Honda Jazz brings a note of true class to popular hybrid segment

Honda decides its Jazz supermini should play a new tune, introducing hybrid power and a crossover model called the Crosstar, reports Matt Robinson
Honda Jazz brings a note of true class to popular hybrid segment

Key specs:

Pricing starts at: to be confirmed.

Engine: 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol plus twin electric motors (109hp, 253Nm).

Emissions: 102g/km (€190 per year).

Honda’s Jazz has always been a supermini that likes to play by its own rules. Ever since it first appeared in 2001, replacing its distinctly underwhelming Logo predecessor, the Jazz has been almost a mini-MPV, with its upright body, centrally mounted fuel tank and cleverly designed rear seats that could maximise cargo space. Through three generations it has followed the same formula, although it has – in that time – garnered itself a reputation as the go-to choice for an older clientele.

The 2013-launched Mk3 tried to inject a touch more dynamism, both stylistically and in the way the Jazz drove (a zesty Sport model arrived in late 2017), but it’s fair to say that the old car was perhaps just laying the groundwork for this model. This is the Jazz Mk4 and, in line with Honda’s decision to electrify its product line-up, this time around the Japanese B-segment contender is only offered with a hybrid drivetrain.

Honda brands this the e:HEV, setting the template for future electrified models to all wear the ‘e:’ badge – and tying it in with the almost impossibly cute Honda e pure electric city car, which goes on sale in Ireland next year. In the case of the Jazz e:HEV, its drivetrain is an adaption of the Intelligent Multi-Mode Drive (i-MMD) system already seen in the current Honda CR-V Hybrid.

For the Jazz there’s a 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine that is augmented by two electric motors, one for propulsion and one for energy generation. A single-speed, fixed reduction gear called eCVT drives the front wheels and there are three different driving modes that alter how the powertrain makes those wheels turn: in EV Drive, the Jazz’s lithium-ion battery supplies power to the electric propulsion motor directly and thus the Honda runs, for limited distances, with zero emissions; in Hybrid Drive, the engine supplies power to the electric generator motor, which in turn supplies drive to the propulsion motor; and in Engine Drive, a lock-up clutch closes and the petrol engine is connected directly to the wheels, whereupon it provides the motive power for the car.

In most urban situations, the car will transition between EV and Hybrid Drive, according to how much battery power it has, saving Engine Drive for motorway work. But even then, the electric motors can provide a peak power ‘boost’ for the drivetrain if needed, while the Jazz harvests much of the kinetic energy generated by braking that would otherwise be lost to heat in the conventional brakes. In this way, Honda can claim WLTP-ratified figures of a lowest 102g/km of CO2 emissions with up to 4.5 litres/100km fuel consumption, and yet the little Jazz is pretty sprightly – it’ll run 0-100km/h in 9.4 seconds, while its impressive torque figure of 253Nm means it’s very nippy for roll-on acceleration.

Perhaps of more interest than the Jazz’s hybrid drivetrain is the crossover derivative that has been introduced to the range. Called the Crosstar, it is designed to sit at the top of the Honda’s line-up as the most luxurious model and it also rides 29mm higher than the regular Jazz, although it uses the same drivetrain and front-wheel-drive arrangement. It also gains a different design of radiator grille, a black insert for the rear bumper and black side sills, and also a contrast-coloured roof with a set of rails mounted atop it, to further make it stand out from the Jazz norm.

However, its increased height and weight (it’s between nine and 25 kilos heavier than the regular Jazz models) mean the Crosstar isn’t quite as good for either acceleration (0-100km/h in 9.9 seconds) or eco-stats (bests of 110g/km and 4.8 litres/100km), and it also loses six litres of boot space – although it, like the other Jazz versions, has the fancy Magic Seats in the rear, which allow for the easy carrying of tall and/or large items.

Nevertheless, it’s the regular Jazz we like more. It’s not particularly exciting to drive, but the chassis set-up is smooth and fuss-free, and the weighting of its major controls like the steering and brakes is uniformly excellent. The hybrid drivetrain feels really punchy, especially up to about 70km/h, making it a vehicle that’s completely at home in an urban environment, but the general refinement of the hybrid running gear and smooth ride quality is what marks the Honda Jazz out as a little star in the supermini segment. It’s one of the quietest, most agreeable cars to drive in this sector and even the eCVT has been adapted to simulate gearshifts, so it lacks for the worst of normal CVT qualities.

Arguably the best point about the Jazz Mk4, though, is the interior. The exterior is a tidy enough piece of design, which is maybe lacking for the show-stopping appeal of the Honda e but which nevertheless has that smoothed-off appearance that is vaguely futuristic. It’s still obviously a Jazz, despite the fact that Honda’s engineers have completely redesigned the A-pillars to make them thinner and improve forward visibility for the driver to a field of 90 degrees, and yet it looks somewhat more youthful than it has before.

Yet within, the Honda is transformed. Gone is the company’s clunky old infotainment system with its substandard satnav, replaced by a far crisper graphical interface that’s notably less tardy in responses to touchscreen inputs. The mapping is much more up-to-date than before, too; maybe not class-leading or moving the game on, but certainly no longer way off the pace.

Then there’s the digital instrument cluster, with its lovely design, and the generally improved tactility of all the major touchpoints like the steering wheel, column stalks and switchgear. Honda’s been particularly canny here, because the dash-top and door cards are fairly hard and brittle, but unless you spend every journey leaning forward to rap your knuckles on the Jazz’s upper fascia, you’ll feel this is a remarkably plush cabin that stands comparison with the best in the segment.

Is the hybrid drivetrain, this excellent interior and a lifestyle-oriented Crosstar model enough to garner the Jazz a younger buying demographic going forward? That’s tough to call, but the early signs are encouraging – because this Honda is much better equipped to challenge for class honours in a tough segment containing the likes of the Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Polo, among more.

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