2011 Car Comparison: Honda Accord Crosstour vs Toyota Venza vs Subaru Outback

Last Updated: Dec 12, 2011

The Competition
In this midsize crossover-SUV comparison we compare the 2011 Honda Accord Crosstour, 2011 Toyota Venza, and 2011 Subaru Outback. In another age, these would be called station wagons, not SUVs. But being based on midsize sedans -- the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, and Subaru Legacy, respectively – they qualify as crossovers. All-wheel drive is a feature of each, but the three take slightly different tacks, to providing accommodating and practical transportation. This 2011 Honda Accord Crosstour vs. 2011 Toyota Venza vs. 2011 Subaru Outback comparison picks a winner based on price, features, and performance.

The 2011 Honda Accord Crosstour, 2011 Toyota Venza, and 2011 Subaru Outback all cost slightly more than the sedans upon which they’re based. But there are also notable starting-price differences among the three competitors: the Outback line begins at $23,920, Venzas are priced from $27,385, and the Accord Crosstour has a base price of $30,570. The differences shrink, however, once you begin to compare apples to apples, as we’ll explain below. (Base prices in this comparison review include the manufacturer’s delivery fee; note that Toyotas sold in some Southeastern and Gulf states are delivered by independent distributors and may carry different destination fees).

The Honda Accord Crosstour was introduced for model-year 2010; the 2011 version gets some a revised dashboard controls; don’t expect a major makeover until model-year 2014 or later. The Toyota Venza debuted for model-year 2009 and continues largely unchanged for 2011; it won’t likely begin its second generation until at least model-year 2013. The original Subaru Outback was last redesigned for model-year 2010 and carries over with a few option package revisions for 2011. The Outback should receive a mid-cycle update for model-year 2013.

The Similarities

  • The 2011 Honda Accord Crosstour, 2011 Toyota Venza, and 2011 Subaru Outback are wagons with taller rooflines and more ground clearance than the sedans upon which they’re based. But all three are relatively svelte, with shorter rooflines and lower step-in height than conventional SUVs and many crossovers. All three competitors are easy to drive, with car-like ride and handling. They emphasize solid highway-speed stability and nicely soak up potholes and pavement imperfections around town.
  • Though engines differ slightly in design, they’re similar in performance. The Accord Crosstour offers one engine, a 3.5-liter V-6 with 271 horsepower and 254 pound-feet of torque (think of torque as the force that gets a vehicle up to speed, horsepower as the energy that sustains momentum.) Venza and Outback offer four- and six-cylinder engines, giving you the option to choose higher fuel economy and lower purchase prices over sheer power. Either four-cylinder should be adequate for most buyers. The Venza’s 2.7-liter has 182 horsepower and 182 pound-feet of torque. The Outback’s 2.5-liter has 170 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque. Like the Accord Crosstour’s, the six-cylinder engine in the Venza and Outback is a 3.5-liter. The Venza’s has 268 horses and 246 pound-feet of torque, the Outback’s 256 and 247, respectively. While the Honda and Toyota have inline-four-cylinder engines and V-6s, the Subaru’s engines are “flat” designs in which the cylinders are horizontally opposed. The concept helps maintain a lower center of gravity for the sake of improved handling.
  • For these vehicles’ comparable powertrains, EPA fuel-economy ratings are similar and are in fact about average for midsize crossover SUVs. The 2011 Honda Accord Crosstour comes only with a V-6 and rates 18/27 mpg city/highway with front-wheel drive and 18/26 with all-wheel-drive (AWD). The 2011 Toyota Venza with the four-cylinder engine rates 21/27 mpg with front-drive and 20/25 with AWD; V-6 Venzas rate 19/26 with front-drive and 18/25 with AWD. Every 2011 Subaru Outback has AWD and those the four-cylinder engine rate 19/27 mpg with manual transmission and 21/27 with the continuously variable automatic transmission (see The Differences section, below). Six-cylinder Outbacks rate 18/25 mpg and come only with a conventional automatic transmission.
  • All three vehicles in this comparison seat five passengers in reasonable comfort. Unlike some crossover SUVs, none is available with a third-row seat. All three have cargo holds that can expand into the passenger compartment via split/folding rear seatbacks. They also have rear liftgates for easier loading and unloading. Each features a thoughtfully designed cabin, with easy-to-read analog gauges, myriad cup holders and storage compartments, 12-volt power points, and standard audio systems that include auxiliary inputs for connecting iPods and other portable electronic devices.
  • The Venza just edges the Outback for overall interior space, but in practice, the difference is negligible. The Toyota has 108.0 cubic feet of overall interior space, including 39.1 inches of rear legroom and 39.3 inches of rear headroom. The Outback has 105.4 cubic feet of interior volume, including 37.8 inches of rear legroom and 39.3 inches of rear headroom. You will not by any means feel squeezed in the Accord Crosstour, but on paper its passenger volume trails in this comparison test at 101.4 cubic feet, including 37.4 inches of rear legroom, and 37.5 inches of rear headroom.
  • Each of these competitors offers an assortment of luxury-minded options like heated front seats, leather upholstery, GPS navigation, Bluetooth hands-free mobile-phone interfaces, and rear backup cameras for easier parking and safer reversing. Among exclusive features, the Toyota Venza is the only model of the three to offer a rear-seat DVD entertainment system to help keep the kids (or the adults, for that matter) entertained over long trips, with a knee-height airbag on the driver’s side included for a touch of added safety. Pet lovers will want to check out the Venza’s dealer accessories, which include a rear liftgate ramp, pet buckles, rear seat harnesses, and waterproof seat covers. The only options offered with the Honda Accord Crosstour are AWD and a voice-activated navigation system that includes a rearview camera, but they’re available only on the top EX-L model, and not the base EX.

The Differences

  • Differing styling means different utility. The 2011 Honda Accord Crosstour aims for a rakish profile with a sweeping coupe-like roofline and broad and powerful front grille. Unfortunately making a bold visual statement comes at the expense of reduced interior and cargo room (see below). The 2011 Toyota Venza maintains more of a horizontal roofline, to the benefit of interior roominess, but sports enough curves to make its own attractive visual statement. The 2011 Subaru Outback is perhaps the dowdiest looking of the three, but edges out the Venza for greatest and cargo room. The Outback is also the only one here to affect the rugged persona of a true SUV, with blacked-out sections along its lower body and an off-road-friendly 8.7 inches of ground clearance. By comparison, the Venza has 8.1 inch of ground clearance and the Accord Crosstour just 6 inches
  • Part of the appeal of sensibly sized crossovers like the Accord Crosstour, Venza, and Outback is a sport-utility image without the trucky bulk and garage-consuming mass. But these competitors should also deliver much greater cargo capacity than a sedan, and that they do, though with varying degress of success. The Outback is surprisingly accommodating, with 34.3 cubic feet of volume behind the rear seats and 71.3 with the seatbacks folded flat. The Venza is a close second at 30.7 cubic feet aft of the rear seat and 70.1 with the seatbacks folded. The Toyota and Subaru rival much larger vehicles for carrying capacity and owe much of their volume to squared-off tailgate designs that keep the roofline high all the way back. The Accord Crosstour’s roofline begins to taper just aft of the rear seat into fastback shape that cuts into cargo volume. The numbers tell one story -- 25.7 cubic feet behind the rear seat, 51.3 with the rear seatbacks folded. In practice, the affect is more pronounced as boxes or bikes that fit nicely into the Venza and Outback prevent shutting the Accord Crosstour’s hatch.
  • The differences and similarities in engines have a counterpart in transmissions. The Accord Crosstour and Toyota Venza come only with automatic transmissions. The Honda's has five speeds while the Toyota’s is a more advanced six speed. Four-cylinder Outbacks offer a choice that’s rare in this class -- a six-speed manual transmission. Their substitute for an automatic is also fairly unusual -- a continuously variable transmission, or CVT.  A CVT swaps conventional gears for a belt and pulley system to help maximize an engine’s acceleration without having to pause to shift gears. Some drivers the absence of shifts and the full-throttle engine noise it allows during acceleration annoying. Six-cylinder engine Outbbacks only with a conventional five-speed automatic transmission.
  • The 2011 Accord Crosstour and 2011 Toyota Venza offer both front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive (AWD), while the 2011 Outback, like every Subaru, comes only with AWD. None is tailored for serious off-road use, though the Outback has the technology and ground clearance to get you far deeper into the, well, the outback, than the other two. In all three, AWD’s primary duty is enhanced traction on roads covered in deep or slippery snow. Front-wheel drive, by putting the weight of the powertrain over the tires that also propel the car, provides good grip in light snow. On dry surfaces, they operate in front-wheel drive until sensors detect front-tire slip. Then their AWD system automatically shuffles engine power between the front and rear wheels to restore traction. The Outback actually uses slightly different AWD systems, depending on powertrain. With the four-cylinder engine, the AWD system used with manual transmission locks into a 50/50 front/rear torque split upon wheel slip while the one used with the CVT reapportions the split constantly. With the six-cylinder engine, a more sophisticated AWD setup normally splits engine power 45/55 to maintain a slightly sportier rear-drive feel than managed by the Accord Crosstour or Venza, then reapportions constantly if traction is compromised. 
  • To styling and powertrain distinctions, add price differences. Honda’s corporate policy of avoiding separate options and equipping each model in a lineup with a set suite of features boosts the 2011 Accord Crosstour to the top of this comparison for base prices. Absence of a four-cylinder model in this line only exacerbates the difference. Base price for the 2011 Accord Crosstour  EX model is $30,570; it comes only with front-wheel drive. If you want AWD or a navigation system, you need to move up to the EX-L model, which also includes leather upholstery and other feature upgrades. The 2011 Accord Crosstour EX-L model is priced at $33,470 with front-wheel drive and $34,920 with AWD. For navigation, add $2,200 to the base price of either EX-L model.
  • Base prices for the 2011 Toyota Venza fall between those of the other two in this comparison. With the four-cylinder engine, the Venza starts at $27,385 with front-wheel drive and at $28,835 with AWD. With the V-6, the 2011 Venza starts at $29,210 with front-wheel drive and at $30,660 with AWD. Availability of the four-cylinder model accounts for much of Venza’s pricing edge over the Accord Crosstour. But compare V-6 models and start adding popular options, and the gap closes. Leather upholstery adds $1,600, for example. And a Comfort Package option with heated front seats, side mirrors, and windshield washers costs $2,100. The navigation system with a rear backup camera is priced at $2,580. Of course, many of these options also are available on a four-cylinder Venza, so you can have your amenities and save some bucks if you’re willing to forego the extra power of a V-6. 
  • Even with AWD standard, the 2011 the Subaru Outback is the most affordable of these three crossovers and it offers the widest range of models. Four-cylinder Outback base prices start at $23,920 for the 2.5i model and escalate to $25,220 for the better equipped 2.5i Premium. To those prices, add $1,000 to replace the manual transmission with the CVT. The four-cylinder Outback 2.5i Limited model comes with the CVT and starts at $29,220. All six-cylinder Outbacks have the six-speed manual transmission. The 3.6R starts at $28,920, the 3.6 R Premium at $29,920, and the 3.6 R Limited at $32,220. An All-Weather Package with heated seats, side mirrors, and windshield washers costs $500; bundled with a Harmon/Kardon premium audio system it costs $1,795 or $3,240 with the audio upgrade, a power moonroof, rear camera, auto-dimming rearview mirror, and garage-door opener for $3,240.

The Winner

The 2011 Subaru Outback. The Outback wins this comparison by performing a greater range of crossover chores with a wider variety of models and at lower prices than the Accord Crosstour or Venza. Outback highlights include its superior all-wheel-drive systems, cargo room, and passenger comfort. The 2011 Outback gets pricey in higher trim levels, but even with standard AWD it starts out several thousand dollars less than the competition’s least expensive front-drive models. Little surprise Outback is Subaru’s top-selling vehicle. If you’re willing to sacrifice some utility for styling, and are partial to the precision engineering evident in every Honda, the 2011 Accord Crosstour is your choice in this comparison. The 2011 Toyota Venza essentially takes the Camry sedan’s refinement and fine powertrains and expands them to wagon form. Unfortunately, it also carries over some of Camry’s entirely competent but less than scintillating driving manner.