2010 Honda Accord Crosstour: Fastback to the future

Sexy styling and practicality meet in new crossover SUV
by: JAIME VALDEZ, Baby's got back – fastback styling and hatchback practicality.

The fastback is, well, back.

Automakers have traditionally used fastback styling to produce sportier-looking versions of their coupes and sedans. Some incorporated hatchbacks to increase cargo space over conventional trunks. The look lost favor in recent years, however, as buyers shifted to more practical people-haulers, beginning with minvans, the early truck-based Sport Utility Vehicles and the newer car-based crossover SUVs.

But now the fastback is making a return as the latest version of the crossover. Toyota unveiled the Venza several months ago. BMW has introduced the 5 Series Grand Turismo. Honda is now weighing in with the Crosstour. And Acura will soon bring out its ZDM.

These four vehicles share common themes. All are five door hatchbacks. They are larger than sedans but smaller than minivans and most other mid-size crossovers. And they are available with all-wheel-drive.

But the first thing you notice is, they look sportier than other crossovers. The long, sloping rooflines achieve their purpose - adding flair to what are otherwise fairly utilitarian vehicles. Many people buy SUVs because they are practical. They can haul up to seven people and a lot of gear. But the boxy ones lack sex appeal and not everyone likes the oval-shaped contours of the Nissan Murano and Mazda CX9 (or their smaller siblings, the Rogue and CX7).

The Crosstour is an excellent example. Based on the Accord, it bears little resemblance to the coupe or sedan versions of Honda's popular car. Although only a little longer than the sedan, the Crosstour is much taller and wider, especially in the rear flanks. The side window lines are much longer, tapering to a point at rear that emphasizes the front to rear rake. And the grill is bigger and blunter, giving it a more aggressive look.

The front cabin is virtually the same as the coupe and sedan, however, which is a good thing. Honda has always been a leader in easy-to-use controls. The gauges are big and the buttons are logically-grouped. The fit and finish is also excellent, creating an upscale feel without being ostentatious.

But because the Crosstour is a crossover, the drivers and passengers sit a couple inches high than in the coupe and sedan, improving visibility.

The back seat and cargo area is where the interior of the Crossover really excels, however. Headroom is significantly better and the storage space is near twice as large.

And then there's the optional all-wheel-drive system, which is not even available on the coupe and sedan. Especially in winter, better traction makes a lot of sense in the Pacific Northwest. The Crosstour felt sure and stable during several freeway trips in driving rains. Traveling the city's poorly maintained roads was not a problem, either.

Only one power train is available - Honda's 3.5-liter V6 mated to a five-speed automatic transmission. Fortunately, this combination is well-suited for the Crosstour. The 271 horsepower moves the nearly two-ton vehicle smoothly down the road, and downshifts happen quickly when needed for freeway passing. The EPA average 20 miles per gallon is typical for the class.

Perhaps the biggest problem is the design of the hatch. Rear visibility is limited by a spoiler that runs across the lower portion of the glass window. The hatch also lacks an outsider handle, which makes closing it difficult in the rain. But at least the design gives the Crosstour a distinctive rear end.

Some car reviewers have seemed puzzled by the new generation of fastbacks, wondering whether buyers will put off by their styling. Our Crosstour drew nothing but favorable comments in the week we had it. Practical doesn't have to mean dull.

Facts and figures

• Test Model: 2010 Accord Crosstour.

• Manufacturer: Honda.

• Class: Mid-size crossover SUV.

• Layout: Front engine, front or all-wheel-drive.

• Style: Five-passenger, five-door hatchback.

• Power train: 3.5-liter V6 (271 hp).

• Transmissions: 5-speed automatic.

• EPA estimated city/highway mileage: 17/25.

• Price: Beginning at approximately $29,000 (price as tested $36,000).