We will begin this article with an obligatory disclaimer: this car, the 2020 Honda Jazz E:HEV, is not a plug-in hybrid or an EV, our usual fare, yet it’s interesting (and good) enough to justify writing about it. It really is a very unusual hybrid that in some ways is similar to the mighty Koenigsegg Regera, while in others it’s a lot like a range extender EV.
Interested? Well, stick around and read on to learn more about this vehicle. But first, a little backstory. So this is the fourth generation of the Honda Jazz, which in the United States is sold under the Fit nameplate. However, this all-new model will no longer be sold in the States and in Europe where I live, it’s only available in this unusual e:HEV hybrid configuration; similar e:HEV hybrid powertrains are available on other U.S. market Hondas, although not in Europe.
What makes the E:HEV special? Well, it’s the first in this new series of non-plug-in hybrids from Honda, and it has some peculiarities. Firstly, while it may have a 1.5-liter Atkinson cycle gasoline burning four-cylinder under the hood, the engine isn’t actually used to drive the wheels most of the time.
Gallery: 2020 Honda Jazz E:HEV
It acts purely as a generator and kicks in only when it’s needed to top up the (sub-1 kWh) battery pack. And it fires up quite frequently given that the battery is really small, so it can only take the vehicle on electricity alone up to just over a mile. However, even if it’s on most of the time, this hybrid uses about half the amount of gasoline that the normal gas version does when driven in town.
Reading up on this car before picking it up and driving it, I was skeptical that it would be that much more efficient than the normal 1.5-liter. Honda claims it can return under 4 l/100 km (58.8 U.S. mpg / 70.6 British mpg), and I managed to achieve just over that (around 4.4 l/100) driving the car exclusively in town.
This is considerably more efficient than some plug-in hybrids if you drive them without juice in their battery. It really is remarkably efficient and it’s really clever in the way it achieves such impressive urban cycle numbers.
The wheels are almost exclusively driven by an electric motor which has 109 horsepower, (roughly the same as the four-cylinder, but about twice the torque - 253 Nm / 186.6 pound-feet). The only time the wheels are actually driven by the engine is at higher speeds when it is directly connected to the wheels.
So even when you floor the go pedal from a standstill, the only motivation for the front wheels comes strictly from the electric motor. In essence, the four-cylinder is only ever used as a generator, especially if you drive it in town, at lower speeds.
Honda calls the transmission this car has an e-CVT, yet this is a bit of a misnomer. There is no actual continuously variable transmission - it is essentially simulated. When you mash the right pedal and the engine springs into life, it sounds like a CVT in that it reaches peak power and stays there (although Honda felt the need to also have it simulate gear shifts), yet remember it is only acting as a generator, not driving the wheels.
So it kind of behaves like a CVT, but it is not one. As previously mentioned, the fact that the engine only drives the wheels directly at higher speeds is similar to the Koenigsegg Regera. The single ratio, roughly equivalent to an overdrive gear, can only be engaged at higher speeds - sure, it’s not identical to the Koenigsegg setup, which has the engine connected to the wheels even at lower speeds when extra torque is supplied by electric motors, but it’s the only other system on the market that is even vaguely similar.
The rest of the Jazz (Fit) package stays true to the foundations laid by previous generations: it has a cavernous interior, for both passengers and cargo, it has the clever flip-up rear bench seat and cupholders that you can cool or heat. Compared to previous generations, the interior feels more grown up, with premium touches and the infotainment is miles better than before.
On the move, the car doesn’t feel particularly fast, but it’s actually no slouch; you just don’t feel it picking up speed, although if you look down at the speedometer, it may surprise you just how much speed the car actually picks up. Remember, it is motivated by an electric motor, so torque delivery is instant (although somewhat subdued compared to some actual EVs, even ones with comparable power ratings).
Overall, the fourth-gen Jazz hybrid is an easy and very frugal way to get around crowded cities for those who want an electrified ride but don’t want to deal with the hassle of having to charge it every few days. Its main quality has to be its efficiency, but the remarkable practicality comes a close second to that.
My tester was the top of the range Executive model and it had a very pleasant fabric upholstery on the seats (better to the touch than similar materials used on much more expensive cars), the infotainment is sharp and has no lag, and the active safety aids do their job very well without being intrusive. The car also had keyless entry and go, making living with it a very enjoyable experience - it’s actually a great car and a great way to avoid going for a small crossover.
In fact, even though the car is actually lower overall than the model it replaces, its ground clearance is actually slightly increased - 13.6 cm / 5.35 inches versus 11 cm / 4.33 inches. And the diameter of the turning circle has also gone down from 11.2 meters / 36.75 feet to 10.1 meters / 33.14 feet, making the car remarkably easy to maneuver in tight spaces.
Honda announced that it was not going to sell the fourth-gen Jazz / Fit in the United States, concentrating on trying to sell as many of its small HR-V crossovers as possible. But maybe that is a mistake because the HR-V doesn’t really scratch the same itch as the Jazz / Fit, it’s not as practical or as frugal, and it can’t be had as a hybrid.