Tall Station Wagons: Toyota versus Honda

by The Car Family.

For more reviews go to http://www.motorists.org/carfamily/home/most-reliable-vehicles/

 Toyota, Honda, and to some extent BMW have created a new niche for consumers and that is the tall station wagon. In an effort to avoid shattering the stigma of driving a minivan or a SUV, these companies have repurposed their Camry and Accord sedans and created expensive, feature laden people movers.

 The Toyota Venza and the Honda Crosstour are really just a new generation of station wagons that provide that higher seating position and available all wheel drive that carve into gas mileage, but are talking points at dealerships. The price of the Accord Crosstour, available only with a V6, starts around $30K and a similarly equipped Toyota Venza not much less. So pricing is similar, although a vast array of options can drive prices up considerable. You can expect to pay $30,000 with a couple of options for either model and since we highly recommend order ever piece of safety equipment available on a new car that cost can top $35,000. You probably won’t get the money back for safety features when you resell, but one day in a hospital makes such equipment an insurance policy.              

Both of these vehicles are well loaded with features, but the key element is the size of the cargo bay. We loaded both of these and found the cubic feet measurement useless in real life packing. The Honda has a high liftover and the interior narrow. The Toyota was easier to load and had more usable room for some objects. In daily life we would go with the Toyota. If you haul longer items the Honda is the one to own. Most importantly, we like the Venza’s optional power rear hatch. Both vehicles have rear seats that have a 60/40 split and reasonably flat floors.

We took both of these vehicles on extended trips and quickly found that the Toyota was more family friendly and the Honda the most fun to drive. The Honda has a larger blind spot to the rear and side and the Toyota is more difficult to maneuver. The gas mileage was not as good as we expected with both the Sienna and Odyssey vans getting better figures. The EPA estimates for both models is in the high teens in town and about 27 on the road.

Mom’s view: Interior wise, both are adequate, but the Honda has many more little storage spaces and under the floor bins. Diving these it is obvious who their parents were as reflected by ride, performance and handling. I was won over by the Honda’s more connected suspension, but the gauges and many cockpit controls make it difficult to master. With time this won’t be a problem. The Toyota’s interior is interesting with its high-mounted shift lever, Lexus like elevated center console with storage with integrated electronic connections, and cupholders that are a bit too shallow for larger drinks. The Honda feels and looks much more upscale.

Both of our test vehicles had a V6. Toyota does offer a four-cylinder version, but it is a bit too weak when loaded with a family and traveling in mountains terrain. Both V6 engines make almost identical horsepower in the 270 range, but the Venza has six speed automatic transmission versus five for the Honda. The Toyota is quicker, but both cars get about 22 mpg in mixed driving and neither is going to cause you alarm when passing at legal speeds.

Safety wise both vehicles have multiple airbags, electronic stability control systems, and four-wheel antilock brakes. Both cars stop fairly quickly considering their bulk, but the Honda’s brake feel is better and the steering provides better feedback. Around town the Toyota is easier to park. We never recommend all wheel drive unless you live where inclement weather is a concern. The extra maintenance, insurance in some cases, and reduced fuel mileage make such an option questionable.

Overall, the Toyota is easily the most user friendly for a family, but it is so boring and pricy I just question why not get a nice Sienna minivan or RAV 4? The Honda was quite elegant and more enjoyable to drive. The GPS is easy to use except for the visibility problems is very easy to drive with a touch of fun. The larger rear cargo hold is a real plus thanks to the way Toyota has placed the rear struts very upright so you have a wider storage bay. The Honda’s struts and rear speakers take up too much room for wider loads to fit. The liftover height also makes it difficult for shorter people to load heavy objects.


Dad’s view: These two are quite different and I recommend you test drive them back-to-back in situations you are most likely to use them such as around town and highways. I like the Honda due to its handling and more attractive interior. The place usually occupied by a spare tire has been turned into a storage area and the tire resides in a compartment under the car. The Venza has a panoramic glass roof option that extends over the rear seats. It lets in some heat and is essentially limited in use to those who like to stare at the sky or skyscrapers for long periods of time.

I drove both of these on mixed circuits and both had acceptable, if not boring, road manners. Neither is a ball of fire even when compared to their sisters, the Accord and Camry. But that isn’t the point with these tall wagons. They provide enough room, enough acceleration, enough stopping power, and enough interior room for me to classify them as good enough.

Young working woman’s view: The Toyota looks old and feels dated. The Honda is sportier looking and much more fun to drive. The Venza has 20-inch rims and tires that create a fair amount of tire slap. We like the idea of larger tires, but they don’t appear to help the cornering so what’s the point? Both the Venza and Crosstour are easy to get into when wearing a dress and are ideal for older people who don’t like to step up to a SUV.

Young working male’s view: The Active Sound Control system is very interesting in the Honda. It is said that it utilizes the audio system to detect and quiet introducing noise frequencies. I worked because the interior is very quiet considering the large interior space. The GPS on the Honda lets you input data while the vehicle is moving and is a easier to use. However, the screen is difficult to read in bright sunlight. Working for http://www.eracks.com making low cost, open sourced servers and computers I am very familiar with the use of technology and these two vehicles are fairly up to date. The problem is that the pricing for these two would indicate that they have a much more sophisticated audio system. Outside of pricing the Toyota is best for family hauling and the Honda for just hauling.

Family conference: None of these can replace a minivan for utility, but if you must have a tall station wagon each of these models has its forte. The Toyota is well equipped, soft riding, and gets fairly good gas mileage. The Honda handles well and has good build quality and is more fun to drive. On the other hand, restricted visibility to the sides and a slender cargo bay reduce its value. Speaking of which, both of these are priced dear so look for deals. For the list of vehicle websites go to http://www.reacheverychild.com/business/index.html