The Honda Jazz facelift was launched in Malaysia this week, and the minor change of the B-segment hatchback sees the return of the Honda Jazz Hybrid, which was last sold here in the previous generation.

The launch of the Jazz Hybrid also sees Honda return to the hybrid market in Malaysia, of which it once held 55% during the 2011-2013 “golden era” of tax-free CBU hybrids. Then, Honda Malaysia (HM) took advantage of the incentive window to introduce the Insight, CR-Z, Civic Hybrid and previous-gen Jazz Hybrid. The latter became the first locally-assembled hybrid car in 2012. HM was the first to bring in hybrid technology with the seventh-generation Civic in 2004.

The new Jazz Hybrid is priced at RM87,500 on-the-road with insurance, which is pretty amazing considering that the old Jazz Hybrid was launched at RM89,900 back in 2012. It takes over from the larger Hyundai Ioniq as the most affordable hybrid car in Malaysia, and with the Jazz, Honda Malaysia is looking to reclaim leadership in the hybrid market.

That should be pretty straightforward, as today’s hybrid scene consists mainly of expensive plug-in hybrids from premium brands such as Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Volvo, leaving a void at the affordable end. Fellow opportunist in the “golden era”, Toyota, only has the RM165k Camry Hybrid in its present line-up.

Much has changed since the last Jazz Hybrid was sold here. Honda has moved away from the Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) hybrid system to the Sport Hybrid i-DCD (Intelligent Dual-Clutch Drive) system, which is more advanced, powerful and efficient.

The Sport Hybrid i-DCD consists of a 1.5 litre petrol engine, a seven-speed (dry) dual-clutch automatic transmission with integrated electric motor, and a lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery by Blue Energy, a JV between Honda and battery specialist GS Yuasa (Toyota teams up with Panasonic). The system also includes an electric servo brake system for improved energy regeneration and an electric-driven compressor.

The engine used here isn’t the one found in the regular Jazz, but a unique Atkinson cycle DOHC i-VTEC unit with 110 PS and 134 Nm of torque at 5,000 rpm. Combined with a 30 PS (22 kW)/160 Nm electric motor, the system produces a combined 137 PS and 170 Nm of torque.

In contrast, the regular 1.5 litre Jazz petrol is powered by a SOHC i-VTEC engine with 120 PS at 6,600 rpm and 145 Nm at 4,600 rpm. The Hybrid’s electric motor provides torque from rest, which should translate to significantly improved performance over the petrol car, more than the 17 PS/25 Nm advantage would suggest.

Honda says that the Jazz Hybrid’s Sport Hybrid i-DCD produces 1.8 litre naturally-aspirated levels of output (the Civic 1.8 makes 141 PS/174 Nm, which is just 4 PS/4 Nm more) while returning claimed fuel consumption of 4.0 litres per 100 km. That translates to 25 km/l, versus the 17.2 km/l for the 1.5L petrol and 21.3 km/l for the old Jazz Hybrid. Shave a few km/l off those figures for a real world reading if you want, but the margins are what’s of note.

Compared to the old IMA-powered Jazz Hybrid with a 1.3 litre engine and nickel–metal hydride (Ni-MH) battery, this one has two times the output and 1.8 times the torque in a smaller and lighter package. Later versions of the IMA moved to Li-ion batteries (as seen in the CR-Z facelift and FB Civic Hybrid, but the latest combo has that beat as well.

As an aside, Honda and Daido Steel are the world’s first companies to achieve practical application of a hot deformed neodymium magnet containing no rare metals, and yet with high heat resistance properties and high magnetic performance required by a hybrid car’s electric motor. This heavy rare earth-free neodymium magnet made its debut in the JDM Freed last year and is also used in the Jazz Hybrid.

Neodymium magnets have the highest magnetic force, and adding heavy rare earth (dysprosium and/or terbium) to it has been the traditional method to ensure high heat resistance. However, rare metals are found unevenly around the world, and relying on it carries risks from the perspectives of stable procurement and material costs. China is where most of the rare metals are from, and prices can be volatile, so this is a breakthrough for the Japanese carmaker.

For this new magnet to be used in cars, Daido evolved its hot deformation tech and Honda designed a new motor to accommodate the magnet, revising the shape of the rotor to optimise the flow of the magnetic flux. Torque, output and heat resistance performance are equivalent to a motor that uses the regular magnet, Honda says.

Back to the car. One big change is the transmission – from CVT to a dual-clutch setup. This means that the new Jazz Hybrid should have a different drive character from the previous-gen car. This time around, you don’t only get actual gear shifts, but the shifts should be rather quick and snappy too, which is the universally advertised advantage of DCTs.

However, the Jazz Hybrid does not come with manual mode and steering paddle shifters; the latter feature returns to the Jazz, but is reserved for the range-topping petrol V grade. A drive is needed to find out if this omission detracts from the experience.

IMA cars had their engines on 100% of the time, except when idling. The new Jazz Hybrid is capable of running on electric alone with the engine cut off at low speed cruising. The car also starts off in EV mode, with the engine kicking in when required. However, like the Ioniq, there’s no physical button to force the Jazz to run in EV mode

Honda says that EV mode is possible at speeds of up to 80 km/h; and when driving gently at 40-50 km/h, the Jazz can travel one to two kilometres without the engine. That’s doesn’t sound like much, but it’s already better than IMA hybrids with their always-on engines.

When accelerating, both engine and motor push the front wheels, but high speed cruising is done solely by the engine, until you floor it for overtaking. Pressing the ‘S’ (Sport) button north-east of the (unique to hybrid) gear selector dispenses with EV mode, and summons both engine and motor to bring out all they have, along with a sportier shift pattern.

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Also, one difference compare to before is that while the clutch is engaged to the engine during acceleration and high-speed cruising, it’s disengaged from it during startup and low- to medium-speed cruising to reduce losses. The transmission is also disconnected from the engine during deceleration, and this improves energy regeneration.

Another practical difference/improvement that will surely be felt, even by the most ignorant of users, is the Jazz Hybrid’s “always-on” air con. The IMA’s belt-driven compressor is linked to the engine, and when the latter switches off, so does the cool air. Temperature could rise by four degrees celsius in 60 seconds, Honda says. This writer and other IMA owners can testify to that.

In the new Jazz Hybrid, an electric-driven compressor ensures that the AC never stops running, even when the engine is in sleep mode – by feeding on the Li-ion battery, the electric compressor also reduces load on the engine, which in turn improves efficiency.

The IPU (intelligent power unit), which includes the Li-ion battery and converter, is smaller in volume (-23%) and lighter in weight (-5.6%), despite having more than two times the output of the old IMA (10 kW vs 22 kW). It sits under the boot floor, which means that the Jazz Hybrid makes do with a tyre repair kit embedded in the boot wall, instead of a spare tyre.

Boot volume is down by 49 litres to 314 litres, expandable to 835 litres with the seats down (881 litres in the regular car). The batteries had to go somewhere, and the boot is still of a good size for a car of this type. The Jazz’s trademark Ultra Seats are still present.

Malaysia is the only country outside of Japan to get this Jazz Hybrid, and HM explains that aside from favourable Energy Efficient Vehicle (EEV) incentives from the government, the company put its hands up for the model as there’s high market acceptance of hybrid cars here.

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Still, reliability is always a concern when it comes to hybrids, and this one has a dual-clutch gearbox. If there’s one car element the average consumer fears more than hybrids, it’s DCTs, largely due to highly-publicised problems faced by Continental makes.

Keen car industry observers might remember that Honda’s dual-clutch system encountered some problems in its home market in 2014, and was recalled. The company then set out to improve the robustness and reliability of the its DCT, and the lessons learnt from demanding tests in Malaysia was incorporated into the improved Sport Hybrid i-DCD, which we first sampled in 2012.

Honda is confident that the Jazz Hybrid can withstand Malaysian usage, which by the way is notoriously demanding, and we’re not just talking about the punishing heat-humidity 1-2 punch and our roads – Malaysians are a bunch of aggressive (and increasingly rage-filled) drivers. This confidence stems from two years of real world testing in Malaysia over various roads and conditions that are unique to our country.

According to the car’s Japanese engineers – assistant project leader Yoshihiro Akiyama and project leader Takahiro Noguchi, who were in town for the launch – such unique situations include heavy traffic jams with constant stop-start traffic (the testing team even joined a Hari Raya balik kampung exodus) and trips to Genting Highlands. The gradient of the hillclimb to the resort and the overtaking opportunities on the route means it’s one of a kind.

Now, 7,000 km over two years might not sound like a lot, but it’s vigorous testing on an existing product – this was to improve the gearbox and not a from scratch development. The result is a gearbox that has been adapted to our unique requirements, with Japan also benefiting from a more robust, improved item. JDM and Malaysian cars share the same hardware and tuning. The video above shows the Japanese R&D team conducting tests in Malaysia.

What the video didn’t elaborate on is that Honda changed the gear ratios (gears two, three, four and six) to be closer and allowed for variable shift mapping. The latter takes into account the incline and gradient, and adjusts accordingly. Close ratio sounds good for keen drivers, but it also reduces slip and improves reliability, the engineers explained.

HM is marketing the Jazz Hybrid as the sporty variant in the range, and the Sport Hybrid i-DCD powertrain’s advantage over the 1.5L i-VTEC should easily trump the 67 kg extra heft (1,158 kg vs 1,091 kg for the Jazz E). It’s claimed to be dynamically superior, too. Honda has fitted a “performance rod” for better stiffness, unique spring and damper rates, as well as quicker steering (14.7 vs 16.7 ratio) compared to the regular Jazz.

The new electric servo brake system’s main advantage is the enhanced energy regeneration it offers, but a more natural pedal feel and linear braking are also among the claimed improvements. The hybrid model also gets added firewall insulation behind the dashboard.

There you go, the lowdown on the new Honda Jazz Hybrid for the layman. Sharing the same kit levels as the middle E grade (with the addition of cruise control and hybrid-specific items such as the unique meter cluster and gear knob) means the Hybrid isn’t the cheapest nor is it best equipped Jazz on sale, but the RM87,500 variant offers great value when one considers the tech onboard.

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In addition to the regular five-year warranty, the hybrid battery gets an eight-year unlimited mileage warranty, the same offered to later IMA cars. That should allay concerns of those buying the hybrid as a used car few years down the road, but in any case, a new Li-ion battery costs RM5,500 should it need replacement outside of the warranty, hardly the price of a limb.

Impressive the tech may be, but the reality is that the simplicity of the regular Jazz will be enough for the majority of punters. We’re now in the era of cheap oil, and pump prices here are lower than in most countries, taking away the main push factor to fuel efficient cars. HM knows this, and has set a monthly sales target of 150 units for the Jazz Hybrid, a fraction of the 1,200 regular cars it plans to sell per month. Jazz Hybrid deliveries will start by end-July.

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