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Test Drive: Four-Door Crossover Hatchbacks - Ladue News: Living

Test Drive: Four-Door Crossover Hatchbacks

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Posted: Thursday, August 23, 2012 12:53 pm | Updated: 3:27 pm, Tue Aug 28, 2012.

Once in a while, a whole new automotive category is created, and often, in an interesting and innovative way. The best recent example of this is the BMW X6, which pioneered a new class of vehicles. The X6 looks like a BMW X5 SUV with a sloping rear hatchback. It has the higher center of gravity, weight and poor gas mileage of an SUV without all the utility of a tall cargo area. That said, it is a macho-looking vehicle: I’ve always liked the look of a sloping rear hatchback design, which also makes loading and unloading cargo very easy, compared to a vehicle with a trunk. However, the electrically operated hatchback does impinge on rear-seat head room and reduces the height of cargo that can be carried under the hatch. I’m usually willing to sacrifice a little utility for style. The best analysis of the X6 I’ve found is that it’s the answer to a question nobody asked.

The interior boasts dual automatic climate control, heated and cooled well-bolstered leather seats, a sunroof, and plenty of (heated) rear-seat room with separate air vents and temperature control. A large, easily accessible cargo area below the hatch can be expanded to gigantic proportions by folding down the rear seats. BMW’s infamous I-Drive system controls a variety of functions through a remote knob-controlled screen in the center of the dash. Though it’s better than its predecessors, I still find it unnecessarily complicated—many of its functions could be better performed with hard buttons and knobs. Even a touch-screen would be an improvement. I did like the digital speedometer projected onto the windshield, however—a nice feature for a vehicle that can so easily exceed posted speed limits. The backup camera also was a welcome feature on such a tall vehicle.

The X6 boasts a 4.4 liter V-8 engine with two turbos that transmits power to all four wheels via an 8-speed automatic transmission. Gas mileage is 14 city, 20 highway. An available M sport package stiffens the suspension, gives it bigger wheels and a thick, leather-wrapped M steering wheel with paddle shifters. The steering and suspension are both nice and tight, and it handles as much like a BMW as a sport utility can. The M suspension would probably be too stiff for most drivers, but I liked it. Power from the V-8 is plentiful, and can move this 5,200-plus-pound vehicle around pretty quickly. The X6 is not built for off-road use, but rather, it’s designed to help keep you on the road in any kind of weather or road conditions.

According to Plaza BMW’s Jason Catlin, “The X6 appeals to a niche—often a single guy—who wants a sports SUV that performs like a BMW.”

The X6 starts at about $71,500; and the one I drove, which had all the bells and whistles, rang up at more than $85,000.

Another recent entry into this new automotive category is the Honda Crosstour, which is an Accord-based vehicle with a hatchback, slightly higher ride height and available all-wheel drive.

Inside, leather-clad front seats are well-bolstered and heated. Dual, automatic climate control is through a simple series of buttons on either side of the radio controls in the middle of the dash. The available navigation system is displayed on a large screen atop the dash, which also has a back-up camera. There’s a surprisingly large amount of room in the back seat, especially leg room, and second-row occupants even get their own air vents. Cargo room beneath the rear hatch is quite large and grows to enormous with the rear seats folded. The wide opening hatch makes loading and unloading a breeze. Rearward visibility is slightly hindered by a horizontal body piece that separates the sloping part of the rear window from the vertical part. Otherwise, visibility is good.

Power with the V-6 is plentiful, and the brakes are equally up to the task. Handling, ride comfort and road feel are good, with slightly over-boosted power steering at low speeds that tightens up as speed increases. Because ground clearance is only slightly greater than an Accord’s, the Crosstour drives and handles like a car, not an SUV. Mileage is 18 city, 26 highway with the V-6. It’s 21 and 29, respectively with the 192-horsepower, 4-cylinder model. The V-6 is a 3.5- liter—good for 271 horsepower that can go to the front wheels or all four wheels through a 5-speed automatic.

Dave Bluestein recently purchased a Crosstour and loves it. “It gets great mileage and has tons of cargo space in back, especially with the rear seats folded. It has a lot of pep and rides and handles nicely.”

Nick Johnston, internet sales manager at Honda of Frontenac, says of the Crosstour, “The 2012 Crosstour is more than just a grocery hauler. It has the DNA of an Accord with more ground clearance, a large cargo area and available all-wheel-drive. Drivers love its unique styling and unexpected versatility.”

The base Crosstour starts at about $28,500 for the four-cylinder, and $31,000 for the six-cylinder model. To get all-wheel drive, you have to get leather, and the price starts at about $35,000.

Robert Paster (robertpaster.com) also is an attorney in private practice, concentrating in estate planning and probate.

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