Sedans, hatchbacks, and SUVs form the backbone of passenger car sales, but every once in a while an automaker steps off that grid and takes a risk, hoping for breakout success. Honda's effort, the 2011 Accord Crosstour, just might offer the kind of practicality and drivability that buyers crave.
A couple of things work in the Crosstour's favor. First, Honda bases it on the Accord, Honda's best seller, even reminding buyers of the association by including Accord in the name. Second, the Crosstour copies many of the attributes of the Subaru Outback, which has garnered Subaru record sales numbers.
Working against the Crosstour is its odd design, which might prevent mass-market acceptance. The front of the Crosstour employs the Accord's grille, making it look like a tall sedan. Things go a little haywire toward the back, where the car looks like a jumbo-size hatchback. Curved sheet metal gives it a bubble butt, similar to the Porsche Panamera, a car that provokes arguments over its design.
The Crosstour's rear hatch opens wide, and folding rear seats maximize cargo space. But rear wheel wells protrude into the space, eliminating the possibility of stacking sheets of 4x8-inch plywood in the back--a standard boast of hatchbacks. That said, there is plenty of room for non-carpentry-related cargo.
That hatchback, along with a high riding position, makes rear visibility from the Crosstour very poor. Expect to rely on the side mirrors when driving, and the rearview camera, the Crosstour's only driver assistance feature, is absolutely essential when parking.
Here is an essential contradiction of the Crosstour's cabin tech: the rearview camera is a must-have feature, but it only comes bundled with the navigation system, which is one of the worst currently offered. This DVD-based system shows maps only in 2D, and the resolution is poor. Street names are jagged and hard to read, and the gap between the highest zoom and the next level is too big.
This navigation system offers nothing but the basics. It doesn't have integrated traffic data or text-to-speech capability, in which a system reads out the names of streets. The best that can be said for it is that the points-of-interest database includes Zagat ratings for restaurants.
Besides the rearview camera, the only other advantage to choosing the navigation option is the display of audio information on the LCD. The Crosstour has a USB port that works with both iPods and USB storage devices. The onscreen interface for both is ugly, but least it shows a full music library, with categories for artist, album, and genre. Satellite radio also takes advantage of the LCD, showing categories and channel listings.
Music plays through a seven-speaker audio system that includes a subwoofer. A 360-watt amp gives the system some punch, but it's not overwhelming. With the EX-L trim of CNET's review car, the audio system gets upgraded speakers that deliver superior sound. Tweeters in the A pillars produce finely detailed sounds that work exceptionally well with acoustic music. Turning up the subwoofer level can make for an uncomfortable thump. Multiple layers from heavily produced music can get lost with this system.
The Crosstour suffers from a chronic problem with all of Honda's cabin tech, namely that there are two separate voice command systems, each with its own buttons. One system comes with the navigation option, giving voice control for address entry and other car functions. The other controls the car's Bluetooth phone system.
The phone system offers a good set of features, such as importing a paired phone's contact list and making it available on the car's LCD. But Bluetooth in the car does not extend to audio streaming over the stereo.
Although the premium speakers are one reason to get the EX-L trim on the Honda Crosstour, the all-wheel-drive system is another. Only available with the EX-L trim, Honda's RealTime 4WD defaults to front-wheel drive. When the front wheels lose traction, torque transfers to the rear wheels.