Review: 2010 Honda Accord Crosstour hatches a new niche

2010 Honda Crosstour – Click above for high-res image gallery

Its introduction was a case study in how to bungle an automotive social media campaign. Badly. It had people running for thesauruses to find new and fascinating synonyms for "ugly." Its TV campaign has something to do with jazz music and animals. And yet, for all the hubbub, hysterics and lamentations that Honda had completely lost its mind, the 2010 Honda Accord Crosstour quietly showed up and began finding customers.

Last month – its best sales performance to date – 2,587 people drove the odd-looking hatchwagon home. Recently, we took delivery of our own Crosstour EX-L tester, loaded-up with all-wheel drive and navigation, to see how we felt about spending a week with Honda's latest experiment.

Photos by Drew Phillips / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.

There's no question – none whatsoever – that the Honda Accord Crosstour's styling is controversial to the point of distraction. Some might call it upsetting. Others, however, might like it. Such is the reaction I experienced upon bringing it home. Prior to its arrival, I had essentially characterized the Crosstour as being Medusa on wheels to my better half. She, upon walking outside for a look at the car, returned, looked me in the eye and flatly stated, "That's not ugly. I don't know what your problem is."

To some extent, she's right. Not to damn it with faint praise, but from certain angles, the Accord Crosstour is genuinely not bad to look at. It's weird that way. The front three-quarter view actually has a jacked-up sportiness to it, as the fastback roof profile tapers gracefully, and the car's bulbous fanny is hidden from view. From the side, Honda's attempt to grab the Accord Coupe's jaunty visual mojo and apply it to a four-door body (well, five-door, but you get the gist) is plainly evident.

And you know, it has some juice to it; there's a muscular shoulder above the rear wheels, and the variety of additional creases and lines in the sheetmetal do their best to break up the big-car monotony. Even the bootylicious tail section works out fairly well in profile, with its subtle little lip spoiler punctuating the roofline's trailing edge. From the rear, the CRX/Insight-style split-glass tail looks pretty decent, as does the pair of polished exhaust tips fitted to our V6-powered tester. What basically kills the look for us is the Crosstour's face, which is unnecessarily overwrought thanks to its cartoonishly large radiator grille, which extends too far below the headlamps and bears no familial resemblance to either the Accord Coupe or Honda's bread-and-butter sedan. If Tim Burton and Michael Bay joined forces to make the Cheshire Cat into a Decepticon, this is what he'd look like.

Give Honda credit, though. They sure weren't afraid to take some risks with the styling. Sure, we'd bitch less if it were shaped like a traditional wagon (after all, Honda's served up a couple of tasty-looking ones under the Accord nameplate), but the wagon-averse U.S. auto market says that'd probably have been a far riskier business gamble than the hatchback we ended up with. If you're a Honda loyalist who's desperate for a regular wagon, head to your Acura store later this year and buy the TSX, but remember, if you want the V6 and AWD, the Crosstour is where it's at in the Honda Universe.

Inside, the Crosstour is the opposite of controversial as everything you see from the driver's seat is straight-up Accord. The instrument panel is the same straightforward, classy presentation you'll find in the sedan and coupe. This is mostly a good thing in terms of user-friendliness, though we're still nitpicky about the HVAC control layout (they're split up on either side of the wide center stack) and Honda's puzzling decision to use a dial for the audio system volume, but not the tuner, which gets a rocker switch ( Acuras get dials for both functions). The optional nav meant we got the recessed, high-mounted LCD display in the center of the dash. No touchscreen here – inputs are done via the large controller in the middle of the stack or through voice commands you initiate by thumbing a button on the steering wheel. The control interface for the screen-based nav/audio system takes a little getting used to, but once you set up your radio presets and get comfortable with everything, it's very much second nature. There's a six-disc CD changer, but it may as well be an eight-track deck; satellite radio and the car's USB connector made CDs seem positively quaint. Bluetooth setup is easy, with the voice command menus clear enough that we never needed to crack open the owner's manual.

The leather-clad front seats are heated, wide-bottomed and decently bolstered; they're comfy if not overly sporty, a description that summarizes the Crosstour in general. The cupholders mounted between them are fine at keeping the crucial morning-commute coffee secure, and can be covered when not in use. You'll also find the same automatic transmission shifter used in other Accord models, and the center storage bin is plenty roomy and ready to swallow up all manner of random in-car detritus.

Rear-seat passengers have little, if anything, to complain about. It's spacious back there, with ample legroom even for taller passengers. The Crosstour's aggressively-sloped roofline belies a surprising amount of backseat headroom, too. Average-sized adults will have no problems whatsoever, and even tall folks should find it surprisingly accommodating. If you have kids, mounting a baby seat or booster (or both) is no biggie. The Crosstour lives right up to the Accord moniker's family-car reputation. Our tester's all-black interior will doubtless be popular with many buyers, but we thought it contributed to a somewhat cavelike ambiance. If it were us forking over the as-tested price of $36,930 (the Crosstour ain't exactly cheap), we'd be sure to pick an exterior color that allows the Ivory interior to be selected. We've looked at Crosstours so equipped, and in our opinion, the cabin has a cheerier feel and a more premium (read: expensive-looking) visual impact with the lighter seats and trim.

Outward visibility is good straight ahead and to the sides, but the view out back is sketchy at best, even with the glass panel on the face of the tailgate. When reversing, we were thankful for the tester's included rearview camera, as it's the only way to honestly tell what you're about to back over. It's important enough, in fact, that we'd go so far as to say that if it's within your financial reach, you really ought to take a hard swallow and hand over the added premium for the Navi model, as that's the only way you get the backup cam. The view over your shoulder basically stinks, thanks to the dramatic roof angle. Get those mirrors adjusted properly, folks, unless you want a mundane lane change to turn into some sort of driver's ed cautionary tale.

If you're buying a Crosstour for its voluminous cargo capacity, you should probably check your research, since it trails pretty much every conceivable rival in this regard. Behind the back seats, you get 25.7 cubic feet of space; flipping down the second-row seats boosts total cargo room up to 51.3 cubic feet. As you can see from the sampling below, the competition wins this battle pretty handily. Even some compact SUVs like the Honda CR-V and Nissan Rogue come out ahead in terms of the cargo volume numbers game, thanks to their boxier styling:

The discrepancy is due to a combination of the Crosstour's rakish profile – where you pay the price for the fastback look – and intrusive rear strut towers and wheel wells that crowd the cargo area on both sides, eliminating any possibility of fitting long, wide cargo, even with the back seats folded. As for the space that is available, it's more than enough to handle a big shopping trip to the grocery store or DIY-big-box outlet. Just don't plan on hauling any really tall or bulky stuff. The rear cargo area also features hidden under-floor storage in the form of a removable, easy-to-clean plastic bin. It looks like it'd be handy for carrying messy stuff like trays of flowers, or just keeping loose trunk junk like your flashlight, jumper cables and first-aid kit out of the way.

If you're okay with everything we've discussed so far, you'll be happy to know that the Crosstour is entirely pleasant to drive. The 271 horsepower and 254 pound-feet of torque delivered by the 3.5-liter V6 is more than ample in town and on the highway, announcing itself with a subdued growl from beyond the firewall. Acceleration is not of the neck-snapping variety, but at the same time, it's no slouch should you give the long pedal a proper workout. As we noted previously, our tester had AWD, which will doubtless help sales in states that deal with snowy winters, but the worst weather we experienced was some rain, which the Crosstour would have tackled equally well if it were a front-driver. Honda's Variable Cylinder management is standard, allowing the engine to switch seamlessly between three-, four- and six-cylinder operation. If not for the indicator light in the instrument cluster, we wouldn't even have noticed when VCM was doing its thing. However, despite the cylinder deactivation we still only averaged fuel economy in the mid-teens in what wound up being predominantly local driving. The EPA rates the AWD Accord Crosstour at 17 mpg city, 24 mpg highway and 20 mpg in mixed use. Your results, as they say, may vary.

Dynamically, the Accord Crosstour is bereft of surprises despite its slightly higher stance and added heft. This is a good thing, as behavior is predictable, with a suspension tune that's reasonably firm and nicely communicative without compromising overall passenger comfort. Probe the limits, and it can get a little squishy when the road gets bendy, but seriously, that sort of driving is outside the Crosstour's prime directive. Nobody buying one is going to go there. Ever. In relaxed, kid-taxi/grocery-getter mode, it's a shining beacon of Accord-ness. Steering feel and response are also nicely dialed-in, and before long, you forget that you're not sold on the looks, because it's such a solid drive.

Ultimately, if you want to compare it to something reasonably similar, the Toyota Venza is the roomier and more stylish choice, but the 2010 Honda Accord Crosstour delivers the clearly superior behind-the-wheel experience. We'd happily road-trip one of these, even though we'd have to bring less stuff along for the ride. If you can get past its (extremely) polarizing styling and the lower cargo capacity that comes with it, the 2010 Honda Accord Crosstour is eminently capable. Enjoyable, even. Is this the Accord wagon so many of us hoped for? No. Instead, it's probably the best Accord hatchback ever. Pity it's not the best-looking one, too.

Photos by Drew Phillips / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.

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