A HYBRID drivetrain might be the biggest development in drivetrain technology of the modern era, but does its fuel efficient benefit spread across every model range, especially the compact car range?
For all its promise of reduced fuel consumption figures and CO2 emissions, price, weight and space will remain the Achilles heel of hybrid cars, and those are the exact three aspects that a compact car has in small numbers.
All those batteries, with their heavy and expensive metals, are not only going to raise the price but take up precious room and weigh down the car as well.
Certain quarters argue that a compact car with an efficient enough conventional drivetrain could best a hybrid’s fuel consumption and undercut its price bracket.
While others moot that the right compromise is to be found in mild hybrids which are cheaper and simpler, but not nearly as efficient as a full hybrid.
To see if there is any weight to that argument, we have brought together two of the latest compact hybrid cars, the full-hybrid Toyota Prius c and the mild-hybrid Honda Jazz Hybrid.
And just to make this comparison a little more interesting, we have included the Volkswagen Polo, Europe’s ideal of small car efficiency achieved by means of a downsized turbocharged engine and dual-clutch transmission.
Price and fuel efficiency
Ironically it is the non-hybrid Polo which comes in as the most expensive car in this comparison as it pays a hefty penalty by being levied with taxes.
With a starting price of RM113,888 before adding necessary things like registration fees, road tax and insurance coverage, the Polo is very nearly RM10,000 more than on-the-road price of its cheapest rival here.
The Japan-built Jazz Hybrid and Prius c, on the other hand, avoid being taxed thanks to the Malaysian government granting hybrid cars complete tax exemption status for import and excise duties.
It comes as no surprise then that among the two, the Jazz Hybrid - with its simpler mild-hybrid drivetrain and existing Jazz platform - comes out as the most affordable of the three.
However, when you consider that the Jazz Hybrid’s price gap between the Prius c is a mere RM2,300, the Toyota starts to be the more value for money proposition with its full-hybrid drivetrain.
When it comes to fuel consumption figures, the Prius c takes home the accolade with a claimed combined figure of 25.6km/L on the NEDC (New European Driving Cycle) test cycle, though we were able to get as much as 23.1km/L on the trip computer in mixed traffic conditions.
Honda claims that the Jazz Hybrid achieves 21.3km/L on the newer UNECE R101 test cycle which includes cold starting, a criteria not relevant to our climate.
However, our time behind the wheel of the Jazz Hybrid in Kuala Lumpur, yielded a figure of 19.6km/L.
Still, those real-world results are higher than the Polo’s claimed combined fuel consumption figure of 18.9km/L.
Out in the real world though, we managed to get a still respectable figure of 14.5km/L out of the Polo.
Weight and handling
According to the Jazz Hybrid’s lead engineer, Shingo Nagamine, the hybrid drivetrain adds 70kg over the standard Jazz, bringing its kerb weight to 1,166kg.
An increase of 70kg would have brought detrimental effects to handling, but it is safe to say that the Jazz Hybrid has none of its handling blunted by the added load.
The steering is still sharp as ever and the car is ever attentive to your every input, we would even say that the Jazz Hybrid felt a little bit more planted than the standard variant.
This is thanks to the fact that the batteries are mounted low down, beneath the rear boot and over the rear axles.
The same thing can be said about the Prius c, which has its batteries stuffed beneath the rear passenger seats.
This layout not only lowers the car’s centre of gravity, improving stability, but it also seems to keep the weight balance more centred between the two axles.
That said, drive the Prius c and you can tell that part of its development budget wasn’t allocated to the field of driver entertainment.
Competent it may be in changing direction, there isn’t much interaction between man and machine here.
With the Prius’ and Jazz Hybrid’s electric motors providing instantaneous torque, both cars felt lively accelerating off the line, and did provide the adequate boost or propulsion you need in stop-go traffic.
Due to its mild-hybrid set-up, the Jazz Hybrid won’t be able to sneak out of your housing estate silently as its 10kW electric motor isn’t powerful enough to propel the little hatchback on its own.
The Prius c on the hand could get up to speeds of 45km/h for a maximum distance of 2km before resorting to engine power.
A baby Prius it may be, but the transition from the Prius c’s all-electric drive to petrol driven mode felt more seamless that it would be in the standard Prius.
Since the Prius c doesn’t have a conventional engine powered variant, we aren’t certain how much weight the hybrid components add on to it.
Yet for all its complicated drivetrain bits, the Prius c is lighter than the Jazz Hybrid at 1,140kg.
But it goes without saying that the Polo is the lightest here, tipping the scales at 1,126kg.
Combining that low weight with a turbocharged engine which pulls from 1,550rpm and the Polo feels very enthusiastic every time you get on the accelerator pedal.
With its power delivery drawn out through the rev range, and the dual-clutch transmission giving that manual-like direct feel, the Polo feels the most rewarding here when you want to go for a drive.
It is no where near as excitable as the Jazz Hybrid, but the small Polo is the most comfortable doing big speeds on the motorway.
Space and practicality
For all that mention about having the hybrid’s batteries taking up valuable space, the non-hybrid Polo is the one that doesn’t make a proper use of its footprint.
Legroom in the Polo’s back seats is noticeably pinched, while the boot space is enough for you to carry a single large suitcase.
The Polo’s shortfall in carrying occupants or luggage also extends to the fact that the only European contender here scores the lowest in cubby hold count and useful space.
The Prius c scores better in rear legroom and boot space, but the aerodynamically honed body meant that rear headroom is also squeezed by the sloping roof to allow for a more aerodynamically efficient shape.
However, the one to make the most of its compact size here is the Jazz Hybrid; after all the standard variant still serves as the yardstick of space utilisation.
Even though it comes with a hybrid drivetrain, we couldn’t find any part of the Jazz that had to make way to accommodate the hybrid components.
The boot is equally as cavernous as the standard variant, and cabin space remains unaffected with more cubby holds placed around the cabin than you would know what to do with.
All things considered, the Prius c is the best value for money proposition - even at a relatively affordable price tag, it comes with a full-hybrid drivetrain and with it, all its fuel efficient benefits.
If you look at it from an accountant’s spreadsheet, the Prius c would be our choice - it offers a lot of technology for its price, and serves as an excellent run-about to ply crowded inner city roads.
But if you are looking for the best all-rounder, the Prius c doesn’t have enough talents to appease the driving enthusiasts in us, and it looks like a squashed fish.
Neither could the Polo convince us to part with such a hefty sum.
It may be the most refined, most capable long distance tourer and most solidly built car here, but it is an odd paradox here with its cramped rear seats and boot.
All things considered then, the Jazz Hybrid emerges as the best all-rounder in this company.
It feels bigger on the inside than it looks on the outside, its mild-hybrid drivetrain still betters conventional engines in terms of fuel efficiency, and it drives with a youthful verve that befits its futuristic interior.
It is uncompromised, practical, frugal, cheap and exciting to drive. The Jazz Hybrid shows that the hybrid has finally made a case for itself and has come of age.
Specifications of the Honda Jazz Hybrid
Engine: 1,339cc 4-cylinder i-VTEC+IMA
Max engine power: 87hp @ 5,800rpm
Max engine torque: 121Nm @ 4,500rpm
Max motor output: 10kW/78Nm
Total system output: N/A
Transmission: CVT, front-wheel drive
Fuel consumption: 21.3km/L
Safety features: 6 airbags, ABS with EBD and brake assist, vehicle stability assist (VSA)
Price: RM94,800 OTR with insurance
Specifications of the Toyota Prius c
Engine: 1,497cc 4-cylinder, 1NZ-FXE
Max engine power: 72hp @ 4,800rpm
Max engine torque: 111Nm @ 4,000rpm
Max motor output: 45kW/169Nm
Total system output: 99hp
Transmission: CVT, front-wheel drive
Fuel consumption: 25.6km/L
Safety features: 7 airbags, ABS with brake assist, electronically controlled brake-regeneration, vehicle stability control (VSC), traction control (TRC), Isofix child seat mounting points
Price: RM97,000 OTR with insurance
Specifications of the Volkswagen Polo
Engine: 1,197cc 4-cylinder, direct-injection turbocharged
Max power: 103hp @ 5,000rpm
Max torque: 175Nm @ 1,550 – 4,100rpm
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch, front-wheel drive
Fuel consumption: 18.9km/L
Safety features: 4 airbags, ABS, electronic stabilisation program (ESP), electronic differential lock (EDL)
Price: RM113,888 nett