First Drive: 2010 Honda Accord Crosstour

Up Front

If you've ever been inside a Honda Accord sedan, the new Honda Crosstour will seem familiar. A crossover SUV that hits Honda (HMC) dealerships at the end of November, the 2010 Accord Crosstour (as it's officially known) has the same chassis, is almost exactly the same size, and has a similar interior to the Accord sedan's, to say nothing of being powered by the same 3.5-liter, 271-horsepower V6 that comes in the more powerful version of the Accord. The Crosstour even drives a lot like an Accord sedan.

It's another story when you step outside and take a gander at the Crosstour's exterior. While the Accord looks nondescript, the Crosstour is uncommonly ugly. Honda was taken by surprise when the first photos of the new model were roundly attacked by nearly everyone who saw them. Unfortunately, unlike the new Acura ZDX, which is far more attractive in reality than in photos, the Crosstour's looks don't improve much when you see it on the road. The front end looks like a snout, and the side profile has an odd hump. The only angle from which this vehicle looks good to me is directly from behind.

The Crosstour's closest rival is the popular new Toyota (TM) Venza, though other competitors include the new Subaru Outback, Nissan (NSANY) Murano, Ford's (F) Edge, Chevrolet Traverse, and Mazda's CX-7. All are designed to combine the driving characteristics of a family sedan with the practicality of an SUV—while avoiding the stodgy appearance of a station wagon, which is the kiss of death in marketing terms. Practically speaking, however, the Crosstour and Venza are gussied-up versions of the Accord and Camry station wagons, respectively—both of which are out of production.

In many respects the two models are very similar. They both accommodate a maximum of five passengers, with neither offering an optional third row of seats (available in the Toyota Highlander and Rav4 SUVs). Both come standard with front-wheel drive and offer four- or all-wheel drive as an option. Both are only available with an automatic transmission (a five-speed in the Honda and a six-speed in the Toyota). The 3.5-liter V6 engines in each are very similar (268 hp in the Venza, vs. the Crosstour's 271 hp).

However, the Venza is slightly longer, taller, and wider than the Crosstour, giving it more luggage space (30.7 cu. ft, vs. 25.7 cu ft. for the Crosstour) and more maximum cargo space with the rear seats down (70 cu. ft., vs. 51.3 cu. ft. for the Crosstour). In addition, the Crosstour only comes with a V6 engine while the Venza also can be had with a 2.7-liter, 182-hp four-banger.

Partly as a result, the Toyota is cheaper. The Crosstour's base price starts at $30,380 for the entry-level two-wheel-drive EX and $34,730 for a four-wheel-drive EX-L. By comparison, the six-cylinder 2010 Venza starts at $28,850 with front-wheel drive and $30,300 with all-wheel drive. The four-cylinder Venza is even less pricey, starting at $27,025 with two-wheel drive and $28,475 with all-wheel drive.

The Venza also has a slight fuel economy advantage over the Crosstour, which is rated at 18 mpg in the city and 27 on the highway (21 on average) with two-wheel drive and 17/25 (20 on average) with four-wheel drive.

Even the six-cylinder Venza does a tad better than that: It's rated at 19/26 (22 on average) with front-wheel drive and 18/25 (21 on average) with all-wheel drive. The four-cylinder Venza does a lot better. It's rated to get 21/29 (24 on average) with front-wheel drive and 20/28 (23 on average) with all-wheel drive.

Honda only hopes to sell around 40,000 Crosstours annually. By comparison, Toyota is on course to sell about 55,000 Venzas this year, an excellent start for a new model that made its debut during an economic crisis. However, it seems to me that the Crosstour may cut into sales of the Accord, which remains the nation's No. 2-selling automobile but hasn't overtaken the Camry as I once thought it might.

Lately, the Accord hasn't been doing especially well, partly because Honda hasn't used cash rebates to boost volume. Through the end of October, Accord sales fell to 244,579, down 26.6% vs. the same period last year. Camry sales only dropped 23.7%, to 294,493, during the period,

Behind the Wheel

The downside of the Crosstour is that it feels a bit sluggish compared with the V6-powered Venza (though, obviously, it's much quicker than the four-cylinder Venza). In my limited test-drive, I wasn't able to get an exact zero-to-60 acceleration time, but Car and Driver magazine clocked the Crosstour at 7.2 seconds, about half a second slower than the V6 Venza. The Crosstour's automatic transmission also lacks a manual shifting mode, a feature the Venza has.

However, in other respects I prefer the Honda. I drove the two models back-to-back and the Venza's steering feels loose and sloppy and its ride boaty compared with the Crosstour's. You're sitting higher up and the steering isn't quite as precise, but in most respects the Crosstour has the smooth, quiet ride of an Accord sedan—which is a good thing.

The look and feel of the Crosstour's interior is also very similar to the Accord's—another good thing. The two models share an instrument panel, so the Crosstour has the Accord's easy-to-use instruments and blue lighting, as well as similarly comfortable seats. There are two color schemes to choose from, both attractive: charcoal black upholstery with a monochromatic black instrument panel, or ivory upholstery with a two-tone black and tan instrument panel. Either includes wood trim similar to that in the Accord.

Having test-driven the new Acura ZDX, I expected the Crosstour's rear seat to be cramped. However, the two models are quite different (the ZDX with the Acura MDX rather than the Accord), and the Crosstour's rear doors are wider and its rear seat is surprisingly spacious. Knee, hip, foot, and shoulder space are all adequate for average-size adults. Even rear-seat headspace, which Honda rates at 37.5 inches, is adequate for adults six feet tall and under, despite the sloping roofline.

My big gripe about the Crosstour is the poor visibility out its two-tier rear window. This two-tier setup is found in the ZDX, Honda Insight, and 2010 Toyota Prius, and I don't like it in any of them. The top window is too radically sloped to allow much visibility, and the bottom window tends to get clouded up in bad weather. You can't see out very well even on sunny days.

Buy It or Bag It?

The Crosstour is a good choice for young families and empty-nest couples who don't want to drive a station wagon or SUV. It's more versatile and has more hauling capacity than an Accord sedan while maintaining many of the virtues that have made the Accord so popular. However, the Crosstour also costs nearly three grand more than an Accord sedan with V6 power and nearly eight grand more than a four-cylinder Accord.

If money is tight, there are other less expensive (and less odd-looking) alternatives, notably the Venza and the Subaru Outback, which comes standard with all-wheel drive and starts at $24,690 with a four-cylinder engine and an automatic transmission and $28,690 with a 3.6-liter, 256-horsepower six-cylinder engine.

If you prefer Honda products and aren't in a hurry, another possibility is the upcoming Acura TSX Sport Wagon. Based on the sporty European version of the Honda Accord wagon, this new model will be sleeker-looking and more like a station wagon than the Crosstour. Acura plans to start selling the TSX Sport Wagon next year as a 2011 model. Pricing hasn't yet been announced.

Click here to see more of the 2010 Honda Accord Crosstour.

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