Fastback crossover has a lot to offer in addition to cargo space
by: HONDA MOTOR CO., This year the Crosstour drops the Accord name and becomes its own model.

Sometimes Honda just can't get a break.

For years automotive writers have complained that the company's styling is too conservative. Although Honda's vehciles are praised for their quality, safety and economy, their looks routinely get faulted as dull - or at least not exciting.

So what happened when Honda unveiled the sporty fastback version of its popular Accord called the Crosstour in 2009? The large, sloping rear end that houses an impressive amount of additional cargo space was almost universally denounced as ugly.

Go figure.

For the record, I like the Crosstour and the similar looking ZDX produced by Honda's premium brand, Acura. Yes, both are almost caricatures of sport wagons. But they are also visually striking and surprisingly functional, with the exception of some reduced rearward visibility.

Although they look alike, the Crosstour and ZDX are totally different vehciles. They do not share any sheetmetal or drivetrain components. But the Crosstour is well enough designed and built to be mistaken for the more expensive ZDX by the unitiated, sort of like finding a knockoff designer suit that will fool everyone at the class reunion.

The Crosstour is based on the Honda Accord and was originally sold at the Accord Crosstour. The name has been shortened this year to rebrand the Crosstour is a stand-alone model, much the way Subaru separated the Outback from the Legacy line a few years ago. The name change is not without justification. In addition to the exterior styling changes behind the front seats, the Crosstour is also available with all-wheel-drive, which is not offered on the Accord.

Viewed from the outside, the large rear end gives the Crosstour a much more aggressive look than the Accord, especially the way it rises up from behind the windshield. The split rear window is similar to that on the Toyota Prius and Honda's own Insight and CZX hybrids. Although the horizontal spoilers looks cool, they all interfere with the view out the back more than seems sensible.

The view forward from the front seats is exactly the same as that in the Accord - the same curvy dash, the same guages, the same button-laden console, everything. Fortunately, the overall interior design is a good one and the materials are high quality. The automatic transmission shift knob is big and beefy enough to give it a serious feel.

The base version of the Crosstour comes with front-wheel-drive and a new 2.4-liter inline fouyr cylinder engine. Our test Crosstour was the more expensive EX version that included Honda's praise worthy 3.5-liter V6 engine and AWD. With 271 availlable horsepower, it accelerated well for a 4,000-or-so pound car. Although the transmission has only five speeds instead of the six and even eight now being offered by various manufacturers, it worked well and shifted smoothly. The steering was light and precise, making the Crosstour feel surpringly nimble despite the weight.

And, of course, the available AWD is a plus for those of us living in the rainy (and occasionally snowy) Pacific Northwest.

Our upscale version also came with a number of comfort, convenience and entertainment upgrades that made driving it more inviting. They included heated leather seats, a premium stereo, a navigation system with a rear view camera, a sunroof and all the connectivity features everyone expects these days. The result was a surprisingly plush interior - another reasons why a Crosstour might be mistaken for a ZDX.

A number of reviewers have pointed out that the Crosstour is a very large car. That's true, but so is the Accord these days. For a car that once barely qualified as a compact, the Accord has grown over the years until it seems as big as the longrunning Chevy Impala. So, yes, when the desingers inflate the rear end, the Crosstour seems even larger. So were all of the Impala station wagons.

Which is why the Crosstour is so practical. Despite the sloping rear roofline, it can haul a lot of cargo - more groceries than you'll ever buy at one time, and enough luggage for a long family vacation. Yes, squaring off the rear end would have resulted in even more cargo space and might have silenced those criticizing the styling - but then they probably would have just complained it looked boring.

Facts and figures

• Model: 2012 Crosstour.

• Manufacturer: Honda.

• Class: Fullsize crossover.

• Layout: Front-motor, front and all-wheel-drive

• Styles: Five-door hatchack.

• Engines: 2.4-liter inline 4 cylinder (192 hp, 162 ft-lbs); 3.5-liter V6 (271 hp, 254 ft-lbs).

• Transmission: Five-speed automatic.

• EPA estimated city/highway mileage: 21/29; 18/26 (as tested).

• Prices: Starting around $28,000 ($37,350 as tested).

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