The Honda Odyssey has long been the seven-seater choice for those buyers who need a people-mover but without the style-less stigma that typically comes as part of the package.
Honda's approach to design its Honda Odyssey with a shape that is low and sporty - by the standards of a segment that includes frumpy-mobiles like the Kia Grand Carnival and Toyota Tarago - has provided a more alluring offering for style-concious parents with multiple kids.
It also helps that the Japanese car maker has engendered the Odyssey with zestful dynamics that make it by far the most enjoyable people-mover to drive.
But with the boom in SUVs - and some with seven-seat options - showing no signs of imploding, is the Odyssey still a good choice for big families?
Honda Australia reduced the Odyssey’s starting price to $37,100 (down $2000) in December last year, and so far in 2012 the Japanese-made vehicle claims second place and a quarter market share of the people-mover segment (behind the Kia Grand Carnival). The price cut has positioned it almost $2000 cheaper than the base model eight-seater Grand Carnival and well below the Toyota Tarago’s $52,490 starting price.
Honda’s simplified approach to the Odyssey range sees just two variants: Odyssey and Odyssey Luxury. Although the Japanese company has reduced the price of the base model it has actually increased equipment levels over last year’s model.
The additions include a multi-function touch-screen satellite navigation system with reversing camera, bluetooth audio streaming, phone connectivity, iPod and USB connectivity, DVD player (works only when stationary) and gear-shift paddles on the steering wheel. From the outside the restyled front grille and headlights are easily recognisable, as are the new LED rear taillights.
The Honda Odyssey Luxury, which retails for $44,920 (down $1000), still carries the same equipment levels as before. In addition to the standard spec, your extra $7820 will buy you better looks, thanks to the smoked-lens rear tail-lights, 17-inch alloys (up from 16s), and more appealing front and rear bumpers. An electric sunroof, foglights, HID headlights, tri-zone climate control, powered driver’s seat, heated front seats and lots of leather also form the upgrade.
Honda has equipped the Odyssey range with a 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine (no diesel available) coupled to a five-speed automatic. On the surface, the 132kW of power seems like a good start to move the 1645kg weight (1700kg for the Luxury variant) around but coupled to a five-speed automatic and developing only 218Nm of torque, it’s not exactly what you’d call powerful.
Around town the uptake and acceleration is adequate but if you frequent hilly areas with the family on board, you’ll be giving your right foot a workout. The problem with this isn’t necessarily that the Odyssey needs to be revved hard to get it moving, but that doing so effects fuel economy.
Honda claims the Odyssey sips 8.9 litres of regular unleaded fuel per 100km in a combined city and highway cycle. On our week-long test, which included a reasonably balanced course of highway and urban areas, the best we could do was 10.4L/100km. No doubt if we had driven it more sedately (and paid attention to the newly added Ecological Drive Assist Programme) the fuel usage would’ve come closer to the official figure, but if you insist on keeping up with traffic and getting to the speed limit in reasonable pace, you’ll find it hard to keep it below 10L/100km.
The VTEC engine and five-speed automatic combo provide smooth and seamless shifts, though. It’s very likely that the addition of another gear could’ve reduced fuel consumption that little bit more but it’s better than the four-cylinder Toyota Tarago that is stuck with an ancient four-speed automatic.
Steering feel is pretty much what you’d expect from a people-mover - somewhat lifeless, but faultless for the job. The Odyssey also relished corners, and there is minimal lean into bends without compromising on ride quality. It’s easily the most car-like vehicle to drive in the people-mover class, making it ideal if you intend to do a lot of inner-city driving.
The Honda Odyssey is easy to manoeuvre and park, thanks to a 10.8-metre turning circle.
Rear parking sensors, however, are optional, even on the Odyssey luxury, which is disappointing as they should be standard on both variants regardless of a reverse-view camera. Nonetheless, the standard reverse-view camera will assist in squeezing into any tight spots.
Perhaps the main reason the Honda Odyssey has become a favourite of so many families, is its interior. It’s not van-like in its design and certainly feels more upmarket than its major competitors. The inclusion of standard satellite navigation is a huge bonus not only for cabin ambience but also for practical reasons. The system itself is both quick and simple to use. We tested the Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity and found them to provide good sound quality and easy pairing options (tested with iPhone 4).
The two front seats provide good side support and enough cushion to make them ideal for long trips. The second row is also more than adequate for two large adults and a child. Much like all vehicles in this category, the third row is best left to small children because headroom and legroom is restricted.
Being such a low, almost wagon-like vehicle, the Honda Odyssey does suffer a little when it comes to boot space. The boot will easily take a pram and other large objects so long as you haven’t got the third row in place. Which really begs the question as to the seven-seater capability if boot space is compromised when all seats are in play.
It’s also worth mentioning the Odyssey’s standard doors. Unlike its main competitor, the Kia Grand Carnival, which has automatic sliding doors that can be operated from its remote key fob, the Odyssey, given its car-like appeal, can prove to be a little less practical if you have more children than hands. Although we did say at the outset that not having to own a van-like people mover is a good thing, there are practical reasons why they make sense.
The Honda Odyssey comes with a three-year/100,000km warranty and will require six monthly services (or 10,000km). Safety is top notch with driver and front passenger as well as curtain airbags and all the electronic safety gadgetry you can think of all standard.
So the Honda Odyssey would be perfect with more low-down engine torque and more luggage space when all seven seats are needed, but overall it has great build quality while standing out in its class for interior refinements and its well judged balance of ride and handling.
It's still a fashionable choice beyond the styling.