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The Top Gear car review: Honda Jazz
For:So sensible: useful, economical, safe, reliable
Against:Is that why you fall in love with a car?
What is it?
The world’s most left-brain small car is back. This is the fourth generation, and it’s no great spoiler to say it’s unbelievably roomy, versatile, easy to get in and out of, and economical. If its predecessors are anything to go by, ridiculously reliable too. As sensible as the final-salary pension many of its owners seem to be equipped with.
But just to mix things up a bit, the new one has an all-new hybrid powertrain across the range. Which makes the range seem narrow: one engine, one power output, one transmission.
Sole curveball is the optional trim called Crosstar. Angry Macadam? It’s a raised-suspension version, with a small amount of plastic lower-body cladding, roof rails and water-repellant seat fabric. Handy, doubtless, for getting your surfboard down a stony track to a secluded beach. As owners will.
The body for this Jazz is slightly longer than before but still not that huge for a supermini. Which makes the space all the more of a miracle. It’s done by sitting you tall, like an MPV. The fuel tank lives where it always did in the Jazz, under the front seats, which frees up vacant space under the rear cushion. You can make use of that by hinging the cushion upward.
The dash shows, if you screw your eyes up, a hint of Honda e influence: an unornamented rectangle with some nicely textured padding.
In former Jazzes, the frontmost pillar was thick, making it hard to see out. This time, the main crash structure is on the second pillar back, so the front one is thinner and blocks your view less. So why didn’t they just move the base of the windscreen back?
The hybrid then. Honda has previous here, thanks to a thing called the NSX. But this works very differently. Differently too from the IMA hybrid Jazz of two generations back.
It’s the same idea as in the CR-V hybrid. Like a diesel electric train in principle: engine drives generator, generator powers motor, motor drives wheels. But while a train is either full-on accelerating or flat-out cruising, the car has extra tweaks to cope with lots of different states.
So the hybrid battery absorbs power when the engine has spare, so the engine (Atkinson-cycle, non-turbo, 1.5-litre) can be shifted to a load-rev point where fuel efficiency is more or less optimal. For brief flat-out spurts, the drive motor draws a bit extra from the battery.
Finally, there’s a lock-up clutch between the engine and the wheels, for direct drive at roughly motorway speeds. That slightly adds to overall efficiency by avoiding the round-the-houses trip of electric power. Other than that, no gearbox, nor yet a CVT in the conventional sense.
There you are then. Not your normal supermini. But do you want one? Read on.