Hybrid technology has inched a step closer to everyday affordability. Toyota lowered the bar last year with the $23,990 Prius C -- now Honda has responded with a $22,990 hybrid version of its Jazz city hatch.
But not all hybrids are created equally. Honda has a more basic and less powerful hybrid system -- it cannot move the car from rest on electric power alone as the Toyota can -- and the Jazz is not as economical as its hybrid peer.
As with all hybrid technology it will take some time to recoup the financial benefit of the Jazz’s fuel consumption savings -- 12 years by our calculations (see value).
The bug-shaped Honda Insight cost $48,990 when it went on sale in 1999. So with the $22,990 Jazz hybrid, Honda has cut the cost of its technology by more than half in a little more than a decade.
But don’t break open the bubbly just yet: it will still take at least 12 years to pay off the $7000 price difference between a Honda Jazz Hybrid and the most fuel-efficient petrol-only Honda Jazz model.
Based on the national distance average of 15,000km a year, the Honda Jazz Hybrid would use 375 litres less fuel than the standard Jazz annually, equating to a fuel bill saving of $562.50 a year based on the price of premium unleaded at $1.50 per litre. (See the table below).
Some car makers load their flagship models with extra equipment to help justify the price premium. But the only extra equipment the hybrid Jazz has compared to its top-line petrol-only equivalent is the hybrid system and its unqiue instrument display, grille and tail-lights. The only option is metallic paint: $445.
Sadly the Honda Jazz hybrid misses out on full-size spare tyre. A space saver is installed because the hybrid battery pack is nestled into the spare wheel well under the boot floor. The cargo area is shallower as a result.
The arrival of the Honda Jazz hybrid is likely to reignite debate about whether it is in fact a hybrid. The Honda Jazz hybrid has a 10kW electric motor when the Toyota Prius C has a 45kW electric motor. Some forklifts have more powerful electric motors than the Honda Jazz hybrid.
Unlike Toyota’s pioneering hybrid technology released in 1997, the Honda hybrid system is unable to move the car from rest on its electric power alone. Instead, the Honda’s smaller electric motor gives the petrol engine a boost once the car is already at cruising speed.
Moving from a standstill is when cars use the most fuel. But the hybrid system in the Jazz is largely unchanged from the one Honda released in 1999, albeit adapted to newer models with redesigned battery packs -- and low-friction oil in the petrol engine.
The net result is that the Honda Jazz hybrid is not as fuel efficient as the Toyota Prius C (it is 13 per cent thirstier than the Toyota Prius C hatch (Honda: 4.5L/100km versus Toyota 3.9L/100km).
Indeed, there are numerous non-hybrid cars that are just as miserly as the Honda Jazz Hybrid such as the Fiat 500 Twin Air (3.9 L/100km), Suzuki Alto (4.5L/100km), and Mitsubishi Mirage (4.6 L/100km).
The Honda Jazz is one of the smartest small-car designs, squeezing every inch of room from its diminutive proportions. It has a roomy, airy cabin with clever seating that can turn the Jazz into a van at the flick of a few levers. There are 18 different seating configurations. And 10 cupholders (two per person?).
With all seats folded flat it has a massive flat cargo floor that can swallow a mountain bike with ease, largely because the petrol tank is mounted under the floor beneath the front seats.
The hybrid system does, however, impinge on boot space, reducing cargo capacity from 337/848 litres to 233/722 litres (when comparing volume with the seats up versus the seats down).
All buttons are dials are logically placed and easy to use, with Honda’s renowned ergonomics. Visibility all around is excellent thanks to the large glass area and convex side mirrors.
The hybrid model is distinguished by clear grille and tail-lights with a blue tint. Inside, it gets a digital instrument display which encourages you to drive economically. Quality is fair (although most plastics are hard to the touch) even though, as with most regular Jazz models, the hybrid version comes from a Honda factory in Thailand.
Released in 2008 the Honda Jazz is starting to show its age among newer rivals; it is slightly narrower than the current crop of Light Cars. And it’s a little on the noisy side (see driving).
Six airbags and stability control are the industry norm these days. The regular Honda Jazz has a five-star safety rating and there is no reason to suggest the hybrid version would not provide the same level of protection in a crash despite the extra 70kg weight of the hybrid system. As a sign of faith in the safety of the hybrid system, Honda provides an eight-year warranty on the nickel-metal hydride battery pack (although the rest of the car is covered by a three year/100,000km warranty).
The Honda Jazz has the same hybrid system as used in the sleek Insight hatch. It combines a 1.3-litre petrol engine (65kW/121Nm) with a small electric motor (10kW/78Nm) for a combined peak output of 72kW and 167Nm. (Incidentally, in case you’re wondering, you can’t add the outputs of the petrol and electric motors because their peaks arrive at different points during the driving cycle).
Matched to a CVT auto the Jazz hybrid completes the 0 to 100km/h dash with about the same pace as a 1.5-litre petrol-only model, but Honda did not have the exact figure to hand.
An “eco-coaching” system encourages drivers to drive economically; an ambient digital display changes colour depending on fuel use, from green (efficient) to blue (less efficient).
First impressions are that the Honda Jazz hybrid feels like a normal car -- because it moves from rest just like a normal car. The electric motor only kicks in at cruising speeds but to be frank it is difficult to detect when it is kicking into action.
You can feel a subtle burst of energy midway through your acceleration but the amount of oomph depends on how much energy has been stored in the battery pack (which gets recharged when braking or driving downhill). There is an above average amount of noise intrusion on coarse surfaces at freeway speeds.
The Honda Jazz hybrid is not supposed to handle corners like a Ferrari but it is only class average. The Toyota Prius C, for example, has a little more verve and feels more fun to drive and more secure in corners.
The Toyota Prius C has some other advantages, too, which may in the view of some buyers justify it’s $1000 price premium over the Honda Jazz hybrid. The Toyota Prius C gets a digital speed display, a rear view camera, seven airbags rather than six, a full-size spare tyre and capped price servicing for three years ($130 per visit). Honda servicing still has free market pricing, which means it can vary wildly from dealer to dealer.
The Honda Jazz hybrid is a sound car but it sets no new benchmarks other than the price. Its basic hybrid system that has been around for 14 years. Honda says it is working on three new hybrid systems to be introduced on future models.
Honda Jazz Hybrid
Engine: 1.3-litre petrol engine. Electric hybrid motor assists at cruising speeds
Fuel used annually: 675 litres
Annual fuel bill: $1012.50
Honda Jazz petrol
Engine: 1.3-litre four-cylinder petrol engine
Fuel used annually: 1050 litres
Annual fuel bill: $1575
- Price gap in annual fuel bill: $562.50
- Years to recover the $7000 price premium of the Jazz Hybrid compared with the cheapest model: 12.4 years
- Fuel use is based on the consumption figures on each car’s fuel rating label and the national average distance travelled of 15,000km a year.
- Fuel cost is based on $1.50 per litre, even though it will likely climb in excess of that over the next 12 years.
Toyota Prius C
Price: from $23,990
Engine: 1.5-litre 4-cylinder, 54kW/111Nm
Transmission: constantly variable transmission, front wheel drive
Volkswagen Polo 77TSI
Price: from $21,490
Engine: 1.2-litre, 4-cyl turbo-petrol, 77kW/175Nm
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch auto, front drive
Thirst: 5.5L/100km, CO2 128g/km
Honda Insight VTi-L
Engine: 1.3-litre four-cyl and electric motor, 65kW/121Nm
Transmission: Automatic, CVi with Grade Logic Control.
Thirst: 4.6L/100km, 91 RON, CO2 109g/km
This reporter is on Twitter: @JoshuaDowling