What is it?
Some things in life are just inevitable: tides, rain on a British holiday, and car makers turning more and more models into pseudo-off roaders. Now even superminis like the Ford Fiesta and Audi A1 are treated to rough-and-tumble looks, and given names like ‘Active’ and ‘City Carver’.
This is Honda’s attempt: the Jazz Crosstar, based on – you guessed it – the new Jazz, but tweaked to look more at home off the beaten track. That doesn’t mean it is, of course; just like its rivals, it lacks any added off-road ability whatsoever.
The question is, does this version of the new Jazz make more sense than the standard car, and is it worth the extra cash?
The Jazz itself is all-new, despite a rather familiar shape. There’s a new hybrid powertrain, which we’ll get to later, and much softer, more rounded styling compared to its angular predecessor.
The Crosstar, meanwhile, gets added black plastic bits on the outside – the grille, side skirts, and the front and rear bumpers are covered in the stuff – along with sleek roof bars and a different design of alloy wheel. There’s also the option of two-tone paint – something you won’t find on the standard Jazz – and ‘water-resistant’ fabric on the seats instead of the normal cloth or half-leather.
What’s under the bonnet?
As with the standard Jazz, there’s one choice of engine: a 1.5-litre petrol hooked up to a clever new hybrid system. Before you switch off, this isn’t the usual droning, sluggish setup you’ll find in most hybrids of this size and price; instead Honda has designed it to behave more like a fully electric car, with some obvious advantages.
While most hybrids have a small electric motor to ‘assist’ the petrol engine and gearbox, the Jazz gets a much bigger motor – allowing it to drive the wheels pretty much all of the time, rather than just offer a helping hand.
Because of that, acceleration is instant – although not rapid, this is a Honda Jazz after all – and the petrol engine can go about its job in a quieter, less frantic manner than hybrids of old.
Under hard acceleration the little 1.5 will make its presence known, but thoughtfully Honda has programmed it to sound like it’s changing gear as your speed increases – unlike traditional CVT-based hybrids, which force the engine to drone away at a single note until you release the accelerator. It’s a neat trick, and is actually quite convincing.
What’s it like to drive?
As ‘self charging’ hybrid powertrains go, the Jazz one is probably up there as one of the most enjoyable to drive. Around towns and cities it feels effortless and, for situations where you need a short, immediate burst of acceleration, surprisingly quick.
The new Jazz is unashamedly comfort oriented, and that’s just fine. Unlike the old Jazz, which started doing a poor impression of a sporty Ford Fiesta rival towards the end of its life, this generation has no such intentions.
Visibility is excellent, helped by a new low-rise dashboard and a more MPV-like view out from the windscreen, while the steering is light without feeling over-assisted.
As for the Crosstar, the extra 16mm of ground clearance seems to have little effect on either the way it corners or absorbs bumps – in other words, it’s just as comfortable and dependable to drive as the standard Jazz.
How does it look?
To our eyes, the Crosstar does a relatively convincing job of aping a rough-and-tumble SUV. In fact, Honda has thrown so much black plastic at the Jazz’s bodywork that it outdoes similarly sized crossovers like the Seat Arona and Skoda Kamiq in the off-road styling stakes.
To our eyes the standard Jazz is a more attractive bit of design – not least because some of the Crosstar’s cladding, particularly the rear bumper, looks a little cheap to the touch. That said, it does help break up some of the Jazz’s MPV-like proportions, giving it a slightly sleeker appearance – particularly from the side.
What’s it like inside?
As with the standard Jazz, the Crosstar gets a very well thought-out and attractively designed interior – one that feels quite different to other superminis and small crossovers.
The wide, deceptively simple dashboard works well – particularly as it’s clad in the same light-coloured fabric as the seats. Storage is plentiful too, with a cup holder at either end, and two decent sized glove boxes in front of the passenger.
Controls are all logically placed and within reach, including – thank heavens – physical controls for the climate control rather than ones buried away in a touch screen menu.
The biggest bonus points for the Jazz go to its interior space: for a car of its size, it’s cavernous inside. Four six-foot adults could travel inside with leg room to spare, and the whole cabin feels light, airy and spacious.
Boot space is average, and seats fold to create a largely flat load area. Naturally, the Jazz gets the traditional ‘magic seats’ too – simply lift up the base of the rear seats to transport tall items like or furniture.
What’s the spec like?
The Crosstar is based on the Jazz’s top trim level, EX, so there’s plenty bundled in as standard. Front and rear parking sensors, reversing camera, a 9.0-inch infotainment system with navigation and CarPlay integration, heated seats, keyless entry and start – it’s all there.
Honda also bundles in a great deal of safety kit and driver aids: adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, traffic sign recognition and so on. Oddly, it does without the EX’s standard blind spot warning system or heated steering wheel, swapping them for an upgraded eight speaker stereo instead.
Here’s the rub, though: choose the Crosstar and you’ll need to stump up £1,200 more than the top-of-the-range EX trim that shares most of its equipment, for what’s effectively an exterior styling pack – that’s a large price to pay.
The Crosstar carries over all the same virtues of the standard Jazz, being a well-designed, attractive and spacious interior, paired with a smooth and efficient powertrain.
However, at over £1,200 more than even the most expensive regular Jazz, it’s quite a premium for what is effectively just some bits of black plastic on the outside. Because it’s only available in one trim level too, there’s no way of buying a cheaper, less well-equipped version to offset the cost.
If you think those rugged looks are worth the extra cash, the Crosstar is a fine buy. For us though, the standard Jazz in either EX or mid-range SR trim makes far more sense.
Model as tested: Honda Jazz Crosstar
Engine: 1.5-litre petrol hybrid
Max speed: 107mph (limited)
0-60mph: 9.9 seconds
MPG: 58.9 (combined)
Emissions: 110g/km (combined)