Should cars be about fun or function? James Fisher faced this common motoring dilemma when choosing between the Honda Jazz and the Honda Civic Type-R, one that he somehow turned into a literal journey of self-discovery.
There comes a point in any young man’s life, and I am still a young man despite what others may say, where he realises that he must make a decision and grow up. The context in which this decision is made could be anything. It could be not having that extra beer that he knows will tip him over the edge on a Friday night. It could be not going to the pub at all on a Friday night for he knows that he must save for a house.
Or, it could be, to pull a random example, when he is offered the notoriously fast and fun to drive Honda Civic Type R to review, or the rather more down to earth, this-is-a-car-you-could-actually-afford-to-buy-and-keep-running, Honda Jazz Crosstar.
A difficult decision, as you might have guessed. On the one hand, the Type-R has long been the poster boy of hatchback speed, with aggressive styling and lots of red bits and fins. Cars such as the Golf GTI or a VXR Astra were all about the ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’ attitude, but the Type R was the ‘wolf in wolf’s clothing’ — it wanted you to know that it was fast and made approximately zero effort to hide that fact.
On the other hand, the Honda Jazz has been the mainstay of reliability and affordability: here is a car that goes where you need to go, is easy to run, cheap, and unassuming — a car for people who need cars but don’t really care much about them. Naturally, I couldn’t choose, so I chose both.
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I did not do this because I was greedy and am blessed with an abundance of either social engagements that I need to drive to or parking spaces. No, this was a live test on my own consciousness — where am I at as a human? Do I value driving around quickly in a car that looks like an angry shark because it is fun? Or do I value driving around in a car that looks like a sweet little bunny rabbit, economically, because it is the right thing to do? As the proverb goes, inside of every man there are two Hondas.
The Jazz turned up first, so that is where we shall begin. The Crossstar is one of Honda’s more contemporary forays into electrification, and is a ‘sporty’ version of the self-charging hybrid variety. It has a perfectly punchy, considering its moderate size, 1.5 litre petrol engine that works in concert with an electric motor. If you are scuttling around the streets of London, it’s rare that you’ll often hit more than 10-12 mph, which means that the car will be fully electric, reducing all those pointless emissions when stuck in traffic.
When you need a bit more speed, the petrol motor comes in alongside the electric, providing plenty of oomph, and simultaneously charging the battery. And if you need to hit the motorway? Then it’s all petrol. That said, the figures as Honda tell them are pretty staggering, with 518 miles between fill ups, and emissions of 110grams of co2 per kilometre. All of this is very good for the wallet of a young and poor journalist.
Surprisingly, it’s also good fun to drive. More fun than you would expect from a car that is designed almost exclusively for utility. The interior is a nice place to be, with absolutely everything you could need and a surprising amount of tech for a decent price (about £22,000). It’s also just very ‘happy’, with lots of bright colours. It makes the mundane task of driving through a city slightly less depressing than it usually is, which is no small feat.
Off the line, at the lights, the electric motor is very responsive, meaning that you can hit gaps in traffic, make those quick turns and decisions without panicking about gears and the like. It’s a vile cliche in car journalism, but the Crosstar is ‘nippy’.
So, after a week of zipping about the capital, I was content. ‘Ah,’ I said to myself. ‘I can be a grown up, driving a sensible car that’s cheap to run. Perhaps the time has come for me to grow up.’
And then I heard a grumble in the distance.
As previously mentioned, the Honda Civic Type-R is not a car that is trying to hide anything. It is, quite frankly, a bit mad. It is a car that you hear before you see, and when you do see it, it’s only very briefly as it whips past you. Because, and you probably know this, not only does this car look very fast, it is very fast.
Some numbers, because people (me) like those things. We have 306 horsepower from its turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which goes through a six-speed manual gearbox, then to the front wheels, and translates to a 0–60 time of 5.8 seconds and a maximum speed (with a slight tailwind) of 170mph. Right then. Speed.
And handling too. While the styling of the Type-R might not be everyone’s taste, it’s important to remember two things; 1, the inside of the car (where you would be sitting) is the only place where you can’t see it and 2, the styling assists considerably with the aerodynamics, meaning that the Type R is as good going round corners as it is going in a straight line. I had concerns of running so much power through the front wheels, but the engineering and technology is more than enough to keep things in check, and when driving around the roads of Suffolk, I always felt safe and in control, even in the rain. Even if it was just going to the shops, it was just _fun_, and at the end of the day it’s hard to put a price on that (it’s about £33,000).
Inside, the car is equally as fast looking, with carbon fibre detailings and red stripes and brushed steel giving an extremely underground and speedy feel to everything. That being said, the Type-R is functional. It’s got five doors and five seats, all of which actually do something, and the boot is more than big enough for golf clubs or a bicycle or many suitcases. Would I have liked an automatic gearbox? Yes, because I am lazy, but I doubt the purists would mind too much.
So what have I learned then, about the two cars, but more importantly, about myself? As usual, with regards to myself, not too much. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the Jazz Crosstar. I have always been a moderate petrolhead, and I was pleased by how easy it was to drive, how speedy it could be when it needed to be, and just how well it worked. Perhaps growing old involves finding a certain amount of joy in pure functionality, which the Crosstar has in spades.
On the other hand, the devil on my shoulder still enjoys the art of driving, and driving fast, and boy does the Type-R do both of those things well.
Which one would I choose? You’ll just have to wait and see the next time you invite me round…
Honda Jazz Crosstar EX
- 0–60: 9.9 seconds
- Top speed: 107 mph
- Emissions: 58.9 mpg combined, 110gC02/km combined
- Price: From £22,530
Honda Civic Type-R
- 0–60: 5.8 seconds
- Top speed: 170mph
- Emissions: 33.2 mpg combined, 193gC02/km combined
- Price: From £30,805
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