By Mark Maynard
Five years ago in the booming economy of the United States, an automaker could sell just about anything to anybody. Crew-cab pickups became the sedan of choice: $90,000 off-road vehicles never went off road. Porsche brought out a sport-utility vehicle. And Cadillac luxury was defined by a truck.
And then manufacturers got creative. They dreamed up so-called coupe sedans, such as the Mercedes-Benz CLS and Volkswagen CC. They cross-pollinated cars with SUVs to make carlike trucks or the “hybrid” crossover. Minivans were morphed into shapes that disguised their true mission.
Honda thought outside the box bed with its Ridgeline pickup, and now it is out with another unconventional blend of a coupe-sedan-wagon.
The Honda Accord Crosstour, today’s test car, is an inventive crossover of a coupe-like sedan with a wagon’s proportions. Its primary target is the “Double Income No Kids” segment of baby boomers, who are ready for a little “couple” time and want to make a statement with a little more cargo space.
Crosstour is the alter ego to the traditional and conventional Accord sedan. It is based on the Accord architecture and V-6 powertrain, but it shares no body panels. This five-door, five-passenger disguised wagon is the most expensive Accord model. It has been given a premium treatment to the interior, including the best leather, loop carpeting, aluminum trim accents and more soundproofing.
It is an emotional design and far better looking on the road than in photos. But as hard as it tries to be unconventional, it is quite traditional in a Honda way, but compromised by its form over function styling. Consumers may have rushed to be seen in this curvaceous body style two or three years ago. Today, this target audience is less likely to mince about in stylish but painful shoes by a trendy designer. The same goes for cars. Motorists today want the unconventional and emotional but with function and practicality.
Honda knows Crosstour is a specialty vehicle that won’t appeal to everyone. But it is not as sporty as a coupe, as roomy as a sedan or as useful as a wagon. The Infiniti FX may be close in style comparisons, but the Nissan Murano and Toyota Venza are closer wagonlike variants.
Crosstour is sold in two models in front- or Real Time 4-Wheel Drive, which is Honda’s slick system for on-demand traction. The powertrain is a 271-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 and five-speed automatic transmission. Pricing ranges from $30,380 to $36,930. The front-drive, EX-L tester with navigation was $35,480. The only available extras are just simple accessories, not pricey packages. Interior colors are black or ivory.
Crosstour’s styling is polarizing — love it or hate it — according to much unsolicited input I received in a week of driving. I like the design, but I grew up in the era of fastback coupes.
And even then we didn’t rule out a vehicle purchase because it had blind spots. Horsepower was what ruled then and blind spots came with the head rush of roaring acceleration. But today, there are just too many cars on the road for the driver of this one not to be assured of his or her surroundings.
The rear corner views are restricted and vision out the back window is limited. The 40-foot turning circle is another strike against nimbleness in crowded conditions.
Somewhat impressive about Crosstour is its 27 mpg on the highway, which is significant for its 3,887-pound curb weight (4,070 with AWD). But the Accord sedan gets 29 mpg on the highway. Variable Cylinder Management is key to the efficiency and the engine will run on three, four or six cylinders as needed, all on 87 octane.
The 271-horsepower V-6 finesses power with variable valve timing, but there were times when the performance felt heavy and unresponsive.
Some of that may be attributed to the five-speed automatic transmission. While it performs quite well, a six-speed would give slicker downshifts for power and boost highway fuel economy.
The engineers also tout the engine’s rev-matching downshifts, but there is no manual mode to the transmission. The effect for the driver is nothing.
But Crosstour is accommodating to occupants and the interior is upscale. There is some initial complexity to the tiers of buttons for audio and cabin controls, but most are Honda simple.
Despite five seats, the cabin is most comfortable for four. The rear seat is raised and the window seats may be the most richly bolstered and comfortable of any comparably priced sedan.
What there is to the cargo space is inventive. The sexy exterior lines also carve contours into the hauling capacity. The 60/40 seats fold almost flat with an easy pull of the releases in the cargo area. The nice loop carpeting can be protected by the reversible floor with a hard plastic flip side. And there’s a big, removable bin in the “basement” that will be handy as a cooler for tailgating, corralling grocery bags or stashing wetsuits or ski boots.
Honda seems pleased with Crosstour’s current sales pace of about 1,800 a month. But what happens when it’s not the latest cool thing? Would a smartly styled wagon have longer term sales?
If this were an Italian sports car with a pulsating powertrain, the sightlines would be gladly forgiven. Or if Crosstour brought a hybrid or diesel powertrain, it would have the niche to itself. But what is next for Crosstour may be of more interest than what it brings to market now.
2010 Honda Accord Crosstour 2WD EX-L NAV
Body style: midsize, five-passenger wagon in front- or all-wheel drive
Engine: aluminum, 271-horsepower, SOHC, 3.5-liter V-6 with intelligent valve-timing control
Transmission: five-speed automatic with rev-matching downshifts
EPA estimated fuel mileage: 18 mpg city, 27 highway; 87 octane recommended
Wheelbase/length: 110.1/196.8 inches
Towing capacity: 1,500 pounds
Front head/leg/shoulder room: 39.5/42.2/57.8 inches
Rear head/leg/shoulder room: 37.5/37.4/56.2 inches
Curb weight: 3,887 pounds (4,070 AWD)
Cargo capacity: 25.7 cubic feet to 51.3 with back seat folded
EX-L standard equipment includes: remote locking, dual-zone automatic air conditioning, seven-speaker (360-watt) audio system (with Bluetooth, USB and iPod inputs), 10-way power adjustable driver seat, four-way power front passenger seat, heated front seats, tilt-telescopic steering column, 18-inch alloy wheels
Safety equipment includes: dual stage and multiple-threshold front air bags, side bags, curtain bags with rollover sensor, Vehicle Stability Assist with traction control and brake assist, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and electronic brake-force distribution
MSRP: $35,480 including $710 freight charge
Options on test car: none
Where assembled: East Liberty, Ohio
Competition: Nissan Murano, Toyota Venza, Dodge Journey, Infiniti FX
Mark Maynard is driving in cyberspace at Mark.Maynard@uniontrib.com.
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