Evolution is said to refine a species, but the 2017 Honda Odyssey VTi marks four years since the nameplate made a radical departure from the four generations of people mover that preceded it.
Since its mid-1990s launch the Odyssey has been a mini-wagon, and as generations passed it increasingly became lower and sexier, evolving to become more car-like. Now, though, the Honda has become a big van with lots of space and few apologies.
The entry VTi, as tested here, costs less than $40,000 and seats eight people with more than a Toyota Corolla hatchback’s worth of luggage space to spare.
It is an equation that numerous Australians find compelling – but is this latest model really an improvement on the people mover breed?
Vehicle Style: People mover
Price: $37,610 (plus on-road costs)
Engine/trans: 129kW/225Nm 2.4 4cyl petrol | automatic CVT
Fuel Economy Claimed: 7.6 L/100km | Tested: 10.5 L/100km
With unchanged pricing of $37,610 plus on-road costs, there is simply no cheaper brand new eight-seat people mover than the Odyssey VTi.
The 4.84-metre-long van gets sliding side doors, the passenger’s side of which is even electrically operated via remote. It packs standard 17-inch alloy wheels and a leather-wrapped steering wheel, so it doesn’t appear too much like a base model.
Honda’s 2.4-litre non-turbo four-cylinder is the only engine offered, with an automatic continuously-variable transmission (CVT) driving the front wheels in both the VTi tested here and the alternative $46,490 (plus on-road costs) VTi-L model grade.
Spending $8880 extra on that range topper buys front foglights and cornering lights, a sunroof, keyless auto-entry, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, an around-view camera with automatic park assistance and rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot monitor, satellite navigation and leather trim with heated front seats – a decent amount.
- Standard Equipment: Keyless entry, power windows and mirrors, multi-function trip computer, tri-zone climate control air-conditioning, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshifter, cruise control, and automatic headlights and wipers.
- Infotainment: 7.0-inch colour screen with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, USB and HDMI input, Siri voice control and six speakers.
- Cargo Volume: 330 litres
Arguably the priority with a people mover should be to pamper passengers. From up the front, however, the Odyssey makes only an average first impression.
The build quality of its sweeping dashboard is excellent, which is typical for a Honda. The climate controls, woodgrain and leather steering wheel all combine to help the VTi feel more upmarket than its price point would indicate, while the damping of the lower pop-out cupholders and storage tray is exquisitely smooth.
Storage beyond those parts is lacking, however, otherwise limited to just door pockets and a glovebox as a result of the ‘walk through’ facility between the front seats. Unfortunately, the driver’s seat is flat and overly firm, and without electric seat adjustment the base is tilted too far forward for optimum comfort.
The touchscreen also appears dated, and it lacks integrated satellite navigation, digital radio or Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone connectivity.
It’s a reminder of this Honda’s four-year vintage, as is the monochromatic trip computer screen and lack of outstanding safety technology such as blind-spot or forward collision warnings, or autonomous emergency braking (AEB).
Visibility is excellent, though, with tall and expansive windows all ‘round. Each trio of second- and third-row passengers also score plentiful legroom – although the fuel tank under the front seats crimps middle-row toe room – and headroom.
Outboard riders are further treated to overhead air vents with separate temperature controls also mounted on the roof mid-ship.
Shoulder room is the only dimension at a premium, particularly in the far row which suffers from wheelarch intrusions covered only by a thin layer of cloth trim. Sixth and seventh passengers back there will be pressed against them, especially if an eighth rider is pushed into the furthermost middle seat.
While space is generally plentiful, the VTi remains low on smarts and seat comfort further back.
Accessing the third-row means pulling a simple lever as the centre backrest tips forward and the base slides forward to allow kids to clamber into the back. However, when pushing the second-row back into place it doesn’t go back to the previously set position, either leaving the backrest pinned upright or the base right back, rather than at the compromise the driver or passengers had chosen.
The second row is as flat and unyielding as the fronts, however, and yet the third row has its base nicely tilted upwards to afford better under-thigh support than those towards the front of the van.
Boot volume is expansive and the third-row folding mechanism easily and effortlessly slips into the floor to create a huge cargo-carrying space if only five seats are needed. However, while the backrest is of a 40:20:40 split, the base is a one-piece unit – meaning it isn’t possible to have the biggest boot on only one side.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 2.4-litre naturally-aspirated four-cylinder petrol, 129kW @6200rpm, 225Nm @4000rpm
- Transmission: Automatic continuously-variable transmission (CVT), front wheel drive
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front and torsion bar rear
- Brake: Ventilated front and solid rear disc brakes
- Steering: Electrically assisted mechanical steering
A people mover doesn’t need to be a sports car, but rather quite the opposite: it should be a silky, smooth operator. Quite oddly, then, Honda seems to have its priorities set around the wrong way.
Around town especially, the Odyssey feels nimble and light on its feet. The steering is sharp, if dull in weighting, and bodyroll is surprisingly limited whether navigating tight city streets or sweeping through country-road corners.
With a hefty 1727kg kerb weight, even before passengers are loaded in, the VTi could be expected to struggle with only four cylinders and without turbocharging. Impressively, however, sharp throttle response and a quick-thinking CVT each help ensure the 2.4-litre always feels immediately lively and maintains decent engine revs – and with only 225Nm at 4000rpm and just 129kW at 6200rpm, it needs to.
While decently economical when unstressed – such as keeping up with flowing traffic or on the freeway, where the engine slurped 10.5 litres per 100 kilometres – the keen throttle and CVT also obviously forces the engine to work hard in the stop-start grind. Despite offering auto start-stop technology, we saw 16.5L/100km in heavy traffic.
Another downside is poor engine noise suppression that leaves front occupants listening to thrash-metal soundtrack. Honda engines can sound good, but not when kept at a constant drone with inadequate sound deadening.
Indeed, a driver could be forgiven for thinking this Japanese people mover was actually based off a commercial van, given its often deafening road roar even on seemingly silky surfaces. So loud is its road noise that taking a Bluetooth call while testing was a genuine challenge, even with volume at its loudest.
At low speeds around town the suspension seems generally unfussed, although there is a tendency to crash through larger potholes yet also feel too floaty over speed humps. The characteristics are magnified on urban arterial roads and freeways, where the VTi feels constantly jiggly and occasionally terse.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars – the Honda Odyssey range scored 32.75 out of 37 possible points when tested by Euro NCAP in 2014.
Safety Features: Dual front, front-side and full-length curtain airbags, ABS and ESC, and rear-view camera.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/unlimited kilometres.
Servicing: Honda’s capped-price program includes sub-par bi-annual or 10,000km checks at a higher-than-average $1702 over three years – or $284 for six services.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The iMax and Tarago are old and dated, while the Multivan is good but expensive. The Carnival is absolutely the stand-out of this segment, being wider than the Odyssey, with more storage and plusher seating, an even bigger boot, greater cabin and ride quality, and refinement that feels limousine-hushed by comparison – and all with a pricetag only $3880 higher than this VTi.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
If the Honda Odyssey VTi seems like an affordable way to seat eight with space to spare, then best try a Kia Carnival on for size. Where the model tested here is cheap, the latter alternative could instead be seen as better value because it simply feels like a properly developed, quiet and comfortable people mover.
Honda admitted that it lost its way with its previous Civic small car, and the new generation is thankfully a return to form. The next Odyssey will hopefully make the same transformation, because it currently relies on size and a sharp price to shine.
Scratch the surface and its comfort is undermined by poor ride quality and refinement, and flat seating, while even for the price it has not been updated with the latest infotainment and active safety technology increasingly expected in family cars.
It’s one spacious Odyssey that arguably should have evolved further from its excellent predecessors, rather than rejecting them.
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