The Ford Explorer ruled the SUV roost for most of a generation. Lately, it has faced fierce competition from car based versions, referred to as Cross-Over Utilities because they are based on car platforms, rather than truck platforms. Honda redesigned their CUV, the cute CRV, for 2007, and took the market by storm. Sales are up 42%. Autoblog reports that the success of the CRV has strained Honda’s production capacity, while sales of Ford’s truck-based Explorer have sunk 23%. The news is not all bad for Ford:

On the flip side, sales of the redesigned Honda CR-V are up forty-two percent so far this year and it has jumped to the number one spot on the chart followed by the Toyota RAV-4 and Ford Escape, with the new Ford Edge coming on strong as well.

Because we have moved even more downtown (yes, Cleveland still has a downtown), we decided to down-size from two cars to one. So we went out to our local Honda dealer to test drive the CR-V. Very practical; lots of space; but not very agile compared to our two stick-shift Accords. My wife nixed the chick-friendly CR-V. Too big and too high. So I tried out the Honda Civic SI. What a blast. A genuine boy-racer. It was real fun to snick it into 3rd and stomp the go-pedal. But the engine was turning over at 3000 rpm at freeway cruising speed and you could hear it. Fun for play but not the daily commute or the interstate trip. My wife noticed that you couldn’t even see the hood in the Civic. That made it a no-park, no-go car.

So we asked about stick-shift Accords. They had none. Nobody has any. That was salesman for “we don’t have any in stock but we don’t want you to leave the lot”. So I stuck my stake in the ground: “If it has to be automatic, it can’t be a 4-cylinder”.

So we ended up with yet another Honda Accord. But this one has a V6, a 5-speed auto, airbags everywhere, stability control, ABS and a cuter butt than the 2003 model. It wafts along. At 70mph, the engine is turning over at a tick over 2000rpm. Dab the accelerator and the local radar trap will nab you at 80mph. Stomp it, and you’re good for 100mph and a complete loss of driving privileges. Strangely, it is easier to drive slowly than the stick-shift four cylinder. It just wafts along, and you know that whatever sensible speed you want is just a dab away.

I was reminded of a BMW 535 that I drove back in the early 90s. Today’s Accord is more powerful, safer, and a whole lot cheaper than that BMW. Of course, the current BMW 5-series is a step-up from the Accord; a $15,000 step-up.

What does the CRV have that the Accord doesn’t? More space for cargo. You could likely get six live sheep in the back of a CRV and only two dead ones in the trunk of an Accord. What I really wanted was an Accord station wagon, the equivalent of the BMW 5-Series Sports Wagon. Hint to Honda: the Odyssey owns the minivan market; bring back an Accord Sports Wagon. You can do it now.