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Sedans, hatchbacks, and SUVs form the backbone of passenger car sales, but every once in a while an automaker steps off that grid and takes a risk, hoping for breakout success. Honda's effort, the 2011 Accord Crosstour, just might offer the kind of practicality and drivability that buyers crave.
A couple of things work in the Crosstour's favor. First, Honda bases it on the Accord, Honda's best seller, even reminding buyers of the association by including Accord in the name. Second, the Crosstour copies many of the attributes of the Subaru Outback, which has garnered Subaru record sales numbers.
Working against the Crosstour is its odd design, which might prevent mass-market acceptance. The front of the Crosstour employs the Accord's grille, making it look like a tall sedan. Things go a little haywire toward the back, where the car looks like a jumbo-size hatchback. Curved sheet metal gives it a bubble butt, similar to the Porsche Panamera, a car that provokes arguments over its design.
The Crosstour's rear hatch opens wide, and folding rear seats maximize cargo space. But rear wheel wells protrude into the space, eliminating the possibility of stacking sheets of 4x8-inch plywood in the back--a standard boast of hatchbacks. That said, there is plenty of room for non-carpentry-related cargo.
The Crosstour's hatchback offers plenty of room for meditation.
That hatchback, along with a high riding position, makes rear visibility from the Crosstour very poor. Expect to rely on the side mirrors when driving, and the rearview camera, the Crosstour's only driver assistance feature, is absolutely essential when parking.
Here is an essential contradiction of the Crosstour's cabin tech: the rearview camera is a must-have feature, but it only comes bundled with the navigation system, which is one of the worst currently offered. This DVD-based system shows maps only in 2D, and the resolution is poor. Street names are jagged and hard to read, and the gap between the highest zoom and the next level is too big.
This navigation system offers nothing but the basics. It doesn't have integrated traffic data or text-to-speech capability, in which a system reads out the names of streets. The best that can be said for it is that the points-of-interest database includes Zagat ratings for restaurants.
This navigation system, with its low-resolution maps, dates back at least six years.
Besides the rearview camera, the only other advantage to choosing the navigation option is the display of audio information on the LCD. The Crosstour has a USB port that works with both iPods and USB storage devices. The onscreen interface for both is ugly, but least it shows a full music library, with categories for artist, album, and genre. Satellite radio also takes advantage of the LCD, showing categories and channel listings.
Music plays through a seven-speaker audio system that includes a subwoofer. A 360-watt amp gives the system some punch, but it's not overwhelming. With the EX-L trim of CNET's review car, the audio system gets upgraded speakers that deliver superior sound. Tweeters in the A pillars produce finely detailed sounds that work exceptionally well with acoustic music. Turning up the subwoofer level can make for an uncomfortable thump. Multiple layers from heavily produced music can get lost with this system.
Honda stacks buttons for the phone's voice command system over buttons for the navigation system's voice command system.
The Crosstour suffers from a chronic problem with all of Honda's cabin tech, namely that there are two separate voice command systems, each with its own buttons. One system comes with the navigation option, giving voice control for address entry and other car functions. The other controls the car's Bluetooth phone system.
The phone system offers a good set of features, such as importing a paired phone's contact list and making it available on the car's LCD. But Bluetooth in the car does not extend to audio streaming over the stereo.
Although the premium speakers are one reason to get the EX-L trim on the Honda Crosstour, the all-wheel-drive system is another. Only available with the EX-L trim, Honda's RealTime 4WD defaults to front-wheel drive. When the front wheels lose traction, torque transfers to the rear wheels.
With all-wheel drive and a raised ride height, the Crosstour can handle light off-road work.
The system works completely automatically, and does not offer any way for the driver to lock the torque distribution. Taking the Crosstour up a gravelly slope, we found the system worked as advertised with the grind of one of the front wheels spinning free being quickly replaced by continued ascent as the rear wheels dug in.
The Crosstour rides higher than the Accord sedan, with 6 inches of ground clearance. That may not be river-fording height, but it will keep the Crosstour from getting bogged down in snow and let it navigate rutted roads.
On normal roads, the Crosstour shows an easy drivability. The steering uses a variable ratio, but the wheel feels loose, offering a comfortable amount of play. It doesn't require much input during long freeway cruises, but also doesn't feel like precision steering. In dense urban areas, the turning radius seemed a little wide, requiring more than one instance of backing and filling to exit a parking space.
Taking a turn at speed, the Crosstour shows some good stability, with no excessive body roll. But at the beginning of a turn the car feels like it wants to neatly rotate. Then something weird happens--possibly the stability electronics taking over--and resets the car's balance. That behavior underlines the fact that the Crosstour is not a sports car.
Although the Accord sedan can be had with a four- or six-cylinder engine, Honda makes the Crosstour with a V-6 only. This 3.5-liter V-6 appears in many different Honda vehicles, and uses Honda's VTEC variable valve timing to improve efficiency. Output is 271 horsepower and 254 pound-feet of torque--not the most spectacular numbers when compared with newer, direct-injection engines.
But power feels more than adequate from the driver's seat. The Crosstour responds well to accelerator input. It moves fast enough for comfortable freeway merges and jumps off the line with a satisfying push.
The automatic transmission has only five gears, limiting the engine's efficiency.
The automatic transmission's lack of a sixth gear puts it in the Stone Age category. Rather than manual gear selection, Honda gives it three low ranges, which works for the car's mission but will bother drivers who want precise gear control.
Fuel economy for the Crosstour with all-wheel drive is EPA rated at 18 mpg city and 26 mpg highway. CNET's review car showed midteens in city driving, but ended with an average of 18.6 mpg over a mixed course of city, freeway, and mountain driving.
Honda employs the trick of active cylinder management to get the Crosstour's highway number. The engine shuts down up to half of its cylinders when cruising at steady speed, seamlessly reactivating them when the driver hits the gas. The system runs transparently, without intruding on the driving experience.
The car offers some advice on increasing mileage in the form of a green Eco light in the instrument cluster. But keeping that light shining restricts you to only the lightest pressure on the accelerator. Any call for even a measure of power will extinguish it.
Honda has not been pushing the tech envelope lately, a fact the 2011 Accord Crosstour EX-L demonstrates. The navigation system is at least six years old, but it is nice to see iPod integration and a decent Bluetooth phone system. The stereo's sound quality stands out as the car's high point for cabin tech.
The onscreen cabin tech interface uses an easy-to-understand paradigm, but its design is chunky and ugly. The dual voice command systems show an overall lack of integration when it comes to cabin tech. The hatchback cargo area offers good practicality, although the obstructed rear view is troublesome. As for the car's exterior design, it will certainly have its detractors, but it does have a unique appearance.
The only real highlight of the Crosstour's performance tech is the engine's cylinder management. All-wheel drive is a nice addition, but this system offers few features. The transmission is low-tech by today's standards.
|Model||2011 Honda Accord Crosstour|
|Power train||3.5-liter V-6, 5-speed automatic transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||18 mpg city/26 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||18.6 mpg|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Disc player||MP3-compatible 6-disc changer|
|MP3 player support||iPod integration|
|Other digital audio||USB drive, auxiliary input, satellite radio|
|Audio system||Seven-speaker 360-watt system|
|Driver aids||Rearview camera|
|Price as tested||$34,920|