You don't choose cars like these, you succumb to them. They creep up on you like thin hair and thick ankles. One minute you're rolling a 3 Series coupe, the next minute your wife needs room to haul her gardening stuff and the kids want rear doors and a DVD player.
It's about that time when wagon-style things like the 2010 Honda Accord Crosstour and 2009 Toyota Venza start to look attractive. OK, plausible maybe.
With extra cargo room and a more comforting view of the road, these tall wagons are sort of like SUVs, only without the guilt of a gas-sucking V8 under the hood. You won't find any big, heavy truck parts underneath their skins either.
Granted, neither the Honda nor the Toyota is going to do much for your image. In fact, you can pretty much kiss good-bye whatever sliver of cool you still had left. There are no wheels tall enough nor tires wide enough to make either of these vehicles look tough. These are wagons, and it's what's inside that counts. Don't worry, though. Your friends may wince, but your family will love you.
The Station Wagon Is Back
Honda and Toyota have done their best to position these vehicles as something entirely new, crossovers that defy categorization — segment-busters, if you will. But once you cut beneath the marketingspeak, the Crosstour and the Venza are essentially Accord and Camry wagons.
There should be no shame in such vehicles, and both the 2010 Honda Accord Crosstour and the 2009 Toyota Venza have the mainstream persona adopted over the years by the Accord and Camry. When you compare them with sedans, there are a few notable differences like the higher ride height and optional all-wheel-drive systems. And for better or worse, both feature unique styling. Some of this is helpful. The fact that both vehicles are treated as premium versions of their respective sedans is slightly less so.
Yes, you must pay up for the privilege of piloting these suburban carry-alls. The cheapest Honda Accord Crosstour starts at just under $30K for a front-wheel-drive model with a V6. The Venza offers a base model with an inline-4, but even that starts at $26K. Get loaded-up versions as we did and you're looking at $37,000 for the Honda and just over $39,000 for the Toyota.
Did you think the latest in car-based family transportation was going to be cheaper than some primitive pickup-based SUV? No chance, but at these prices these crossovers do include numerous family-friendly gadgets, like navigation systems, high-end stereos, heated leather seats, plus the requisite back-up camera so you don't run over the dog.
The whole point of these vehicles is the extra cargo room out back, so here's what you can expect. The Toyota Venza's cargo bay is wide and shallow. The Crosstour's space is narrow and deep. In technical terms this translates to 30.7 cubic feet of room behind the Venza's rear seats and 25.7 cubic feet in the Crosstour.
For further comparison, consider the fact that the Accord and Camry sedans offer roughly 14 cubic feet of space in their trunks. It's also worth noting that the hatchback configurations of the Crosstour and Venza make for much larger openings so there's less wedging and angling required in order to pack stuff in.
In the 2010 Honda Accord Crosstour, we found that a large suitcase and a stroller fit a little tight, while the Venza had room to spare with the same load. Possibly more important is the fact that the Venza offers an optional power-operated hatch and the Crosstour doesn't. On the flip side, there are several under-floor storage bins in the Honda and none in the Toyota.
If maximum capacity is a priority, the 2009 Toyota Venza wins with a total of 70 cubic feet of space compared to the Crosstour's 50.1 cubic feet. Both vehicles have 60/40-split second-row seats and both provide levers in the cargo area Again, the Honda's shorter, narrower space presents more of a challenge for odd-shaped cargo like a mountain bike, although one will fit even if one section of the second-row seat is in place. In the Venza, a bike fits more easily and your kid won't be eating the tire while he's sitting in the second row.
Two Sides of the Same Coin
Aside from their sizable backsides, the Crosstour and the Venza look and feel a lot like Accord and Camry sedans. Other than its slightly higher seating position, the Crosstour feels almost identical to the Accord from behind the wheel. That's probably because the cabin is, in fact, identical to that of the Accord sedan.
This is not altogether a bad thing. It means the 2010 Honda Accord Crosstour has an easy-to-read instrument cluster, high-quality interior materials and good visibility for driving. Build quality is solid, too. Other than the overcrowded mess of buttons in the middle of the dashboard, the Crosstour is a high-quality piece for a family car.
Toyota took a slightly different tack with the Venza. This Toyota crossover gets a unique interior layout compared to the Camry. There's a high-mounted shift lever on the elevated center console and a simplified climate control layout. It's all connected to a reconfigurable center console between the front seats that includes cupholders, iPod connections and extra storage room.
On the whole, though, the 2009 Toyota Venza's interior often misses the mark. The shift lever is indeed handy and the center console useful, but the rest of the cabin is too low-budget given the Venza's price. The climate controls feel frail, the wood trim isn't convincing and the texture of the steering wheel cover and dashboard is oddly rough and cheap-looking.
We also noticed that our particular Venza showed numerous signs of poor construction. Several panels on the dashboard were misaligned, while others appeared to be peeling back — not what you would expect from a company that built its reputation on quality control.
They Drive Like Sedans
To expect anything more than a sedate driving experience from either of these wagons is asking too much. They are five-passenger cocoons. You don't really drive them; you just sort of ride along.
That said, both vehicles have well-sorted suspensions and plenty of power. The Venza's V6 sends 268 horsepower through a six-speed automatic transmission, while the Crosstour uses five gears to distribute its 271 hp.
The extra gear helps the Venza quite a bit, as it hits 60 mph from a stop nearly a second quicker than the Crosstour (6.9 seconds versus 7.8 seconds), despite weighing 73 pounds more than the Honda (4,108 pounds versus 4,035 pounds).
Our seat-of-the-pants impression suggests it's not simply the Toyota's gearing that makes the difference between these two crossovers, because the Venza's transmission also shifts more deliberately and has much quicker reactions during normal driving. Stomp the throttle in the Honda and the gearbox thinks about it first before shelling out the horsepower.
It's a similar situation when it comes to handling. The 20-inch wheels and more aggressive Goodyear Eagle RS-A tires that come standard on the higher-trim Venza deliver better grip and sharper turn-in. Through the slalom they give the Toyota an advantage of about 1 mph over the Honda. Even during normal driving, the 2009 Toyota Venza feels lighter and more nimble than the 2010 Honda Accord Crosstour. If it weren't for the overboosted steering, the Venza might actually be interesting to drive instead of merely pleasant.
With its smaller, less aggressive tires and softer suspension setup, the Crosstour rides more comfortably over rough surfaces. Its steering isn't much better than the Venza's, though. It always feels like it wants to spring back to center and there's minimal road feel. There's very little harshness either, though, and the cabin is generally quieter than the Venza's, so it coddles a bit more than the Toyota.
If you're going to bite the bullet and go all in for the family, you might as well get a vehicle that includes more safety and functionality than you'll ever need. The safety part is easy in this case, as both vehicles feature multiple Naturally, four-wheel antilock brakes are standard across the board and both vehicles returned similar distances in our 60-0-mph testing (129 feet for the Honda and 128 feet for the Toyota). Pedal feel is slightly better in the Venza, as Both vehicles feature optional all-wheel-drive systems, which also add a measure of safety in poor weather. You never really know that they're even along for the ride until you encounter a loss of traction at the front wheels, which sends power immediately to the rear wheels to help out.
On rain-soaked roads we could feel the systems work only with full-throttle starts from a stop. Snow would obviously be a different story, but even front-wheel-drive versions come with standard traction control. There's a penalty for the added weight of the AWD system, though. The Venza's EPA mileage numbers drop by 1 mpg with AWD, while the Crosstour drops 2 mpg on the highway and 1 mpg in the city.
The Better of Two Good Choices
The 2009 Toyota Venza has an advantage here when it comes to day-to-day functionality because its backseats are more spacious and a DVD player is optional. The Toyota's optional keyless ignition system is another feature that's useful, As slick as the 2010 Honda Accord Crosstour is inside its cabin, after a week behind the wheel of both we gave the edge to the Venza. Yes, the Toyota's build quality is disappointing, but everything else about it is perfect for the segment. You can argue about the styling all you want, but the Venza delivers a better combination of passenger space, cargo capacity and feature content.
It's also faster down a freeway on-ramp and slightly easier on the wallet at the pump. Not exactly the stuff of automotive legend, but once you take the plunge, you'll realize the compromise is worth it. Just ask the family riding with you.
The manufacturers provided Edmunds these vehicles for the purposes of evaluation.
Copyright Edmunds.com, Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.