AUTO

2010 Honda Accord Crosstour

Let’s get something straight, the Honda Accord isn’t much of a looker. It’s a fine car, sure, and inoffensive in appearance, but 50 years from now the best-seller won’t be showing up on anyone’s “hottest cars of the ‘00s” list.

This being the case, is anyone actually surprised that the bigger, more bloated version of it isn’t exactly a work of art, either?

When photos of the Accord Crosstour were first released, the car’s own Facebook page was poked and prodded by an onslaught of negative comments, prompting Honda to respond that the styling ‘may not be for everyone.”

In its defense, the Crosstour is the company’s first entry into a relatively new vehicle class here in the United States: the full-size, five-door hatchback. Angling to offer the utility of a station wagon without the stigma, while maintaining the driving characteristics of a sedan instead of a more top-heavy crossover, cars like the Crosstour and BMW Gran Turismo are carving a new niche in the automotive market, one that is clearly a work in progress.

But that’s expected. You might remember that the ill-fated Pontiac Aztek was one of the original crossovers, and look how far they’ve come from that. Or not.

The problem with the Crosstour isn’t any particular element, but the sum its parts. The oversized, chiseled, cheese grater, cheese-eating grin of a grille not quite coming to terms with the over-inflated rear end. Pictures may not show it, but from a number of angles the Crosstour looks pretty good, and Honda’s photographers have gotten a lot better at capturing them since those first snaps, but the best vantage point is still from behind the wheel.

Step inside and you are magically transported to Accordville. Greeting you there is essentially the same crisply-drawn, charcoal black passenger cabin found in the four-door version of the Accord. Even the features and options list is nearly identical, with all of the usual suspects like Bluetooth, dual-zone climate control, and navigation system with an eight-inch screen that could maybe use a graphics update all available.

Front and rear seats offer ample head and legroom, and you sit a lot lower in them than you might expect, given that the Crosstour stands half a foot higher than the sedan. There are no paddles behind the steering wheel to change gears in the 5-speed transmission, nor a slap-shift gate on the console-mounted transmission selector. It doesn’t try to be that kind of car. But it could.

The Crosstour now represents the top of the Accord lineup. As such, it is only available with Honda’s 271hp V6. No plebian 4-cylinders for this carrier of plebes. The familiar engine is willing and smooth, with a nice bubbly induction note that permeates the cabin under heavy throttle. It gets a little help from a standard Active Sound Control (ASC) system which monitors ambient noise, then pumps reverse phase signals through the audio system’s speakers to selectively cancel out the unwanted stuff. During more relaxed driving, it turns the Crosstour into an isolation chamber, save for a surprising amount of wind roar that is either noticeable because everything else is so hushed, or impervious to the electronic countermeasures of the ASC

Electrically-assisted variable rate steering always offers the perfect amount of resistance, if not feedback. Considering that the Crosstour carries a couple of hundred pounds more than the sedan, the suspension is well-behaved, eating up fast curves and deep potholes alike. Overall, it’s a satisfying drive that’s totally within the character of the Accord nameplate.

Front-wheel-drive is standard on the $29,670 base EX model, and an on-call all-wheel-drive system is optional on the $34,040 EX-L, the only Accord model that gets it. Power is only sent to the rear when the front wheels start to slip, so it’s meant for bad weather, not performance, but worked well on some slushy streets I ran across. With only six inches of ground clearance, that’s probably about as ambitious as you’ll want to get. The Crosstour is no Subaru Outback

Mileage comes in at 18 mpg city/27 hwy for front-drive models, 17/25 with AWD. Since the Crosstour in a class almost by itself, it’s hard to quantify how good or bad those numbers are, but taking into account the overall size and power combination, they seem reasonable.

Of course, if you’re interested in buying this car, none of that matters. You’re choosing it for the hatch, and what’s underneath it. There you’ll find a long compartment with 25.7 cubic feet of space and reversible floor panels that are nicely-carpeted on one side and covered in weather-resistant plastic on the other, for when you need to load in the sloppy stuff. There’s also a removable box hidden under the floor that’s suspiciously similar in size to a case of beer considering that it’s so close to the tailgate.

Pull the remote release levers and the 60/40 split rear seat back drops forward to more than double the cargo room to 51.3 cu ft. Shamefully, that’s still six less than the Honda Fit subcompact can handle, but that car defies the laws of the space time continuum so the comparison is unfair.

The biggest drawback to the layout is probably the split rear window which bisects your field of vision horizontally, necessitated by the nearly flat hatchback lid. We’ve seen this before on both versions of the Honda’s Insight, not to mention its little legend, the CRX.

Unfortunately, a similar design can also be found on that pesky Pontiac Aztek that – for better or worse – will eternally be the benchmark for adventurous design.

At least it hasn’t stopped automakers from trying.

----------

2010 Honda Accord Crosstour EX-L with Navigation

Base Price: $36,220

Type: Front-engine, all-wheel-drive 5-door, 5-passenger crossover

Engine: 3.5L V6

Power: 271 hp, 254 lb-ft torque

Transmission: 5-speed automatic

MPG: 17 city/25 hwy

Gary Gastelu is FoxNews.com's Automotive Editor.