The Honda Jazz Hybrid was launched earlier this year, and we put it through its paces then.
However, with the climate change discussion dominating the media, and COP17 currently greening up Durban, we decided to revisit Honda's third local hybrid offering and report back on how the vehicle fares now that it has covered well over 11 000 kilometres and is well and truly run in.
In essence, this time we decided to focus on the driving experience, rather than listing 0-100km/h times and the like.
How different is it to drive, when compared to a conventional petrol or diesel vehicle? Do the various driving aids actually encourage the driver to employ fuel-saving techniques? In effect, does it transform you into a "greener" driver?
Much like Honda’s CR-Z and Insight models, the Jazz Hybrid makes use of something the Japanese manufacturer calls Integrated Motor Assist (IMA), combining a 1.3-litre SOHC i-VTEC 8-valve petrol engine — making 65kW — and an electric motor kicking out a maximum of 10kW. IMA uses regenerative braking to recapture a portion of the energy lost through deceleration.
From the moment you turn the key, and the petrol engine almost silently purrs to life thanks to the electric motor doubling as the starter, you realise you're driving something rather different. From the outside — besides the hybrid badge, chrome detailing (with blue accents) and clear rear lights — there aren't too many visual cues distinguishing this model from the popular purely petrol-powered Jazz.
Inside though, it's a different story. Instruments peculiar to the Hybrid abound, with the blue back-lighting of the dials, gauges and other displays a particular highlight. The speedometer illumination changes in colour in shades from blue to green, depending on the driving style at that particular moment (green, of course, being good), a feature that is even more effective once night falls.
Now, I'm no tree-hugger, but I found myself consumed by a strange determination to keep the ambient lighting firmly in the green zone. Sudden acceleration (something of which I am all too fond) and hard braking had to be avoided at all costs. This type of driving shouldn't be confused with simply moving slowly; one can still quite easily break the speed limit with the lighting retaining its pleasing green glow. It's all about steady, smooth acceleration.
Although Honda tries to make fuel-saving a game — thanks to a display screen featuring a virtual garden of saplings that grow or wilt according to what you do with your right foot (you even score points and trophies for your efforts) — I found myself taking the fuel-saving challenge rather seriously.
At first, I had to make a conscious effort to alter my driving style, but after a couple of days I found myself "hypermiling" without thinking. So, in practice, the Jazz Hybrid's "coaching" had the desired effect on me. In fact, I actually got to the point where I found the Jazz Hybrid soothing to drive. Sure, it didn't magically eliminate the existence of idiots out on Cape Town's roads, but I found that it did help to temper my, um, temper. Ignoramuses cutting in front of me got a quiet curse not for being rude, but instead for damaging my fuel consumption.
Although the "Eco Drive Assist" functions mentioned above are in no way new — both the CR-Z and Insight have employed similar features from the outset — they do seem to work particularly well on the Jazz. And add to that one of the better stop-start systems out there — made all the more unobtrusive by the fact that each restart is not accompanied by the grating sound of a starter motor — and you begin to understand how Honda arrived at its claimed combined fuel consumption figure of 4.4 litres per 100km, and CO2 emissions figure of 105g per kilometre.
So, is such a figure achievable with real world driving? Well, spending virtually all of my driving time in ECON mode, which modifies certain vehicle functions (think engine performance and climate control variations) for optimum fuel economy, and staying well clear of the CVT's Sport function (partly because it isn't really all that aurally pleasing), I managed to average 4.7 litres per 100 kilometres during my time with the car.
That's pretty special. Granted, I made a concerted effort to conserve fuel — which is exactly what one would expect from a motorist considering purchasing this car — and spent only a short time in rush-hour traffic, but the fact that I managed to keep the figure under five really surprised me. In truth, I'm a sceptic no more.
Spot the hybrid
So, why aren't there more hybrids on the road? Well, frighteningly steep prices, a general lack of practicality and the perceived pretentiousness of driving a Prius (think Hollywood types "doing their bit for the planet" as photographers blissfully snap away) mean that South Africans haven't really embraced the idea of owning a hybrid. But the Jazz Hybrid has the potential to change all that.
It's the cheapest on the local market and has the advantage of sharing the majority of its parts with an established and highly popular conventional model, meaning you get a proven hybrid powertrain in a trusted and spacious family vehicle. And although you do realise you're driving a hybrid, the experience is so similar to that of a traditional car that just about anyone would feel right at home in minutes.
Admittedly, the CVT gearbox does take quite some getting used to, and the paddle shifts do seem rather pointless (other than the odd downshift for more power or engine braking). But practicality is still terrific, with the 100 volt battery pack not thieving too much space as it lurks under the boot floor, and the Jazz's famous "Magic Seats" thankfully staying put.
So, the Jazz Hybrid is the most likely of its kind to appeal to the greater South African motoring public, and seems to do pretty much what it says on the tin, including coaching its pilot to appreciate each drop of petrol.
And perhaps that's the key. Maybe changing driver behaviour — rather than simply adding gadgets — is the way to a greener future, in the short-term at least...
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Click through to page 2 for specs and pricing.