Andrew's Stuff

Honda's Hybrid Jazz - Initial Thoughts

Posted at Tue, 25 Sep 2012, 23:13:14

I've only been driving my new Jazz Hybrid for 2 days, but that's long enough for me to have formed some initial impressions of it. Here are the photos that I've taken of it, if you haven't already seen them, and here is the new Jazz on Fuelly if you'd like to keep track of the mileage I get from it.

Firstly, the blue dashboard lighting looks amazing. Non-Hybrid Jazzes have orange instead and, IMO, that looks nowhere near as good. The blue ambient footwell lighting and illuminated doorstep garnishes that I paid extra for compliment it nicely.

The main reason for me buying the hybrid Jazz in the first place was that, while I loved my previous Jazz, I felt that its acceleration (especially from a standing start) was extremely lacklustre. My hope was that sticking an electric motor to the engine would help that while keeping the petrol engine small, quiet and cheap. I'm very pleased to say that my hopes were not misplaced. Even in "eco mode", the hybrid Jazz accelerates from stationary with the kind of power you'd normally only see from a car with twice as much engine power. Its rated 0-62mph time is still more than ten seconds, but that doesn't show the very impressive 0-20mph acceleration, which is often what you care about most, especially in city driving (for pulling onto a busy roundabout without needing to wait for a large gap to accommodate your slow acceleration, etc.). My previous Jazz would really struggle with hill starts, but the new one just leaps forward, regardless of the incline.

Putting the transmission into "S" and turning off "eco" mode makes it really rather fun to drive - not bad for a car typically owned by older segments of the population - and the hybrid system nicely mitigates some of the wastage caused by the braking that such a driving style necessitates. And yet, despite me playing around with the power a fair bit over the past two days, the onboard computer is still saying that I should be expecting around 450 miles from this 40 litre tank of fuel (and that 450 miles may well exclude the "reserve" - fuel warning light lit - ~5 litres). That's at least a 30% improvement over my previous Jazz, which should result in me saving at least £600/year in fuel - a greater saving in one year than the extra that I spent on this being a hybrid Jazz over the non-hybrid (I likely would have gone for the EX-level Jazz to get cruise control, auto lights/wipers, etc., which has a list price of £16,480, but the HS-level hybrid Jazz has all of that for a £16,810 list price).

The automatic wipers work a lot better than I was expecting, and having an intermittent rear wiper has me cheering much more than it ought. The automatic headlights are pretty good, too, though they could do with a bit of a tweak to get them to turn off more readily after turning on for a tunnel - they also don't turn on during heavy rain, which seems like a bit of an oversight given that the car already has a rain detector for the automatic wipers.

The iPod connector is even better than the dealer said it would be (it shows track titles and lets you scroll through the tracks/albums/playlists on the audio system's display, leaving the iPod itself untouched), and cruise control is rather nice, although a visual display of what speed it's been set to would be useful. Being able to adjust the cruise speed in 1 mph increments isn't too useful when you have to wait a while for the speed to adjust and there's no other way of determining what it's been set to.
Another small, but important, tweak is that it's now possible to control the electric windows for up to ten minutes after the key is removed from the ignition, finally allowing for passengers to close their windows without the driver having to leave the key in the "on" position. I think the windows are activated when the ignition is in "accessory" (I) position, where the previous Jazzes required it to be in the "on" (II) position, which seemed an unnecessary requirement to me. Having the dashboard beep at you for not wearing your seat belt when all you wanted to do was open the window was more annoying than it should have been.

Unfortunately, Honda's Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) hybrid system isn't perfect. It works great on open roads and relatively clear city routes, but in heavy rush hour traffic it does cause some frustrations.

The engine's Idle Stop functionality is normally a great fuel saving feature: if you stop in a queue of traffic or at a junction, the engine gets shut off while you wait. If, however, you then need to creep forward a metre or two, the engine will start up again and then remain running, even once you stop again, wasting petrol for no real reason. The owner's manual states that the idle stop will only kick in again once you travel at more than about 10mph, presumably because repeatedly stopping and starting the engine will become annoying and probably isn't particularly healthy for the (12V, SLA) battery, but this is a hybrid with a mostly-full (100V, NiMH) battery - couldn't you have maybe found energy from another source to use to move me that few feet to save burning any fuel at all? That 50 kg of battery under the boot isn't there just to take up space and weigh the car down, you know...

Accelerating away from an idle stop state seems to have the same slight delay that non-hybrid cars have, during which time the petrol engine starts up again. Why can't the electric motor power the car for that first split second until the petrol engine's ready?

Similarly, if I'm crawling in 5-10 mph traffic with a nearly-full IMA battery, I still end up with the petrol engine doing most of the work and likely wasting a lot of energy. Honda specifically mention the Jazz Hybrid's "EV Mode" (i.e. electric-only driving) in their marketing materials, but in the 100+ miles that I've now driven it, I've only seen it enter EV mode a handful of times, and never for more than a few seconds.

All of these gripes appear, to my largely uneducated mind, to be issues that could be resolved fairly easily with a firmware update to the IMA computer. Of course it would require a lot of testing to ensure it behaves correctly, but that only has to be done once, after which it could be rolled out to all of the hybrid Jazzes with (presumably) minimal effort. So far, these are the only complaints that I have about an otherwise excellent car.

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