By Jack Baruth
Thursday, Nov 26th, 2009 @ 4:40 pm
 
More than two decades before introducing the Accord Crosstour, Honda took the wraps off of its Civic "Wagovan." Part of the Japanese "tall-wagon" fad that also included such memorable rivals as the dual-sliding door Nissan Stanza Wagon and single-offset-reverse-light Toyota Tercel Sport Wagon, the Wagovan offered a mild amount of extra cargo space and a major dose of wacky styling. This all seems rather familiar.


The Wagovan was a typical Honda product of the era: Solidly built, competitively priced, charmingly economical. It lasted two generations before the onset of the SUV and the general mainstreaming of the Honda brand.

Fast-forward to today, and we have a brand-new Honda wacky wagon. This one's called the Accord Crosstour and it's aimed at Baby Boomers who enjoy the traffic-bully height of an SUV but no longer perceive a need for off-road capacity or are willing to endure low-teens fuel mileage associated with such vehicles.

At a glance
It's a big vehicle, nearly 200 inches long and perilously close to two tons in weight, which is no surprise since the plain-Jane Accord sedan is actually larger than a 1979 Chevrolet Malibu. There's plenty of get-up-and-go since it's exclusively motivated by the same 271-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 that can be found under the hood of upmarket Accords. It's also expensive, with most units sold expected to be in the mid-$30,000 range.

As with the Wagovan, the Crosstour has controversial styling, a point brought forcefully home by a storm of controversy surrounding "fan" comments on the car/truck/whatever's Facebook fan page. The Crosstour's nose is more truck-like than Hond's trucks, while the rear has a strong whiff of Rover 3500 to it - or perhaps Panamera. In overall concept and execution, it's really closest to the old AMC Eagle, a jacked-up hatchback with four-wheel drive and butch styling cues to impart some external masculinity to a fundamentally bland shape.

We could continue making allusions to the distant automotive past in this article (GM "Aeroback" A-bodies? The Merkur Scorpio?) but the Crosstour is really meant to compete with a very particular present-day automobile, namely Toyot's Venza. While Honda stridently denies that the Crosstour is a "response" to the Venza, it's hard to believe that the subject of the Venza just never came up during the design process.
As with the Venza, the Crosstour is meant to catch that 50-something empty-nester who likes the Avalon but is leaning towards a Highlander for "utility." That added "utility" comes in the form of a low hatch, available all-wheel-drive and an extra 0.3 inches of ground clearance. In the interest of journalistic integrity, we have to admit that the additional one-third inch probably kept us from high-centering the Crosstour during a roadside photo shoot.

True to Honda form
The Honda playbook calls for the Crosstour to be slightly sportier and more characterful than the competition from Toyota, and that's exactly what is provided here. On the road, the Crosstour feels distinctly more connected to the road than the Venza, with a more driver-focused interior, heavier steering and a more dynamic set of control responses. Wind noise and mechanical buzz are noticeable by their absence, leading us to wonder if perhaps the Crosstour doesn't stray slightly too far into Acura territory. Still, this ain't no Integra Type-R. Full throttle is met by torque steer, surround-sound squeal as the all-wheel-drive system attempts to find grip and a rather mild shove in the back as the V6 unsuccessfully attempts to repeal the laws of physics and aerodynamics. It may be slightly faster and handle a little better than a Ford Flex, but the differences are slight at best.

For the same money, that aforementioned Flex offers a vastly superior multimedia and navigation system. The Crosstour's central display screen and control layout is strongly reminiscent of both the 1999 Mercedes-Benz COMAND system and the 1991 Nintendo Entertainment System game "Tecmo Bowl." iPod users will find the on-screen track selection to be far too slow for all but the most modest music collections, while those "active Boomers" will be mystified by the recalcitrant Bluetooth connectivity. Honda can and should do better in this regard.

Although it's determinedly short on surprise-and-delight, the Crosstour really does drive and perform more or less in accordance with expectations. Honda loyalists, whether they meet the marketing-approved buyer profile or not, are likely to be quite satisfied with their purchase.

The question is: Why choose this over one of Hond's existing products? The Accord sedan offers most of the Crosstour's virtues at a considerably lower cost, while the Pilot and Odyssey are much better at tame off-road shenanigans and load-lugging, respectively. It's difficult to not see the Crosstour as a missed opportunity to provide a genuine Accord station wagon. Such a product would have offered better value, higher economy and more cargo capacity - all qualities which sit well with Hond's rather pragmatic customer base.

Leftlane's bottom line
For the rare Honda customer who does not count pragmatism among their primary personal qualities, the Crosstour provides a near-luxury experience at a near-near-luxury price. One question does come to mind: Why isn't there a four-cylinder Crosstour? After all, Toyota offers the Venza in four-banger format. Such a crossover could be sold for under thirty grand to those buyers who want the Crosstour form factor in a more affordable format. Honda could return the four-cylinder variant to the standard ride height, take some of the sound insulation and other weighty items out, and end up with an affordable, economical five-door for all the people who miss the old Accord hatchbacks. And if Crosstour no longer seems appropriate for such a vehicle, they could always call it" Wagosedan.

Words and photos by Jack Baruth.