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Honda crossovers are half duckling, half swan

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Sunday, January 17, 2010

DETROIT

This Story

They are strange conveyances -- part beasts, part beauties, vehicles that in the process of becoming, from one perspective, became the wrong thing.

From another view, they are works of genius, blending function and design into a rendering of the modern American psyche -- a mind-set that says you can become one in marriage and parenthood without losing your individual identity . . . and that you can age without growing old.

In short, the 2010 Honda Accord Crosstour and its upscale kin, the 2010 Acura ZDX, are motorized contradictions. They are sedans designed to do some of the work of wagons or sport-utility vehicles with the appearance and attitude of sports coupes.

As such, the Honda Crosstour and Acura ZDX are among the latest crossover vehicles, a highly lucrative model segment created for adults trapped in the river of denial and the messiness of redefinition.

Honda's genius is that it has discovered how to exploit the many layers of the cross-purpose, crossover phenomenon, by slicing it into gender, income, age and life stage (young parents in need of a family hauler and golden-parachute empty nesters desirous of hauling, for instance).

Thus, we have the Honda Crosstour for the middle class, a purchase mostly expected to be influenced by women in those households. And we have the Acura ZDX, expected to be favored by well-employed single men, well-employed young couples without children, or those golden-parachute empty nesters.

I, my wife, Mary Anne, and Ria Manglapus, my Washington Post assistant for vehicle evaluations, developed these ideas on test drives in Northern Virginia. Additional research here at the North American International Auto Show, where I interviewed Honda executives and show spectators about the Crosstour and ZDX, backed our theories.

In unscientific polling, we interviewed eight men and 10 women, ages 30 to 62, all employed, all with some college or professional training, all parents and half (nine) divorced. Two of the women and two of the men drove both the Crosstour and ZDX.

Here are some snippets:

-- All eight men interviewed, including Brian Armstead, a fellow automotive journalist who joined me in driving both vehicles, ridiculed the Crosstour's excessively long nose and wide, fat rear end. "Confused," I said. Brian said . . . well, what Brian said can't be printed in a family newspaper.


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