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car review

2013 Honda Crosstour

It is fair to say Honda's Crosstour – a sort of outsized hatchback, sort of crossover, sort of station wagon – hasn't done as well as the company had hoped in the Canadian market.

But then, given that just about every auto journalist who's reviewed it since its introduction for 2010 has had to dip into their dictionaries to find additional descriptive words to expand their attacks on its styling – the latest I've read: "ungainly, hunchbacked appearance" – perhaps it has actually done better than Honda could have expected.

Personally, since I was introduced to the Crosstour at its Canadian launch, I've never had a problem with its looks.

This North American-designed and Accord-based vehicle – let's call it a mid-size crossover, as that's what Honda pitches it as – is definitely different-looking. And yes, the somewhat bustle-backed back end is where most of that "difference" is apparent. It is a little "zaftig" back there.

But the online Urban Dictionary describes zaftig as "carrying your extra weight very well." I'll go along with that. Come on, overall, this is a pretty good-looking vehicle – more dramatic and appealing than Toyota's not dissimilar-in-concept Venza anyway.

It's not so much the Crosstour's styling that has limited its appeal, as the fact its different approach, mid-size and not inexpensive price have made it difficult for prospective purchasers to place in a particular market pigeonhole. Its unique blend of features aren't going to suit a broad range of buyers.

It fulfills the role of extending the Accord range, as intended, although it's now simply marketed as the Crosstour. And Honda isn't giving any indication it is giving up on it.

For the 2013 model year, it introduced a new, lower-priced, entry-level, four-cylinder model, as well as a more efficient V-6 with new six-speed transmission (with paddle shifters). Minor styling changes front and rear freshen the appearance. Plus additional features have been added inside, such as a 200-mm information display screen, keyless Smart Entry, push-button start and upgraded materials.

The new four-cylinder, front-drive EX is priced at $28,990, or about $6,000 less than the all-wheel-drive, V-6 engined version. The model reviewed here is the step-up EX-L in four-cylinder front-drive form, which is priced at $32,590.

The base EX's feature list ticks most of the boxes you'd expect in an almost-$30,000 vehicle, with the EX-L adding a power passenger seat to the power driver's seat with memory, seat heaters, HondaLink with audio touch screen, a camera-based LaneWatch side-view system and collision and lane departure systems.. The EX-L also comes with leather trim, steering wheel and shift knob.

All this is found in a cabin that has decent room for four, including headroom, and is equipped with seats that will fit most forms, fronted by an attractively styled and functionally laid out dash. It's quiet inside at highway speeds, allowing you to enjoy the audio system and, overall, is a pleasant place to spend some touring time.

The coupe-like rear roofline compromises cargo capacity, with 728 litres available behind the 60/40-split rear seatback, and 1,453 litres with it folded. A Honda CR-V by comparison makes 1,920 litres of more usable space available. The Crosstour cargo area isn't as practical either, being shallow, long and narrowing at the rear seatback. Don't plan on loading any chests of drawers back there.

So, the EX-L looks good (well, I think so), has a nice interior, and provides people and cargo flexibility. But how does this 1,694-kg crossover go with a four under the hood rather than the 278-hp, 3.5-litre V-6?

The four-cylinder powering the Crosstour is the previous-generation Accord's 2.4-litre i-VTEC and produces 192 hp and 162 lb-ft of torque, which is delivered to the wheels via a five-speed automatic.

This powertrain produces acceleration rates that most should find acceptable, pulling away from a stop strongly enough and getting up to highway speed quickly enough. Punching the pedal to pass, however, is followed by a noticeable pause while it figures out what gear it should be in. Once it has, though, acceleration is brisk enough to deliver safely-low left-lane exposure times.

Fuel economy ratings are 9.4 litres/100 km city and 6.4 highway; in my week with the car, it averaged 9.0 and 7.3 at a highway cruise – which is better than many compact crossovers tested recently. The AWD V-6 Crosstour's ratings are 11.1 city/7.1 highway.

Both performance and economy would likely be better served by the torquier, direct-injection, Earth Dreams 2.4-litre unit found in the new Accord and its continuously variable transmission.

The Crosstour four weighs 175 kg less than the AWD V-6 and is better balanced, which makes it feel more responsive to input through a hydraulic power steering system with a naturally weighted connectivity. And despite weighing 230 kg more than an Accord sedan, it drives more like a mid-size sedan than most crossovers.

Honda's Crosstour might be the answer for those who feel they need a more conventional crossover's versatility, but don't actually want to own one. And the new four-cylinder model puts it in reach of more potential buyers.

Tech specs

2013 Honda Crosstour EX-L

Type: Compact crossover

Base Price: $32,590; as tested, $34,230

Engine: 2.4-litre, DOHC, inline-four

Horsepower/torque: 192 hp/162 lb-ft

Transmission: Five-speed automatic

Drive: Front-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9.4 city/6.4 highway; regular gas

Alternatives: Toyota Venza, Chevrolet Equinox, Dodge Journey, Ford Edge, Hyundai Santa Fe, Mazda CX-9