Ford has the Edge. Subaru has the Outback. Toyota has the Venza. Nissan the Murano. Mazda the CX-7. Hyundai the Santa Fe. And now, coming later this month, Honda has the 2010 Accord Crosstour.
Yes, Honda is late to this game. Very late. And even at that, Honda really is only dipping its big toe into a segment where so many others have found success and won fans.
In fact, Honda has exceedingly modest expectations for the Crosstour: annual sales of about 3,000 for a car that amounts to a tall station wagon with a long list of standard upscale features.
Toyota has been selling more than 1,000 Venzas a month lately and Subaru's sales have exploded with the introduction of the newly updated Outback.
Officially, the Crosstour - with an estimated price of about $35,000 - is a crossover, which means it's a car sort of pretending to be an SUV. Pretending, indeed. In standard trim, the Crosstour is a front-driver, just like the Accord sedan on which it is based.
In reality, though, the Crosstour is a Honda Accord with a big hatchback at the rear and optional all-wheel-drive, leather seats, power everything, an excellent sound system, a lovely carpeted cargo area with nifty little hatches and cubbies all over, all powered by a strong and fuel efficient 3.5-litre V-6 (271 horsepower).
You read that right. Honda is only offering the Crosstour with a V-6. That's not entirely unusual. The Edge is a V-6-only ride, as is the Murano and the Santa Fe. On the other hand, Subaru has a four-cylinder Outback and Toyota can barely meet demand for its four-banger Venza.
Caution, thy name is Honda. But that's been the whole story of Honda for this past year.
More than a year ago, Honda began making radical moves to cut costs and align production with the falling demand of a global recession. To save money, Honda jettisoned its Formula One racing effort, offered buyouts to scores of workers, negotiated pay cuts with others, carefully revisited its new model development program and moved quickly to do its best at aligning production to falling demand. Honda's problems have been compounded by a strong yen that makes exports from Japan expensive in Canada and the United States.
The result of all Honda's diligence: a profit last year and Honda is predicting a profit for the fiscal year that ends next March 31.
"This was a really tough year," Honda Motor president Takanobu Ito recently told trade journal Automotive News. "We are barely making a profit. This is something we had anticipated from the very beginning, and our projection turned out to be true.
"Especially in the United States, our biggest market, the recovery, for us at least, is slow. And Europe's recovery is even slower. This is having a major negative impact on our corporate performance."
But not as bad as Ito might lead you to believe. Honda is predicting an annual profit of $2.1-billion (U.S.) for the current fiscal year. Jerry Chenkin, Honda Canada executive vice-president, says Honda is obsessive about earnings; without profits, there is no money for new-model development. And without new models and new technologies, Honda will fall behind the competition.
Yet while Honda does have leadership in many areas, including having Canada's best-selling car for nine straight years in the Civic, the Crosstour is an example of Honda chasing the competition.
This may be because Honda has been reluctant to tamper with its current lineup. In Honda's world, the Crosstour fits in between the Honda CR-V compact crossover and the Honda Pilot SUV. Honda apparently did not feel it needed something to fill that gap - until now.
It's possible Honda is not offering the Crosstour with a four-banger in order to avoid competing against the CR-V and hurting sales of the latter. Honda isn't saying. But the body language of company types suggests Honda Canada would rather have a four-cylinder Crosstour and let the CR-V - given a facelift for 2010, by the way - fend for itself.
The Crosstour, in fact, is a perfectly sensible Honda Accord hatchback. Moreover, it looks much better in person than any of the pictures might suggest. The newest Honda isn't quite as large and heavy as the Pilot or the Odyssey minivan. Yet it has roomier passenger quarters than the CR-V.
In terms of dimensions, well, the Crosstour is similar in width and height to the likes of the Venza, Murano and Outback, though the Honda has less ground clearance than these three rivals. Nonetheless, the Honda sits higher off the ground than a normal Accord sedan.
The whole point of the ride height here is twofold: It makes entry and exit easier for the targeted baby boomer buyers; and when equipped with the Real Time four-wheel-drive system from the CR-V, the tall-ish Crosstour gives you a shot at escaping your driveway after a snowstorm.
As a family ride - or an empty-nester baby boomer utility wagon - the Crosstour is just excellent. With 2,871 litres of cargo space when the 60/40-split rear seats are folded, the Crosstour has more space than a Venza and Outback. The rear seats fold completely flat, too - with an easy pull of handles that are an easy reach in the cargo hold.
On the other hand, with the rears up, the Crosstour's cargo hold is 728 litres, versus 869 and 972 respectively in the Toyota and Subaru. That means if you load up four sets of golf clubs, you'll need to pull out the drivers and tuck them here and there, creatively. Honda has included tie-down hooks, which are useful, indeed.
Moreover, Honda put the spare tire under the car and it has a plastic cover down there to keep it clean. With the spare out of the way, there is additional storage space below the rear floor in the cargo hold. A deep and hidden removable utility box provides storage, while on each side there are two recessed areas providing some hidden space, also.
Up front, ahead of the back seats, everything is essentially an Accord. That's good. The design here is clean and completely sensible, the materials durable looking and nicely put together. You will not find yourself looking for a knob or a control.
The cabin's soft-touch plastic material looks and feels fairly expensive and the steering wheel is meaty, fitting nicely into your hands. The dials are big and thoroughly legible. The dash has a simple flow across it. With Honda, function trumps art.
Not only is the Crosstour functional, it is a fine car to drive. Ride quality is almost identical to the Accord, which should not be a surprise; these Hondas share basic suspension components. Honda says minor revisions to the chassis have yielded a 20-per-cent increase in bending rigidity, along with a 3-per-cent increase in torsional or twisting rigidity.
The V-6 is plenty powerful and has Honda's fuel-saving cylinder-deactivation feature (Honda's Variable Cylinder Management). Mated to a standard five-speed automatic transmission - the only downside to this tranny is a hesitance to downshift - the Crosstour boasts pretty decent fuel economy using regular fuel: 11.5 litres per 100 km city/7.2 highway for the front-driver and 12.3 city/8.0 highway for the AWD version. The Honda is slightly more efficient than the six-cylinder Venza and Outback.
Honda expects the Crosstour to have all the best scores in crash tests and it certainly comes with the full range of active and passive safety features - from airbags all over to an anti-skid system. So it really is the full package.
Honda is late with the Crosstour and still lacking a four-banger, too. Nonetheless, the competition should be taking notice. In its niche, this new crossover is a standout.
2010 Accord Crosstour
Type: Five-door, mid-size cross-over wagon
Price: $35,000 (estimated)
Engine: 3.5-litre V-6, SOHC
Horsepower/torque: 271 hp/254 lb-ft
Transmission: Five-speed auto
Fuel economy (litres/100 km):
- 11.5 city/7.2 highway for FWD;
- 12.3 city/8.0 highway for AWD; regular gas
Alternatives: Ford Edge, Subaru Outback, Toyota Venza, Nissan Murano, Mazda CX-7, Hyundai Santa Fe
- Good fuel economy for this class
- Functional hatchback design with a clean and useful interior
- Creative storage space
- Honda's history for high quality and excellent safety scores
- Sloping roof compromises rear-seat headroom
- Cargo area design means you'll need to be creative when loading four sets of golf clubs
- Transmission is a bit reluctant to downshift
Editor's Note: The MSRP of the 2010 Honda Accord Crosstour EX-L two-wheel-drive model is $34,900.