2009 Honda Odyssey Road Test Review
HONDA'S ODYSSEY is a surprising car. It is surprisingly responsive, unusually spacious, and, most unexpected of all, is an enjoyable steer.
This was my first time at the wheel of Honda’s ‘Battlestar’. It had always seemed to bypass me and, fact is, I’d never had that much interest; didn’t seem my kind of car – too long, too much like a bus, just too… well... beige.
I had the Odyssey packaged up as a car for ‘sensible Mums’. You know, the ones who don’t want a lumbering SUV but nevertheless need something big-ish for lugging around the various fruits of the neighborhood’s loins.
These Mums need something with more than two rows of seats. They thrive on that Saturday torture shuttling bodies between cricket, drama class and calisthenics (they’re the ones with their faces pulled back past their ears).
The Odyssey is made for this, and does it at least as well as a larger SUV without weighing in like a C-Class locomotive.
But for me, something happened. After two weeks at the wheel of both the Odyssey Wagon and Odyssey ‘Luxury’ Wagon, I found that living with it was not at all as I expected.
I liked it. Quite a lot in fact.
First of all, the Odyssey is not a chore to drive – far from it – and, second, it makes sense. It wraps into the one package a whole lot of capabilities without compromising the things that matter: fuel economy, refinement, interior space and driving enjoyment.
But it’s just a flatter, sleeker people-mover isn’t it?
Well yes, but no. It moves people, sure, and quite a few of them – six plus the pilot if you care to count ‘em up – but it’s as low as a dachshund, and it drives more like a well-sorted wagon.
And where most approaches to people-movers put bus-like qualities first and dynamic qualities a distant fifth, tenth or seventeenth, Honda has engineered the Odyssey without forgetting the driver and the experience at the wheel.
We took it – one Odyssey Luxury, three bodies, four guitars and assorted bloke clobber - on a nearly 2000 kilometre round trip; not heavily loaded, but with most space accounted for.
The route took us from Honda headquarters in Melbourne, through Canberra, a bit of a break under the testicles on the giant ram at Goulburn, a day or two poking around Bowral, then straight back down the Hume.
By the time we were nosing the Odyssey into Honda’s Tullamarine carpark, it had us converted.
It’s not without shortcomings, but for that combination of versatility, on-road dynamics, and frugality at the pump, the Odyssey takes some tossing.
So, what’s good and what’s not so good about the Odyssey?
The 2009 Odyssey, though carrying the same ‘chopped’ profile of its predecessors, has come in for a number of subtle styling changes. What you will immediately notice is that it is now less slabby.
Most who volunteered an opinion were quite approving of its revised road-hugging looks and on-road presence.
The narrowed ‘pig-eyes’ of earlier models have been replaced with more conventional rectangular headlights. And the front, with a deeper air dam, chrome garnish and heavier ‘chin’ looks a little more conventional and considerably more purposeful.
While still quirky, the Odyssey is now more in keeping with the Honda ‘family face’.
While both models are similar externally, the Luxury model comes with a subtle body kit adding a lower lip to the front spoiler, side skirts and additions to the rear bumper. For sure, they serve no useful function, but they look ok and set off the long low lines and the rake of the cabin nicely.
The style-less dumpy rear of previous models has gone under the surgeon’s knife and emerged distinctly less hearse-like and with a lot more character. There is now a subtle blister that rises over the rear wheel arches, with a raised crease wrapping into the lines of the more shapely horizontal-set tail-lights.
With smart wheels and decent rubber below, ‘our’ Luxury version in gleaming white and with stylish cream leather, looked the part. That said, the cheaper ‘Wagon’ version is similarly stylish – in that quirky ‘chopped’ way.
The brilliance of the design however is how it manages to combine people-mover seating and access, under a roof that is just ‘a nose’ (69mm) higher than a Sportwagon, with an overall length that is just 70mm (another nose) longer than an Accord Euro.
Get settled behind the wheel of the Odyssey and you become immediately aware of two things: the plush seating and fit and finish throughout is sensational, and the dash is hideous.
You have to wonder how Honda managed to get so much of the Odyssey so right, yet gave us a dash with more craters and escarpments than the moon.
Sure, it is well-fitted, with easily-navigated controls, and the blue-lit instruments are clear and modern, but it is a perfect clash of elements and lines going nowhere.
And the audio unit sits above the centre stack like someone glued it in afterwards. (“Omigawd, we’ve forgotten the radio… quick, where’s the glue?”)
I don’t suppose it matters; after all, as a functional feature everything there works the way it should, but I could not help looking at it and shaking my head. (There, that’s off the chest.)
On the bright side, everything else about the interior appeals. The seats are as good as you’ll find: deep, supportive, nicely shaped and very comfortable. Even after the drive back, around 700k in one hit, there were no aches and no complaints about the comfort.
The sumptuous cream leather in the Luxury model was the pick of the Odyssey interiors we sampled (as you’d expect). But it is $6k dearer than the well-equipped entry model, and, leather trim aside, for shape and comfort of the seats there is little between them.
Both interiors have a premium feel with flawless stitching, amber burr walnut highlights, and impressive fit and finish.
The multi-function steering wheel is tilt and reach adjustable; the deeply recessed instrument dials are immense and spookily clear, controls are also clear and well laid out (even those in that strange audio binnacle), and the dashboard-mounted auto-shift falls comfortably to hand.
At night, with instruments and controls lit up in reds and blues, and with neat touches like the strip of soft blue lighting along the underside of the arm-rests, the Odyssey looks as modern as tomorrow.
Between the front seats, doubling as the centre console, is an aircraft-style foldable tray. Can’t work out why it folds, no-one taller than a Kelpie is ever going to walk from the front seats to the next row, but it’s functional enough (and makes a useful on-road picnic table).
Access to the rear is not as good as in some people movers, especially for adults trying to worm their way in, but it’s ok for transporting the teenage lumps (provided they don’t mind the knees up position) and perfect for younger fry.
All up, with beautifully trimmed monogrammed carpets, lounge-chair comfort and assiduously appointed, the interior of the Odyssey Luxury imparts a ‘first-class’ travel feel.
Which, of course, comes at a premium price.
While priced under the Luxury Car Tax threshold, at $49,990 (plus on road and delivery charges) for the Luxury, and $43,990 (plus on road and delivery charges) for the standard Wagon, the Odyssey is priced squarely against the likes of the Berlina, G6E, and Kluger.
Equipment and features
That well-configured Odyssey interior comes with the requisite toys: six-speaker audio with CD (six-stacker in the Luxury), MP3 and WMA decoder (and speed-dependent volume control), and aux-in socket.
The driver gets an adjustable steering column with tilt and reach control, multi-function steering wheel and cruise control remote central locking; alarm and engine immobiliser are standard fit. There is also a nicely placed driver's footrest.
Keeping the elements at bay are heat-insulted side windows and climate control air-conditioning (front and rear outlets) with pollen filter.
There are the requisite cup and bottle holders for first and second row passengers, map reading lamps also in first and second rows and seatback pockets in the front seats.
Both second and third row seats split fold for bulkier loads or can be tucked flat for an absolutely cavernous cargo area.
The rear seats fold invisibly into the floor. In the Luxury edition, you don’t need to lift more than a single finger to fold the third row away: hit the switch and they tilt, fold, then tuck flat and out of sight. It’s effortless and pretty neat.
Passive safety features include driver and passenger front and side airbags, with full-length curtain airbags for all three rows of seats. Lap/sash seatbelts are provided for all seven seats, front seats also getting seat-belt pre-tensioners.
The spare wheel is a space-saver type.
The 2009 Odyssey comes with an up-rated 2.4 litre DOHC i-VTEC four with 132kW at 6500rpm and 218Nm of torque at 4500rpm.
It is a delicious unit: superbly balanced and absolutely ‘flat’ whether ticking over at idle or spinning at the 6700rpm redline.
Honda gives us just one choice of transmission – a reasonably competent (but easily-bettered) five-speed automatic.
It works well enough, kicks down ok, has a ‘grade logic’ function which means it doesn’t ‘hunt’ through the hills, and adapts to your driving style like a modern fuzzy-logic adaptive transmission should.
But there is no tiptronic function nor paddles to play with, just a central lever mounted high on the centre console.
Things are more cutting-edge down below.
The Odyssey sits on a classy suspension with double wishbones and stabiliser bar both front and rear.
Brilliantly damped, and offering super feel at the wheel (with ‘motion adaptive’ electric power steering), you can sometimes forget you’re at the wheel of a seven-seat people mover.
For braking, there are ventilated discs up front, solid discs at the rear. There are also the requisite dynamic safety systems: antilock brakes (ABS) with brake assist, electronic brake force distribution (EBD) vehicle stability assist (VSA) and electronic stability and traction control.
The Odyssey Wagon sits on 16-inch alloys with 215/60 R16 95H tyres, while the Luxury edition gets 17-inch alloys and 215/55 R17 94V tyres.
The Odyssey is no performance car, but it does offer a distinct sporting edge to the drive.
The i-VTEC 2.4 litre four is a jewel (show me a Honda four that is not).
It ‘zings’ when at work, responds immediately to throttle input, and never sounds like it is tripping over itself. As revs rise, a muted rising high-tech multi-valve rasp tells you that Honda’s remarkable i-VTEC is at work.
Like all Honda engines, you simply never tire of its charms: it is one of the most engaging and appealing aspects of spending time at the wheel of the Odyssey.
But if you are looking for masses of power, look somewhere else.
The Odyssey is about balance. It will never win a traffic light derby against a middling family six, but you will have to look outside the people-mover segment to find another family car that goes about things in a sweeter and more satisfying way.
A downside for me however, is the lack of a manual option – or even a tiptronic-style auto. It really is a bit disappointing. I would love to pilot this car and this engine through a slick Honda six-speed. Unfortunately, that option is not on offer.
For a car which otherwise provides such driver involvement, a more engaging transmission is called for.
That said, there are no complaints about the way the transmission goes about its duties. And, if you bury the shoe, it will happily hold in each gear to near the redline to hustle things along, and will similarly instantly kick-down if called upon.
But the real strength of the Odyssey, and the ace in its sleeve, is in the quality of the drive and ‘feel’ at the wheel.
It feels right. It is quiet, it has the ‘connectness’ to the road of a European car and offers limousine-like refinement with NVH, road and wind noise all-but banished. And it is effortless at the wheel on a long drive.
The Odyssey also feels secure. You can push it surprisingly hard before it starts to lurch or feel at all unstable (after all, there is a lot of car being carried along behind the driver).
If anything, its handling is neutral. There is some understeer, but it only appears at the margins (when you’re really pressing on), and, like any well-balanced front-driver, can be corrected by lifting-off briefly.
We were genuinely impressed with its dynamic feel and abilities on the road.
Most impressive of all though is the fuel economy. For our trip to Bowral in the Luxury – three up and heading into a northerly up the Hume, and poking around Canberra on the way past, we returned 8.0 l/100km.
For the return trip to Melbourne, with just the driver and luggage in the car, that figure dropped to 7.5 l/100km.
We have no doubt that family drivers will be able to emulate these figures. We drove it normally, sitting on the legal 110kmh when we could (both up and back along the well-policed Hume), only slowing for the road-work sections north of the border.
Honda claims 8.9 l/100km on the combined cycle: easily achievable in my book.
Ignore, for one moment, the fact that the Odyssey is a flattened bus-kind-of-thing, because whatever else it is, it is finely balanced and a rewarding drive.
While it gives a little ground in power to some of its V6-engined competitors, none in the segment can match the Odyssey for refinement, responsiveness or dynamic feel.
The Odyssey is not about excess; it is about being adequately-powered for the role it was designed to perform. It is, in my opinion, the best people-mover in the segment by a country mile.
Offering amazing space and even more astonishing fuel economy, it is a very appealing package. Some buyers who may have been considering a smaller wagon might also take a look at Honda’s ‘Battlestar’.
While effortless as a country cruiser, the tight turning circle and great visibility make the Odyssey a sensible and easily enjoyed town car – one for those ‘sensible Mums’.
Honda has something special with the Odyssey. After just minutes at the wheel, you will realise this.
- Refined, quiet ride from double-wishbone suspension
- Roomy seven-seat layout and ergonomics
- Interior comfort and premium feel
- The 'driver's car' feel at the wheel
- Brilliant fuel consumption (approaching small car fuel efficiency)
- Overdesigned, conflicted dashboard
- Five-speed auto not quite up-to-par
- Luxury model priced against stiff competition
- A bit squeezy in third row seats (even for teens)