A year after Toyota introduced affordable hybrid technology to the supermini mainstream with its Prius C, Honda has done the same with the Jazz IMA. David Thomson gets behind the wheel of this latest petrol-electric supermini to see what if offers.
How is this for a cunning test?
Hand the keys of the Honda Jazz IMA to my partner for an evening trip to the gym. Respond to the ''Is there anything special I need to know?'' that precedes her first drive of an unfamiliar car with a slightly deceptive response: ''No, it's a Honda Jazz, just like the one your mum drives''.
That she returned from this trip, and a couple more drives during the week, without twigging the car was a petrol-electric says something about Honda's approach to hybrids, and perhaps also about how much what was once talking-point technology has moved towards the mainstream.
Honda led that move with the utterly ordinary Civic IMA (Integrated Motor Assist) a few years back. If you happened to live in Japan or Europe, Honda was also the first maker to offer hybrid technology in a supermini package, launching the Jazz IMA in late 2010.
We have had to wait until this year to see that car, in which time Toyota has introduced both the Prius C (a hybrid take on the Yaris) and the Prius V (a sensible people-mover hybrid).
This Jazz IMA comes off a Honda production line in Thailand. Pricing, at $31,500, compares with $27,500 for the regular Jazz S Auto, or $31,280 for the absolute base model Prius C.
Whereas the Prius C is intentionally styled to look different from the Yaris, the Jazz IMA shares its sheet metal with the regular Jazz. Visual cues, such as they are, extend to a small hybrid badge on the tail, chrome finishes for the front grille and tailgate and blue-tinted headlight and taillight surrounds.
Blue tinting, this time in the instrument pod, distinguishes the IMA from other members of the Jazz family in the cabin. Otherwise, the passenger space is pretty much Jazz-standard right down to the so-called ''magic'' back seats that include an under-seat storage space when raised, and which flip and fold forward to transform the car into a small wagon when required.
Equipment levels are solid rather than spectacular with alloy wheels, climate air-conditioning, cruise control, a trip computer and power windows and mirrors and a decent sound system all included.
Bluetooth connectivity is provided by a separate controller which is attached to the driver's side A-pillar. This looks rather after-market, and is a bit of a fiddle to use.
Safety coverage includes six airbags and full electronic stability programming. Boot space suffers in the translation from conventional to hybrid guise, with luggage capacity (while the rear seats are raised) down from the 337 litres of a conventional Jazz to 223 litres. This is due to the placement of the hybrid system's batteries under the boot floor.
The Jazz's hybrid system is pretty much the same one used by Honda's original petrol-electric, the Insight. It combines a 65kW/121Nm 1.3-litre petrol engine with a small 10kW/78Nm supplementary electric motor.
The set-up includes an automatic stop-start system and regenerative braking as well as a special economy mode that dulls the car's throttle response and alters its transmission-shift patterns.
While the system enables the car to proceed on electric power alone for short distances, it is in essence a so-called ''mild-hybrid'' arrangement, in which the electric motor supplements rather than substitutes for the petrol engine.
For reasons too technical to explain here, peak hybrid outputs never equal the sum of their petrol and electric motor parts. Instead, at its maximum, the Jazz hybrid's motors deliver 72kW of power and 167Nm of torque to the CVT transmission that drives the car's front wheels.
These outputs compare with the 86kW and 146Nm provided by the flagship 1.5-litre petrol Jazz or the 73kW and 128Nm of the petrol 1.3-litre.
It's the difference in torque that is worthy of particular note: first up, the hybrid produces appreciably more of the stuff; secondly, it does so from far lower in the rev range, with peak torque on tap from just 1500rpm compared with 4800rpm in both petrol Jazz models.
Accelerating from a standstill, some of the torque is needed to overcome the hybrid's extra weight (it tips the scales at 70kg more than a standard Jazz). Once under way though, the hybrid is impressive in its easy-going responsiveness from low to medium revs.
This makes for effortless round-town performance (especially on hills), accompanied by substantial everyday economy gains.
Just how great those gains are will depend on the precise drive routes and driving style of particular drivers, but my experience on test indicates that in everyday urban motoring, reductions in fuel use of up to 50% should be achievable compared with a standard Jazz.
Economy gains of this magnitude certainly won't be achieved during open-road motoring, though the Jazz hybrid performs well enough on the highway haul.
Dynamically, it is an interesting mix, riding fairly well and steering accurately but, as the combination of weight and skinny economy-focus tyres take effect, slurring into progressive early understeer under moderate to hard cornering.
Mind you, it is practicality and packaging rather than razor-sharp handling that have always been central to the Jazz's appeal.
The hybrid version does well in sacrificing very little in these areas while still offering substantial economy gains that will be especially appealing with petrol prices recently hitting an all-time high.
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