile, we have the first model, and what I like about it is that installation of hybrid technology into the vehicle has not impacted at all on the special features that for several years now have made this Honda one of the best small hatchbacks around.
Anyone who has ever owned a Jazz will tell you all about its "magic" rear seats that tumble and fold to open up an enormous amount of load space. I always enjoyed showing that off to the uninitiated by folding seats out of the way then walking straight through the car from rear door to rear door. That's how much space can be made available.
The fitment of all the hybrid equipment - which in every such vehicle comprises an electric motor and a battery pack - hasn't changed that much at all.
Jazz' high-power battery is 19 per cent smaller and 28 per cent lighter than the one in the first-generation Honda Civic of not so long ago, and this has allowed it to be stored under the floor in the boot, beneath a space-saver spare tyre.
This means that when the rear seats are folded down the load floor is not entirely flat like it is in a standard Jazz - there is a step of about 8cm right across its middle.
But despite that there remains excellent load room, and thanks to the ''magic'' seats design, which offers 18 different seat configurations, this can be increased to 1195 litres, which is enough to fit a 50-inch TV set or a mountain bike.
And where's the electric motor? This time around the Honda engineers have succeeded in making it so light and just 35.7mm thick, that it is able to snuggle behind the 1.3-litre petrol engine in the Jazz' engine bay.
There has been a weight penalty however. The hybrid equipment has added 70kg to the weight of the hybrid over the standard Jazz, and to accommodate this Honda has stiffened the anti-roll bars and beefed up the suspension damper tuning.
But despite this additional weight, the Jazz hybrid can achieve 30 per cent savings in fuel costs over a standard 1.5-litre petrol model. The company claims an average consumption of 4.5 litres per 100km compared to the petrol Jazz' 6.7 L/100km - and I have been able to achieve 3.9 L/100km.
The Honda Jazz' hybrid system, which the company calls Integrated Motor Assist, is what is known as a parallel hybrid, which uses the petrol engine as the main source of power to drive the car, and when necessary the electric motor puts its shoulder to the wheel to give the car more push.
On its own, the 1.3-litre engine produces 65kW of power and 121Nm of torque, and the electric motor produces 10kW and 78Nm. When the two combine, the maximum power goes to 72kW at 5800rpm, and the torque to 167Nm from just 1000rpm.
Those numbers tell the big story about what's good about hybrids - they can offer so much torque at the low-to-mid revolutions where most drivers operate most of the time, which in turn results in the improved fuel economy.
And, because of all that instant torque, the Jazz hybrid is great to use around town. It'll zip here and there with aplomb, employing all its whiz-bang technology to choose whether to use just the petrol engine, or the engine and its electric counterpart, or even just the electric motor.
At times this Jazz can operate on electricity alone, thanks to a cylinder-management system that stops combustion and seals shut each cylinder when the car is running downhill, decelerating, and even cruising at the very low speeds.
The Jazz is also easy to operate out on the open road, and it even encourages the person behind the wheel to drive in a fuel-saving way.
For starters you try to keep the needle in the middle of a little Eco-Assist gauge, and if you do this your speedometer will glow green - but if your lead foot forces the needle out to the side, the speedo will also tell you off by glowing blue.
The Jazz also has an ECON button that, when pushed, puts the car into a super-economy mode by limiting power output, smoothing accelerator input, and doing other things such as control the air conditioning. But out on the open road it also quite badly limits performance, so it is really only appropriate for use in the urban areas.
I found I very rarely used the ECON button outside of town. In fact the only time I used it was to test how severely it affected the Jazz' performance. But at least it is there.
But what I also found is that additional weight and beefier suspension settings has resulted in a Jazz that rides and handles rather well on the open road. In fact I think it goes better, in terms of outright performancer as well as ride and handling feel, than any of the standard Jazz models.
And with that as background, I'm looking forward to my first opportunity to drive the new model. If it's better than this Jazz hybrid, then it promises to be a very good little car indeed.
- © Fairfax NZ News