Honda Jazz Hybrid

It sounds perfect for the urban family, but you can have too much of a good thing

It ought to be the perfect car for the urban family.

A supermini shaped like an MPV and moved by a hybrid powertrain. Plenty of space for five, low official CO2 figures and the promise of genuinely cheap, low-pollution running on congested streets. It's easy to park, a versatile load-carrier, and it fits easily through gaps.

Sounds ideal, yes? But what's odd about the Honda Jazz Hybrid is that no other car-maker makes anything similar. Is the Jazz the only supermini in step? Or is the idea actually not quite so clever in practice?

Hondas with this particular combination of 1.3-litre engine, continuously variable automatic transmission, and a slender electric motor between the two, already exist as the larger, Toyota Prius-like Insight and the CR-Z sports coupé, both of them based on Jazz underpinnings. A distinct hybrid identity having been established, now it's the turn of the mainstream Jazz. It's the cheapest of the three, with prices starting at £15,995, but that is still dearer than high-economy diesel rivals with which it will be compared.

The numbers look promising, though, even if the top speed, the fuel economy and the CO2 figure are all slightly worse than in the more aerodynamic Insight. The engine is a lower-power version of the regular Jazz 1,339cc unit, producing 88bhp here, while the motor manages 14bhp but a lot of torque, and the combination comfortably exceeds a normal Jazz 1.3's outputs. The official CO2 score is 104g/km, so the Jazz Hybrid doesn't quite sneak under the free road tax threshold nor does it escape London's congestion charge. But £10 a year for road tax is hardly burdensome and the first year is free.

Most UK-market Jazz models are made in Swindon but the Hybrid comes from Japan. This year's models have revised suspension and steering settings to counter criticisms of a bumpy ride and a stiff steering feel, and the Hybrid's are different again to allow for the extra weight of the motor over the front wheels and a slim battery pack under the boot floor. It's a clever bit of packaging, with the Jazz's usual versatility unchanged.

To drive, the Hybrid is as you would expect an automatic Jazz to be – especially now that the regular Jazz auto has itself regained the previous-generation's continuously variable gearbox in place of the jerky, surge-prone and much-disliked i-Shift "robotised manual". The electric motor acts as the petrol engine's starter, so starting is instant, quiet and smooth. The engine stops when the car does, apart from when power is needed to keep the battery charged, and in certain circumstances the Jazz can run, briefly and slowly, on electric alone. That's when it makes the most sense. Nothing can beat a hybrid for economy in an urban setting, except a pure electric car which could never match a hybrid's all-round usability.

On the open road, with the electric motor boosting the engine's efforts, things are less clear, given the different ways of driving this Jazz; trying to keep the instrument lighting green (best economy) or letting it fade through turquoise to blue (profligacy). There's an "Econ", but if you're in a hurry you'll find the turgidity tedious.

On a 140-mile, mainly-motorway drive the Jazz averaged 43.3mpg, which means the Jazz Hybrid is probably a better bet than an economy-optimised diesel supermini if you do much town driving. As for the revised suspension and steering, the ride comfort is fine and most of the time the steering feels smooth and responsive.

An earlier encounter with the same Jazz Hybrid, during the snow and ice, perfectly revealed what is wrong with the electric power assistance (EPAS) that is fast becoming the new-car norm. EPAS, if well programmed, can synthesise a fair approximation of the true road feel experienced in a conventional system, but seemingly it can't mimic the low forces of feedback generated on a slippery road. So, in snow it feels completely numb, and quite scary because you don't know what the front wheels are doing. We opted to leave the Honda in the drive and took our conventionally power-steered 2001 Toyota instead.

The Rivals

Fiat 500 TwinAir: from £10,865

Punchy, 875cc, two-cylinder turbo engine. Great "official" economy, less good in reality because you enjoy it too much (85bhp, 95g/km).

Ford Fiesta 1.6 TDCi Econetic 5dr: £14,495

Various eco-tricks make it very frugal, but it's still fun to drive. Makes strong financial sense (95bhp, 98g/km).

Volkswagen Polo 1.2 TDI BlueMotion 5dr: £15,840

Diesel engine has three cylinders. Ultra-low CO2 emissions, feels odd to drive but the process engages you (75bhp, 91g/km).

Pro-Russia rebels guard a train containing the bodies of victims of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH 17 crash in Torez, Ukraine
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Sign here, please: Magna Carta Island
propertyYours for a cool £4m
The Commonwealth flag flies outside Westminster Abbey in central London
Arts and Entertainment
Struggling actors who scrape a living working in repertory theatres should get paid a 'living wage', Sir Ian McKellen has claimed
Skye McCole Bartusiak's mother said she didn't use drink or drugs
peopleActress was known for role in Mel Gibson film The Patriot
Arts and Entertainment
filmThe Rock to play DC character in superhero film
Arts and Entertainment
Damon Albarn is starting work on a new West End musical
artsStar's 'leftfield experimental opera' is turning mainstream
Life and Style
Paul and his father
artsPaul Carter wants to play his own father in the film of his memoirs
Ben Stokes trudges off after his latest batting failure for England as Ishant Sharma celebrates one of his seven wickets
Arts and Entertainment
Members of the public are invited to submit their 'sexcapades' to Russell T Davies' new series Tofu
Sky's Colin Brazier rummages through an MH17 victim's belongings live on air
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game
arts + ents'The Imitation Game' stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    SEN Teacher

    £110 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: We are urgently seeking a ...

    Training Programme Manager (Learning and Development)-London

    £28000 - £32000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Training Programme Manage...

    Training/Learning and Development Coordinator -London

    £28000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Training/Learning and Development Co...

    Year 5/6 Teacher

    £100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: The successful applicant w...

    Day In a Page

    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
    Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

    Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

    Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
    Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

    Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

    They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
    The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

    20 best days out for the summer holidays

    From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
    Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

    All the wood’s a stage

    Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
    Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

    Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

    Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
    Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

    Self-preservation society

    Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
    Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

    Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

    We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor