Test Drive: 2G Honda Jazz Hybrid

The Honda Jazz (Fit) Hybrid is one of four IMA models being sold by Honda in Malaysia. This car complements the Insight in the sub-compact segment and offers a true hatchback option for IMA buyers. Currently Malaysian Jazz Hybrids are fully imported from Japan, in what is called 'CBU' or 'Completely Built Up' form but by the end of this year, Jazz Hybrids will be locally produced by Honda in their Melaka plant. I received Honda Malaysia's review unit for a weekend recently and being a big Jazz fan, I put it through a full series of tests and this is part one of my reviews of the car.


Specifications wise, the Honda Jazz Hybrid uses the 1.3l SOHC IMA powerplant from the 1.3 Insight. Max power of the LDA engine alone is 88ps while max power of the IMA motor is 14ps, with maximum combined power of around 100ps. The Jazz Hybrid however is equiped with the CVT-7 instead of the regular CVT and comes with paddle shifters on the steering wheel. No manual option is offered here in Malaysia.

Compared to the Insight, the Jazz Hybrid is a shorter and taller design so it is not as aerodynamic but conversely has more internal room, especially headroom in the rear. It has a lighter kerb-weight than the Insight - 1166 kg versus 1215 kg which helps give it better performance than the Insight. Most significantly though is the hybrid configuration did not require a big sacrifice out of the Jazz. The magic seats remain intact, as is the center mounted fuel tank. In fact, the cabin itself remains untouched. Honda smartly put the IMA battery unit in the extreme rear bottom of the boot/trunk, actually where the spare-wheel is. So the IMA battery occupies what would have been the spare-wheel well and the well cover is now fixed. So amazingly this does not even affect the space of the boot/trunk and the only sacrifice is the spare wheel. In return, Honda offers a 'tyre repair kit' which they calls the 'TRK' in the Jazz.

One unusual feature of the Jazz Hybrid is the layout of the headlights/turn-indicator stalk and windscreen wiper stalk. Here, they are reversed in position. Japanese cars usually have the headlights/turn-indicator stalk on the right and the wiper stalk on the left but in the Jazz Hybrid this is reversed, like in european cars. While on this area, I want to highlight a very nice feature on the turn indicator. A quick flick of the stalk - pulling it down halfway and letting it go causes the respective turn indicator to work for a couple of seconds. Honda calls it the 'Lane Change Feature' and comes in very handy when changing lanes and also when going in for quick turns.

Interior wise, probably affected by the colour coordination as well as type of fabric used, the material seems to be below par when compared to the first production Malaysian 1G JAzz VTEC's which are imported from Japan. But it is comparable to latter 1G Jazz which are imported from Thailand, as well as the regular 2G Jazz i-VTECs which are also imported from Thailand.

Features-wise, the Jazz Hybrid comes nearly complete. It has 6 airbags, and has ABS, EBD, BA (Brake Assist) and HSA (Hill Start Assist) as well as VSA (Vehicle Stability Assist). Note that Honda uses the term 'Assist' liberally as they rightfully feels that the driver is ultimately responsible for controlling the car and all technologies are there only to assist the driver. 'Niceties' wise, it features sound system control and cruise control on the steering wheel and like all the other hybrids, an information display on the main instrument cluster. This display is multi-function and displays all important vehicle parameters like the trip meters, other trip information like range (estimated distance that can be travelled based on estimated amount of fuel left in the tank) and fuel consumption, door open indicator, and IMA operating status, e.g. whether currently running on engine and IMA, or either one of both, or both off, or battery charging (e.g. during closed throttle cruising or light braking). The battery charge level is shown by varying the picture of the battery icon on the display, with different amount of 'fill' of the battery icon indicating corresponding levels of battery charge. The fuel consumption readout is in units of litre/100km.


The Jazz Hybrid offers the standard 3 drive modes - D(rive), S(port) and L(ow). D and S modes are selected via gates on the shifter. Both modes offers the 7-speed mode though implemented slightly differently in each mode. Shifting in 7-speed mode is done using the paddle shifters on the steering wheel. Finally, L is selected by squeezing both paddles together for a short while.

IMA on the Jazz Hybrid works similarly to that on the Insight and the Civic Hybrid. Assist comes on when the throttle is pressed and IMA charging occurs on closed throttle and light braking. The amount of IMA assist peaks on WOT for a couple of seconds and then tapers off till less than half of of that after. The chart on the right is from the technical presentation given by Honda during the launch. As the presentation was not projected but was shown on a large array of rather low-resolution TV's, the quality is bad but the chart is still intelligible. It shows full IMA assist to come on about 1 second after WOT is engaged but will immediately start to taper off after that. By 4 seconds into WOT, IMA assist is about 40% of max and will stay at this level, presumeably until battery charge drops down too low.

On the road, in regular CVT D-mode, the Jazz Hybrid drives much like the 1G Jazz VTEC (bear in mind that 2G Jazz i-VTECs in ASEAN have regressed back to the normal 5AT gearbox). The engine-gearbox combo is very flexible like the 1G Jazz VTEC but with a stronger low-end and mid-range torque courtesy of the IMA motor despite the 200cc smaller engine displacement. The CVT 'rubber band' behaviour at WOT is still there though it is now mitigated to some extent by the initial torque added by the IMA electric motor. Actually this rubbery behaviour does not encroach too much on the driving experience, even on the 1G Jazz VTEC except that on occassions when immediate response is desired, it will cause a delay before full pickup is obtained. This 'delay' is no so evident now with the IMA reinforced torque. On the other hand, when battery charge is low, the smaller 1.3l engine can really be felt to struggle to get the car moving at any speed higher than just a slow crawl. But under normal driving conditions however, Honda has programmed the IPU so well that the IMA battery generally remains at above 50% charge level, even when driving faster than the speed limit.

S-mode CVT differs from D in how aggressively the ECU drives the engine, like S mode in normal cars. Engine rpm will be higher for the same throttle position or on closed throttle. However, I did not felt much difference in the IMA assist behaviour.

From normal CVT mode, usage of any of the paddles will activate the 7-speed mode - there is no 7-speed button to switch back and forth like what the 1G Jazz has. Once in 7-speed mode, the working is different between D and S mode. In D, the gearbox stays in 7-speed temporarily and if none of the paddles are used after a short while, will revert back to CVT mode. Honda calls this 'Shift Hold Control'. In use, it is a very useful feature as it allows us to get immediate throttle response in occasions where we just want to enjoying easy driving using the regular CVT mode. For e.g. we are driving in CVT mode and we need to overtake in a tight spot. In situations like this, we want immediate response so we can use the paddle shifter to downshift and get into a fixed gear. Once we are in the gear we want, the CVT holds it for us to complete the overtaking move without having to work around the 'rubber bandy' feel of the CVT at WOT. A little while later, the gearbox automatically goes back to normal CVT operation and we can continue to enjoy the superior flexibility again.

In S-mode, first usage of the paddles will get the gearbox into 'manual mode'. The gearbox stays in this mode and will only get out if the gearbox is shifted out of S. However, even in manual sequential shift mode, the ECU will still not over-rev the engine. An automatic shift is activated when engine rpm hits a pre-determined threshold - it is not possible to hit the rev-limiter in this Jazz Hybrid. But it also won't downshift until speed drops to a level where it can stall the engine. My main gripe here is that the ECU upshifts way too early in WOT with the tacho showing barely above 5,500rpm when the upshift occurs.

Like all Honda hybrids, the Jazz Hybrid features the green 'ECON' button, which when pressed will engage the ECU into an 'economy' mode, what I like to also call limp or zombie mode. Basically ECON mode makes the ECU work with best possible fuel economy as the sole criteria, at the expense of pretty much everything else. The throttle pedal feels numb and the engine indifferent to throttle pressure. Basically this mode turns the Jazz Hybrid into a zombie and it takes quite a bit of work to get the car moving at any reasonable pace. Nevertheless, when doing an easy relaxed drive on the highway, or near empty roads, ECON-mode really do enable the Jazz Hybrid to return superb fuel economy figures, 4.0l/100km or even lower. Bear in mind that 4.0l/100km equals 25km/l or 58 (US) mpg. However, the engine responsiveness sacrificed in ECON-mode is IMHO too great to allow the Jazz Hybrid to be driven in normal city roads (i.e. where there are real-life traffic). So unless we are in a perfect world where everyone else on the road are sympathetic to us and other traffic always generously give way or patiently waits for us, otherwise it is not possible to drive in ECON-mode in city driving or even highways with regular traffic loads, without undue stress or getting into other people's way and inadvertently becoming an impolite road hog.

Currently for hybrid cars, a big thing is made out of whether it can function in 'EV' mode, i.e. running purely on the battery with engine off. The older hybrids like the 8Gen Civic Hybrid that I tested a few years ago could only run at very low speeds on EV but the current generation of Honda IMA hybrids have greatly expanded this capability. On the Jazz Hybrid, I was able to get into EV mode at speeds of up to 80kph. When the conditions are right for EV operation, the amount of time the Jazz Hybrid can function in this mode of course depends on the amount of charge in the IMA battery. For normal driving where the IMA battery charge generally hovers around the 70-90% range, I have managed to run for close to a kilometer in EV mode. In most cases it was the traffic conditions which in the end forced me out of EV mode, not the ECU bringing me out due to low battery charge. When in EV mode, the info display will show only the battery driving the car, i.e. the arrow from the battery icon will be pointing to the car icon while there is no arrow from the engine icon.

On the road performance

In both normal CVT or in 7-speed mode, the Jazz Hybrid offers surprisingly good acceleration to throttle input especially from mid-speed. The benefit from the nice 'boost' from the IMA electric motor was clearly felt. Even take off from stationary is quite good and the Jazz Hybrid nicely 'jumps' forward when the throttle is pushed. The CVT is the new design with a torque converter instead of a 'start-up' clutch and this probably contributes to the superior 'take off' response from stationary or very slow speeds. I was able to drive the Jazz Hybrid fast when I want to and yes, it is faster on the road than the Insight, but slower than the new 9Gen Civic Hybrid (which I have also already tested - review to come). Changing lanes, especially when there is a need to speed up to match a higher speed of traffic on the next lane was very easy on the Jazz Hybrid. It really doesn't feel like a 1.3l car at all on normal driving, more like something around 1.6 - 1.8l.

But the engine do lack high-rpm power and feels 'laggy' when pushed above ~4,000-4,500rpm. Nevertheless, it still pulls the Jazz Hybrid acceptably when sustained power is needed. In the critical 'highway merging' manuveure, the Jazz Hybrid is able to merge from a side road into a fast moving highway and get ahead of the general traffic, even they are going at high-ish speeds e.g. 120kph (~75mph) with very little strain. When revved, the engine sounds quite OK. True it is not sporty sounding but it is not lame as well. But one gripe from a long-time hardcore Honda fan like me is the 6,000rpm redline of the engine is really too low.

Suspension wise, of the three 'regular' hybrid models that Honda sells in Malaysia, this Jazz Hybrid easily has the most sporty setup. I dare say it even seems to be designed for the typical Honda enthusiast, with a firm suspension that helps deliver a good level of handling reminiscent of the 1G Jazz VTEC. When going through potholes and such, I could feel some shock due to what are clearly high spring rates. But damping is quite good so the car feels ok when going thru uneven surface or speed bumps. The jolt is cushioned quite comfortably. As a result the Jazz Hybrid doesn't lean too much on tight cornering and the car corners very confidently. It does not feel fast eventhough going at reasonably high speeds and has about same limit as a regular Jazz i-Vtec though the tyres a bit too eager to squeal. The downside is the Jazz Hybrid can feel a bit choppy over less than perfectly even road surfaces.

The brakes are effective and the brake pedal is firm and without much sponginess. Braking is reasonably progressive, it is very easy to brake at the limit of ABS activation and quite stable when braking hard at high speed. Finally, the steering feel is similar to the normal Jazz.

Fuel Economy

As a hybrid, it is natural that we are interested in the fuel economy ability of the Jazz Hybrid. Honda does make this, and low emissions, the primary marketing point for the Jazz Hybrid eventhough they also made it acceptably sporty (for a hybrid) in the process. During my review period, when I tried my best, I was able to regularly hit mileage figures in the low 4.0l/100km and even sometimes lower. My best achievement over a distance of around 30km was around 3.7l/100km. This translates to 27km/l and around 63 (US) mpg which I think is an excellent figure. Certainly if I could hold this achievement for the whole tank, I would be able to go almost 1,000km before having to refuel (based on 35litres of fuel - the Jazz Hybrid has a 40litre fuel tank). In real life, traffic on the road are never so sympathetic of course. Still, this is not an embarassing figure at all.

The thing often overlooked with hybrid cars is that it helps deliver excellent mileage relative to all driving conditions. The human nature is to focus on just one figure - the best (highest) figure. So we often talk about 4.0 or 3.7l/100km figures only. But these are acheivement for ideal conditions. More importantly is that when we hit adverse traffic conditions, e.g. a bad jam, or we get into a spirited drive, the hybrid will still offer mileage better than the equivalent petrol-only variant. Throughout my review period, I did not get worse than 10l/100km or 23 (US) mpg. This was during my 'Genting Run' which is a max-throttle all-out sprint up a windy mountain road. Even during the dyno test, the average mileage at the end was 9.9l/100km, still not yet 10l/100km. And this is a series of WOT runs to 6,000rpm (though it also involves extended period coasting down in close throttle to charge the IMA battery).

Next Review

In the next review, I talk about my experience from taking this Jazz Hybrid on the 'Genting Run' mountain road.

Wong KN
October 2012
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