IF SPACE AND PRACTICALITY ARE IMPORTANT, AND YOU'VE GOT A LOT OF BODIES AND 'STUFF' TO TRANSPORT, YOU'RE LIKELY FACING A TOSS-UP BETWEEN AN ENORMOUS SUV AND A PEOPLE MOVER. The Honda Odyssey - huge inside - presents a convincing argument for the latter.
In fact, most family needs would be better served by a people mover like the Honda Odyssey rather than an SUV.
We know… we’ve got families!
Vehicle Style: People Mover
Price: $46,040 (plus on-roads)
Engine/Transmission: 129kW/225Nm 2.4 4cyl petrol | CVT automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 7.8 l/100kms | Tested: 9.1 l/100kms
TMR got behind the wheel of the range-topping Honda Odyssey VTi-L for a week. Kids, their stuff, their friends, and their friends' stuff, well, all week we found ourselves lugging them around.
And really, with all this space and clever practicality (and no shortage of technology), it was a piece of cake. We can't think of an SUV that can swallow a load so easily and effortlessly as a 'people mover' like the Odyssey.
But the launch of this generation heralded a seismic change for the Odyssey badge - it swapped from a cool-looking wagon-like people mover to a more common, and less-stylish, van-like design (more space for people and luggage).
Our Honda Odyssey, in top-spec VTi-L trim carried a $46,040 price tag (plus on-road costs). The entry-level VTi model ($37,610 plus on-roads) is an eight-seater with cloth trim; the up-market VTi-L gets seven leather-trimmed seats and two individual captain's chairs as second row seats with fold-down armrests.
At its most recent upgrade the Honda Odyssey VTi-L added a multi-view camera system, blind-spot warning with cross-traffic alert and Smart Park Assist – so there’s plenty of technology on-board to help wrangle the box-shaped Odyssey through tight traffic and tight parking spaces.
- Standard equipment: Seven leather seats (fronts heated and second row two captain’s seats), leather-wrapped steering wheel, black woodgrain effect trim highlights, eight bottle holders, one-touch power sliding rear doors, second row window sunshades
- Infotainment: Six-speaker audio with MP3/WMA compatibility/ two USB ports, Bluetooth audio streaming, 7-inch colour touchscreen with satellite navigation
Those who have flown on the Airbus A380 will know the feeling: you come through the door and your mind struggles to comprehend how big it really is... the view from the Honda Odyssey’s front seats creates similar responses.
The TMR teenagers loved the second row captain’s chairs and naturally slid them to the rearmost position. Once there, they seemed very distant from the front row (which was the plan), but which showed the enormous cavity the box-like dimensions of the Odyssey allows.
As a family of four we spent most of the week with the third-row seat folded flat, deploying it only when also shuttling the 'ring ins' about, and so the luggage space was also massive. Golf bag test? Erm... you could almost lay-out a par-three hole in the back.
And, of course, this whole interior space/practicality thing is where the Odyssey (and say the Kia Carnival) are actually better family vehicles than full-size SUVs.
The low-opening front doors make for easy access, and, despite the Honda Odyssey’s van-like looks, the driving position (aided by rake/reach adjustment for the leather-wrapped four-spoke steering wheel) is great
For all-round visibility, few family cars (perhaps with the exception of the amazing Citroen Grand Picasso) can hold a candle to the Odyssey. And all that visibility, plus the assistance of the multi-view camera system, makes it easy to poke around busy shopping-centre car parks.
Instrumentation follows the Honda ‘Style Manual’ with a large central speedometer surrounded by bar-type rev-counter and fuel gauges. It's all housed in a rectangular binnacle with a centrally-placed 7.5-inch colour touchscreen for the navigation and audio.
Below is a stylish centre stack with light-touch adjustments for the climate control (which also has nice colours and graphics).
Alongside (also high-mounted) is the compact gear-lever which falls easily to hand.
While there is no shortage of storage bins, we found the front was a bit lacking with just a smallish flat spot under the climate control system for keys and phones.
Naturally the whole package was beautifully presented (in the Honda way), and, free of squeaks and errant rattles, looked long-lasting.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 2.4-litre four-cylinder 129kW @ 6200rpm/225Nm @4000rpm
- Transmission: Continuously variable automatic transmission with steering wheel paddle-shifters
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front/torsion beam rear
- Steering: Electric power steering. Turning circle 10.8-metres
- Brakes: Four-wheel discs (fronts ventilated)
Not everyone welcomed the change of style when this Odyssey first appeared. Plenty of critics lined up to ‘give-it’ to Honda for the switch from a stylish 'flat as a biscuit' wagon, to a 'biscuit tin'.
But the sales tell the story; the new shape arrested a declining share in this niche segment for family and fleet buyers. And while it might not look as edgy, Honda got it right in landing a pretty convincing family car.
In point of fact, the Odyssey’s suspension is quite sporty in its calibration (some would say it can be too firm), and even with a reasonable load of people and luggage it responds very well in twisty going - staying flat and stable (where other van-based people movers can be a handful).
We liked the wheel too - nicely weighted, good feedback and, in carparks, a turning circle of 10.8-metres is impressive for a people mover.
In fact, the high standard of the chassis dynamics had us wishing the Odyssey had a bit more urge from the engine. It can be a slow to respond with a load up, and, combined with a lethargic CVT transmission, you need to remember its limitations when planning to overtake.
It's not expressly slow, and you can find a bit more urge by using the 'manual' paddle-shifters and holding the revs higher, but the 225Nm from the 2.4 litre engine are working hard when the Odyssey is loaded up.
It's a downside, the flat acceleration and limp CVT, and not helped that it can sound a tad thrashy when asked to work harder.
At highway speeds though, wind and tyre noise are impressively low and not even some savage crosswinds unsettled things (surprising given the Odyssey’s size and relatively flat sides).
All up, after a week of family and work activities we give the Honda Odyssey high scores for its practicality and easy driveability.
We also appreciated the easy entry/exit in the hustle/bustle of school runs and the low-opening tailgate certainly helps things when lugging the weekly mega-shop into the rear.
ANCAP Rating: 5-Stars - The Honda Odyssey scored 32.75 out of 37 possible points when tested in 2014.
Safety Features: Six airbags, whiplash mitigating front seats, anti-lock brakes electronic brakeforce distribution, emergency brake assist, emergency stop signal, blind spot information system, stability and traction control
Warranty: 3 years/100,000kms
Servicing: Service intervals six months/10,000kms. Honda Tailored Servicing $267 for each scheduled service up to five years/100,000kms (whichever comes first)
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The number one problem for Honda Odyssey has the initials ‘KC’ - that would be the Kia Carnival.
A newer design than the Odyssey and listing V6 petrol and four-cylinder turbo-diesels from $41,490 to $60,990 (plus on-roads), the Carnival has deservedly captured the limelight in this segment and sells in big numbers… because it’s terrific.
The Toyota Tarago has gone posh and its entry-level GLi ($46,990 plus on-roads) doesn’t match the Honda Odyssey VTi-L for value ($46,040 plus on-roads for the Honda remember).
There is also the quite brilliant Citroen Grand Picasso with really enjoyable on-road dynamics, a potent diesel (and is far from slow), and superb packaging. It is the sleeper in this segment, and criminally neglected by buyers.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Given the strong opposition from the Kia Carnival it would be easy to bypass the Honda Odyssey - which would be a mistake.
Large families might prefer the extra seat and lower price of the Honda Odyssey VTi ($37,610 plus on-road costs) but our family of four were more than pleased with the extra luxuries of the VTi-L (and Dad liked extra technology).
But where the Honda Odyssey delivers big-time is interior space. Which is, after all, the indisputable number one priority for people mover buyers.
Yes it could do with more power, and, as for the CVT, Honda should either give it a major re-do or find a conventional six or seven-speed automatic transmission.
But, at the end of the day, the argument is all about 'fitness for purpose'. And, on that argument, the Odyssey succeeds.
Your family will really enjoy this car, and while you will enjoy the space and practicality, you might find yourself enjoying more the tidy handling and brilliant visibility.
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