Honda Crosstour: Filling a niche

December 15, 2010
by Tony Whitney & Tim Dimopoulos

PURCHASINGB2B MAGAZINE, NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2010: The now extensive crossover class of vehicles has brought us some fascinating products which, as the name implies, cross boundaries between SUVs, sedans, wagons and even minivans (if three rows of seats are involved).

But there’s another benefit for manufacturers—it gives them the design freedom to come up with vehicles that break new ground altogether, products that use new approaches and present buyers with exciting alternatives to the old school business or family hauler.

A good example of this kind of thinking is the Honda Accord Crosstour, which doesn’t look at all like any of the square-rigged “one step away from an SUV” products being marketed as crossovers. Our long-term test Crosstour was a 2010 model, but Honda confirms that there will be no changes for 2011—no surprise, as this is a brand new product.

Our tester was fully equipped and came complete with all-wheel drive and a navigation system. The Crosstour nav system is satellite-linked and offers bilingual voice recognition. We found it easier to deal with than some rival vehicles offering this feature. It’s pretty well intuitive and many users will be able to operate it without even looking at the extensive manual.

And just in case you hanker for a good meal while out in your Crosstour, the nav system includes a digital version of the Zagat Survey restaurant guide with detailed information and even restaurant reviews. The reviews can be read on-screen too, though this is not recommended for the driver while the Crosstour is on the move.

The Crosstour, which is based on an Accord platform, has a character all its own and no doubt there’ll be many a friendly argument about what it really is. It might be classed as a rather large sports coupe with four doors, or an exceptionally stylish five-door hatchback.

At any event, it is immensely practical and has looks that should please just about everybody. Making use of the Accord platform means the Crosstour has excellent handling, great rack-and-pinion power steering with plenty of “feel”, and a very comfortable ride.

It’s a looker
Although the Crosstour has practicality in spades, it manages to look very pleasing at the same time. In configuration, it has much in common with the luxurious and expensive BMW X6, but it’s far more handsome. The stylists at BMW must look at the Crosstour and back to their X6 and think “where did we go wrong?”

The Crosstour is sleek, yet muscular, with design elements ranging from the elegant to the aggressive—a fine effort by the styling people at Honda. It does have a bulbous rear end to go with its coupe-like roofline, but this translates into generous interior space.

Jerry Chenkin, executive vice-president of Honda Canada, describes the Crosstour as: “an attractive option for Canadians wanting car-like handling and performance with the functionality of a sport utility vehicle.” There’s not much arguing with that.

The cabin layout is all practicality and typically Honda in fit, finish, all-around quality and material choices. The instrument panel and dash are well thought out and just about everything is easy to reach. It all looks a little complex at first, but user familiarity would soon take care of that.

The steering wheel, which is just about perfect for diameter and thickness, is host to a range of controls, including audio, cruise control and (for those who opt for the nav system) a Bluetooth telephone interface and various navigation functions.

The Bluetooth system, which most business users are familiar with nowadays, works very well—just leave your phone in your pocket and tap a button on the steering wheel when it rings. A microphone/speaker near the rear view mirror takes care of the rest. Incidentally, the steering wheel both tilts and telescopes—a very desirable feature that’s all too rare, even on some high-end vehicles.

Big on the inside
The interior is roomy, given the vehicle’s fairly trim outside dimensions and even the centre console bin has 5.3 litres of storage space. It boasts an input jack for an MP3 player. Also useful is a USB jack in this console bin.

All Crosstours feature a 360-watt audio layout with seven speakers that Honda claims can outperform some of the best aftermarket systems in the industry. Certainly, the sound in our test Crosstour was just about beyond reproach and made every drive a real pleasure—especially the longer ones. Standard also is an XM radio interface, so all an owner has to do is subscribe to the service.

The rear seating area is surprisingly large, even for a vehicle in this class. The big back hatch opens wide to reveal a substantial cargo area. This large door also means that rearward visibility is excellent. In fact, outward visibility is more than usually good for all occupants of the Crosstour.

All Crosstours have a dual-zone air conditioning system with filtration and humidity control. Even the fussiest occupants should be able to find a good comfort level in a Crosstour, regardless of the weather outside.

On Crosstours with climate control and navigation, the HVAC system uses GPS-linked solar technology to modify the temperature settings depending on which side of the vehicle is facing the sun. This will only work in the “auto” mode, as might be expected.

The rear seats fold down to turn the Crosstour into something akin to a station wagon. There’s a useful underfloor storage area below the rear load deck—a great place to hide valuables when parked where thieves may be around. It’s big enough to swallow all kinds of things—laptop computers, large cameras and important business papers or samples. It’s basically a large, deep, 54-litre bin with two handles so it can easily be lifted out of the vehicle.

EX-L variants have a cargo cover that opens and closes with the tailgate, so if you do have to leave large items on the load deck, they can be hidden from view. Also beneficial for security purposes is the dark-tinted rear side windows and tailgate glass that make it hard to see what’s inside.

Smart engine
For power, all Crosstours use Honda’s lively and responsive 3.5-litre i-VTEC V-6 delivering 271-horsepower. To keep fuel consumption under control there’s a cylinder deactivation system programmed to use three, four or six cylinders depending on power requirements. The engine, which is impressively responsive, very smooth and “torquey,” is mated to a smooth-shifting five-speed automatic transmission.

Buyers can choose 2WD and 4WD layouts according to their needs. There are three basic models, the EX-L (2WD), EX-L (4WD) and the EX-L 4WD Navi (the version we tested).

Actually, a basic Crosstour is exceptionally well fitted-out, as befits what Honda describes as “a refined premium product.” All models have leather seating (heated at the front) and other leather trim work (steering wheel, shift knob, etc.) plus the automatic climate control.

Wheels are 18-inch aluminum and look very handsome, if challenging to keep clean. Buyers also get a moonroof, power seats with driver-side memory and a long list of other standard benefits.

Multiple safety features
Honda has paid plenty of attention to safety in the Crosstour as well. Apart from Honda’s Advanced Compatibility Engineering (ACE) body structure design, the vehicle comes with stability assist, dual stage, multiple threshold front air bags, driver and front passenger side air bags and side curtain air bags. Honda’s ACE system involves a network of connected structural elements to distribute crash energy more evenly throughout the front of the vehicle.

Honda has even thought of any hapless pedestrian who may step in front of one of these Crosstours. The frontal structure is designed to help absorb energy in the event of a collision with a pedestrian. According to Honda’s research, a pedestrian’s chance of survival is dramatically enhanced thanks to the functionality of ACE.

Other safety features include anti-lock brakes with electronic brake distribution and assist, a rollover sensor (which triggers the curtain air bag system) and active front seat head restraints. A tire pressure monitoring system (it lights up on the instrument panel) alerts the driver whenever the air pressure of one or more of the Crosstour’s tires drops to a potentially critical level.

Although the Honda range of products is very extensive, the company has found justification to fill yet another niche with the Crosstour. It combines crisp handling with the utility of decent cargo space—all in a package that drives like an Accord Sedan. It’s very easy to forget that this is not a sports sedan or coupe, it handles that well.

It has power, refinement and luxury and is very well priced given its generous equipment roster. The Crosstour nails the right balance between the utility of a crossover and the drivability of a sedan.

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