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The popularity of hybrid technology has increased vastly over recent years. It crops up in family cars, four-wheel drives -- hell, even buses and lorries get a look in. But the technology has been strangely absent in super-minis. That's somewhat odd, as it's arguably the one class of car for which hybrid technology makes most sense.
Honda's stepped forward to right this wrong with the new Jazz Hybrid. The company claims it's the first small family car to be powered by a part-electric, part-petrol power train. It'll go on sale in February 2011 for £15,995.
Undercover eco wagon
To the untrained eye, the Jazz Hybrid looks much the same as the standard petrol car. That's no bad thing. It has an attractive design that'll appeal to those who don't want to be judged because they're driving an eco-friendly car.
Our test model was painted an attractive bright green colour. That gave its lentil-eating eco game away slightly, but the only other clues to its hybrid power system were the translucent rear light clusters, the slightly tweaked headlights and, of course, the 'Hybrid' badge on the rear.
The Jazz Hybrid may look like a slightly tweaked petrol-powered Jazz, but, below the surface, it has much in common with its Honda Insight cousin. It's powered by the same 1.3-litre petrol engine as the Insight, as well as Honda's Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) package, which consists of a nickel-metal hydride battery pack and a 15bhp electric motor.
Together, the pair help improve the Jazz Hybrid's fuel economy while reducing emissions -- but not to the degree one might expect. The car returns 62.8mpg, which is a full 12mpg fewer than thegets on the combined cycle.
The Jazz Hybrid's emissions are slightly less impressive than the established norm, too. The car spews a not inconsiderable 104g of carbon dioxide every kilometre it's driven, which is 15g/km more than the market leadingand 5g/km more than the current crop of eco-friendly, non-hybrid diesels, like the -- one of the Jazz Hybrid's main rivals.
Driven to distraction
One could forgive the Jazz Hybrid's relative thirst and higher-than-average emissions if it were fun to drive, but it lets itself down in this area, too. It's fine when travelling in a straight line, but enter anything resembling a corner and it handles like Bambi. The Jazz Hybrid's front seems to want to go in one direction -- not always the one you desire -- while the rear seems to react half a second later.
The car's CVT (continuously variable transmission) gearbox is also potentially aggravating. Unlike standard gearboxes, which have distinct gears (first, second, third and so on), this one has one long gear with no distinct ratios in the standard auto mode. This has its benefits -- it theoretically increases fuel economy, since it allows the engine to run at its most efficient RPM no matter what speed the wheels are turning at. But there's a notable drawback: the Jazz Hybrid sounds rather like a hairdryer that gets increasingly louder the harder you push the accelerator pedal.
Space: The final frontier
Honda's IMA hybrid system may disappoint where economy and performance are concerned, but it does have its advantages. It's a small, comparatively modest unit that doesn't intrude on the car's cabin space, so there's enough room inside the Jazz Hybrid to carry a small horse.