Review and road test of the Honda Jazz Hybrid (2011 - 2015)
By Andy Enright
The Honda Jazz was the very first hybrid supermini and featured some very clever engineering. Buyers on the used market might worry that this will make it complex and expensive to maintain, but Honda doesn't design its cars like that. Here's what to look for if you'd like a petrol-powered supermini with diesel-style economy that'll won't let you down and is a bit different to the norm.
5-door supermini [(1.3 petrol/electric hybrid) Hybrid]
The second generation Honda Jazz arrived in 2008, but the major change to this design came at the point of its mid-life facelift in 2011. That's when the Japanese brand introduced the petrol/electric Hybrid version we're going to look at here, well before Toyota came to market with its rival Yaris Hybrid. This technology pushed this Honda's price up of course, but in return, buyers got a higher quality road going experience with a smooth CVT automatic gearbox.
Prior to this Jazz model's arrival, hybrid technology had never been seen in really small cars, models which didn't have room for the bulky battery packs and intelligent power units that drive hybrid power. Automotive designers found these easy enough to package into an SUV, or even a Prius-sized family hatch. But in a little supermini? Prior to 2011, the general thinking was that the practical compromises would surely be greater than family buyers could bear, especially in the supermini segment. Honda disagreed.
With this Jazz model, the brand claimed to have incorporated a petrol/electric powerplant with virtually no compromise in practicality, something only possible because of the way this second generation Jazz was designed around this engine. So the clever Magic Seating system remained, even if the two-tier boot floor didn't. For hybrid devotees who can't get on with Honda's larger but quirkier Insight, it might well be tempting. This Jazz sold until the third generation version was unveiled in mid-2015.
What You Get
Equipping your Jazz with hybrid power will probably demand from you a premium of around £1,500 over what you'd have paid for an equivalent petrol-powered version, so it's fair for customers of this version to want their cars to stand out a little more from humbler models in the range. Honda has obliged in this respect with a package of aesthetic changes that includes a chrome blue finish for the front grille and the surrounds that encircle the projector-style headlamps. There are smarter alloy wheels too, while at the rear, there's more chrome blue around the tail lamps and a chrome finish above the licence plate.
All well and good, but it's as a packaging marvel that this car most stands out. The standard MK2 model Jazz was already one of the cleverest superminis of its era in this respect and Honda's engineers worked hard to try and ensure that the hybrid mechanicals could be incorporated here in such a way as not to dilute this model's inherent versatility. They almost managed it. We say 'almost' because the seats-up boot capacity in this car does fall from the 335-litre total you get in the standard petrol model to 300-litres in this one. And Hybrid buyers have to do without the 64-litre under-boot floor that buyers of the ordinary version can use. But perhaps we're being picky. After all, the seats-folded capacity of 883-litres (rising to 1320-litres if you load to the roof) of a Hybrid Jazz is the same as that of any other model in the range, a statistic that's better than that of the apparently larger Insight. And it's way better than the capacity on offer from a Toyota Auris Hybrid, supposedly a larger car.
So no, the hybrid powertrain doesn't seriously dent the Jazz packaging brilliance made possible thanks to the way that the designers moved the fuel tank from beneath the rear seats to a position under those at the front. This has made possible this car's famed 'Magic Seating system', through which, it's claimed, you can transform the interior of your Jazz in over 180 ways at the lift of a lever or the push of a button. The seats certainly do fold very neatly, backrest and seat base retracting together into the rear footwell in one quick, fluid motion. With this done, you can easily store something as bulky as a bike. Plus, if you're not using the front passenger seat, you can also recline it and accommodate items as lengthy as a 240cm pair of downhill skis. Garden centre shoppers meanwhile, will love the way you can lift up the rear seat cushion cinema-style against the rear seat back, creating a tall protected space in the rear seat footwells for items like plants.
So, we've covered packages. What about people? Well, this car was one of the roomiest and most practical cars in the supermini class. As with most small hatches, you'd struggle to fit three adults across the back seat for any length of time but two would be quite comfortable, especially since the seat backs also recline by up to 73mm for extra comfort on longer trips.
And at the wheel? Well there aren't too many trendy soft-touch plastics on display, but Honda has still managed to create quite a classy, up-market feel, thanks to a smarter, darker dashboard material chosen to contrast with the soothing blue backlighting used on Hybrid variants for the various dials, gauges and displays across the dashboard. Unlike ordinary MK2 Jazz models that were assembled on these shores in Swindon, this Hybrid version was screwed together in Suzuka, Japan and seems to have quite an upmarket, smart feel. It helps that there's an airier, more spacious feeling than you'd expect in a car so small, even if you don't get yourself an example fitted with the huge optional panoramic glass sunroof. The carefully-designed windscreen increases all-round vision and thinned front A-pillars allow light to flood the cabin. The driving position offers plenty of adjustment, too, and it shouldn't be a problem for most people to get comfortable. Plus there's plenty of oddments space too: there are two gloveboxes and there are no fewer than ten different spaces in which to store your cappuccino.
What to Look For
Good luck trying to find generic faults with the Honda Jazz. It's arguably the most bulletproof used buy out there. In 2012, it topped its category in the JD Power customer satisfaction survey for the ninth year in a row. In the same year, consumer champions Which? praised the Jazz's class-leading space and versatility, bullet-proof reliability, strong resale values and the way it was so easy and safe to drive. The results also took into account positive feedback from Jazz owners. In 2014, the Jazz scooped the 'Most Reliable Used Car' award in the Auto Express Driver Power survey, with an impressive reliability score of 98%. You get the idea.
Just about the only things you need to look out for are signs of misuse. Many elderly drivers take excellent care of their vehicles but there are some Jazz models that have suffered a bit of a bashing when being parked. Inspect for dinged alloys, damaged lower suspension arms and look for accident repairs. There is no shortage of Category C and D write-offs being sold back into circulation.
(based on a 2012 Jazz Hybrid - ex VAT): A full exhaust system (excluding catalyst) is around £270 and a full clutch assembly around £185. Front and rear brake pads are around £45 and £40 respectively per set. A starter motor is £275, a radiator around £180 and an alternator around £275.
On the Road
As the price of hybrid motoring falls thanks to cars like this one, converts to the cause will of course become greater in number. So what'll they notice at the wheel of one of these? Well, there's the usual relative silence on start-up - and the seamless pick-up of the standard CVT automatic gearbox, one of four elements that make up the hybrid recipe. The other three are also borrowed from Honda's only slightly larger Prius-sized Insight model - a lightweight and compact battery, an 88PS 1.3-litre i-VTEC petrol engine and the ultra-thin 10KW electric motor which contributes a further 14PS to the Integrated Motor Assist package.
Back in 2011 at the time of this car's launch, Honda's approach to hybrid was the simplest of those on offer on the UK market. This Jazz uses a 'Parallel Hybrid' system that sees both petrol and electric sources always working together. In contrast, arch-rivals Toyota, who wanted to be able to offer vehicles buyers could optionally plug in and charge up, favoured a more complicated 'Power Split' system for their rival Yaris Hybrid. This enabled the car to be electrically powered independently from the engine, as well as in tandem with it. Honda reckoned that kind of functionality not to be necessary here.
Ultimately, it all depends how clever you really want to be. This Jazz should be quite smart enough for most and you can follow its cleverness on the energy flow diagram depicted on the screen that plusher versions provide in the centre of the fascia. Which is quite helpful, since usually, the efforts of both petrol and electric motors blend so seamlessly together that unaided, you'd normally have no idea what's driving what, aside perhaps from those few urban occasions when between 20 and 30mph, the car can be propelled by electric power alone. That doesn't often happen, even around town, and you'll probably never experience it if you're the sort of driver who regularly approaches the limits of this car's performance, at which point you'll find that sixty is 12.1s away from rest (a fraction faster than the Insight) on the way to a top speed of 109mph.
Drive like this and you'll dismay the eco-minded systems that Honda has installed to aid green-fingered drivers in their mission to save the planet; the 'super economy' 'ECON' mode that slightly reduces torque and smoothes out gearchanges; the 'Eco Assist' system that changes instrument lighting from green to turquoise and then to blue as you press on harder; and the 'Eco Guide' instrument graphic that depicts a row of trees shedding or gaining their leaves, depending on how heavy or light your throttle foot might be.
If you can bring yourself to ignore all of that and find yourself pressing on in a most un-hybrid-like fashion out of town, then Honda hopes you'll notice the effort its engineers have put into improving the roadgoing experience over that on offer when more conventional versions of this MK2 model Jazz were first launched in 2008. In this car, the electric power steering got more feel and the suspension settings were changed to deal with the extra 869kg weight of all the hybrid stuff and ensure that body roll would be reduced around the twisties. None of that will make this any kind of driver's car as, say a Ford Fiesta or a Mazda2 might be. But that won't bother the predominantly older customers who'll be buying this Jazz one jot. For them, this car's near class-leading ride and refinement package will matter far more.
The really refreshing thing about the Honda Jazz Hybrid is that it's so discreet. It was one of the first cars that didn't make a huge song and dance about its hybrid powertrain and we like that. It just got on with the job of being one of the most reliable cars available at any price. We'd be willing to bet that the reliability figures for this Jazz would stack up more favourably than for virtually any high-end luxury car. It's a genuinely excellent piece of engineering and if you appreciate smart design and slick product execution, you're going to love the Jazz Hybrid. It's a great used supermini buy and one of our favourites.
Honda Jazz Hybrid (2011 - 2015) review by Andy Enright