Thursday, April 18, 2013

Humming the Hybrid Jive

It seems hybrid cars have become commonplace on Malaysian roads of late, and it's not hard to see why. The tax exemption and fuel savings meant that the public are able to purchase cheaper full-spec-ed cars that save money on the long run. One such model that has been seeing brisk sales is the Honda Jazz Hybrid. First launched in mid-2012, the popular hatch received the CKD treatment later that year, of which I managed to test drive recently.

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First impressions are everything and for a design that saw roots back in 2007, the Honda Jazz is still quite a looker in the metal.

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The modern, flowing lines and unfussy details certainly withstood the test of time. The Hybrid differentiates itself from the regular model with stylish blue-tinted front and rear headlamps, the latter of which is a rather cool clear LED-type. 

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It also gets new bumpers that are more aerodynamically efficient and a chrome license plate garnish at the rear.

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Step inside, and you're greeted with an airy and spacious interior. Generous amounts of glass (including front and rear quarter-windows) do wonders in achieving this. Everything looks thoroughly modern and the funkiness of it all hides its true age. Interior is mostly hard plastic (with fabric bits) but everything feels solidly made. 

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The audio system, while not exactly the best in class, serves its purpose well, with multiple connectivity options like Bluetooth, iPod and MP3. 

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Songs from my SCANDAL MP3 collection played wonderfully, perhaps mostly due to the fact that the car is rather silent on the move. 

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The car also has auto climate control, which was always welcome.

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Practicality is the name of the game and the Jazz Hybrid has it in droves. There are no less than ten cup holders and more storage compartments than you can shake a stick at (there are two for the glove box alone!). 

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It comfortably seats a family of five with no effort. The signature 'ULTRA seats' add to the usefulness, being able to fold either backwards to carry tall items inside or forwards-flat to double up available boot space. 

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However, my test unit had one seat stuck in regular position for some reason. The IPU (Intelligent Power Unit) goes underneath the boot floor, in place of the spare wheel. Instead, one gets a tyre repair kit.

Many questioned me regarding how the Jazz Hybrid drove. The car is powered by a 1.3 litre i-VTEC engine coupled with an electric motor. 

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The system, dubbed IMA (Integrated Motor Asist), in fact is carried over from the Insight. Many cited the CVT transmission coupled with the hybrid power train would yield a rather dull ride. I would like to however, quash these rumours. The car was comfortable and responsive to drive, even with the 'ECON' mode on. 

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How do I know this? Well, after zipping the car through town and onto on the highway I wanted to give the mode a try - and to my surprise, it was enabled all along! While I agree it could do with a little more power, I'd like to state that it was nowhere near as lethargic as some have said. 

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What it does is configure the car to run as economically as possible, by limiting excessive revs and I believe this should prove useful for city driving through lots of traffic.

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Those familiar with Honda hybrids will also recognise the eco-scoring function, which rewards you with graphical ‘leaves’ if you drive economically.

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 This can be obtained easily if you pay attention to the speedometer, which depending on how you drive, changes from blue to green, with the latter being the most fuel-efficient. 

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I gleefully managed a score of four and a half (out of five) leaves.

As with most hybrid vehicles, the engine switches off during stops to conserve energy. This does however, also meant the air-conditioning might lose its cool, but it wasn't really that bad in my case. 

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The Jazz Hybrid is also able to run on full-electric mode (EV) with the engine shut off (albeit occasionally). I managed to achieve this usually by cruising at a constant speed of around 20-40km/h. Again this might prove most useful possibly during city cruising.

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Switch off the 'ECON' mode, and things start getting exciting. While the fuel-saving CVT transmission meant it didn't have the best engine tune, but it wasn't at all dull. 

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Having a hybrid motor assisting the engine meant that almost turbo-like swift acceleration could be achieved even at higher speeds, which was undoubtedly something I never expected in a hybrid vehicle. 

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It felt like it was running a 1.6 or larger engine. The car didn't disappoint handling-wise either. While certainly no sports car, it was still perky and kept all the good points of the regular Jazz. 

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However it would have been better if the car retained the paddle-shifters and auto-cruise, both of which were omitted on the locally-built model.

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Going for RM89,900 on the road, the Malaysian-made Honda Jazz Hybrid is the cheapest hybrid car on the market and certainly an attractive option for those who want to save the environment, yet retaining the practicality of a conventional hatchback. 

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Overall I must say the car truly surprised me, and wouldn’t mind living with one myself (with the optional edgy-looking spoiler added-on). However if you have the cash to spare, I would definitely recommend you top-up the extra RM5k and get the Japanese CBU model, which in addition to the paddle-shifters and auto-cruise, also comes with four extra airbags (that makes six!), all-round disc brakes, one touch lane change, Hill Start Assist, automatic wipers, steering audio controls and of course that lovely shade of green.

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Honda Jazz Hybrid CKD
Engine: 1,339cc, single cam, i-VTEC + IMA
Maximum power: 98bhp at 6,000rpm
Maximum torque: 127Nm at 4,800rpm
Electric motor maximum power: 10hp
Electric motor maximum torque: 78Nm
Battery: Nickel metal hydride
Transmission: CVT
Suspension: MacPherson struts (front) and torsion beam axle (rear)
Features: Twin SRS airbags, front and rear seatbelts 3-point ELR, vehicle stability assist, anti-lock braking system, electronic brake-force distribution, Multi Information Display (MID), power retractable door mirrors, tilt & telescopic steering (electric powered), auto climate control air-conditioning, ULTRA seats, rear underseat box, reverse sensors, AM/FM CD player with AUX/USB/iPod support
Price: RM89,900 (OTR with insurance)

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