During my first few weeks in the CarAdvice office I've spent a lot of time with the keys - or proximity fob to be precise - to the Honda Odyssey in my pocket. I have neither a tribe of kids nor army of friends to ferry around, and I wasn’t knocked over in the rush to take ‘ownership’ of our most flexible long-term test vehicle – so I’m the pilot.
The Odyssey is with the CarAdvice team because we think it is one of the best of the current available fleet of 'proper' people movers – the most user-friendly, if you will. There’s a case to be made that many buyers who opt for one of the raft of new SUVs on the market would be better served by a station wagon (if they need five seats) or a proper people mover like the Odyssey (if seven or eight seats are required). There are significant benefits to be had in a people mover if the third row seating comes in to play often. The Odyssey has oodles of luggage space too, even with said third row employed.
Honda has loaned us the top-spec Odyssey, which for the price, is incredibly well equipped. On test here for our long-term love affair, we have the VTi-L, which has an asking price of $47,620 plus on-road costs. The leather trim is comfortable and beautifully finished, the front heated front seats will come in handy as the winter temperature drops, and the interior, from the front row to the back, has a ‘Business Class’ airplane cabin feel to it.
Even the second row seats get adjustable armrests, not to mention adjustable recliner-like leg rests too. The two second-row chairs can be moved inward in the cabin to sit closer to each other. Both electric sliding side doors operate remotely via switches to the right of the steering wheel on the dash or by the key fob, and few vehicles are as easy to get in and out of as the Odyssey - that goes for either the second or third row too. Strangely, there’s no auto opening or closing on the large tailgate. I reckon that would be a handy addition when you’ve got arms full of bags, and the tailgate will be hard for shorter people to reach.
According to Honda, the real aim of this new model is to add genuine interior flexibility to the Odyssey package. Odyssey has for some time been the most attractive people mover on the market, but not always the roomiest, especially in the third row. The new model is 30mm longer externally, and 150mm taller. The wheelbase is now 70mm longer too. In VTi-L guise, Odyssey is 119kg heavier than the outgoing model.
It is powered by a new 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, which is more efficient but slightly less powerful than the outgoing model. It produces 129kW, down from 132kW, but torque rises slightly from 218Nm to 225Nm. Coupled to a CVT, the engine actually does its job quite well. I have always had a passionate distaste for gearboxes of the CVT variety, but the Odyssey has one of the best I’ve tested. It's smooth and efficient, without any of those annoying slurring, slipping sensations many others deliver. It’s not a gearbox for enthusiastic drivers, but then again a people mover isn’t quite the vehicle for that type of driver, either.
The entry level VTi costs $38,990. It gets one power door – kerbside of course – dual-zone climate control, tyre pressure monitoring and 17-inch alloy wheels, and it adds an eighth seat by making the second-row a three-seat bench.
The touchscreen media system is standard across the range. The broad 7.0-inch unit is called ‘Display Audio’ in Honda speak, and allows the owner to download the Honda sat-nav app to their smart phone (only if its an iPhone 5, for now) and then connect the phone to the vehicle via HDMI cable. This means the maps aren’t stored either on a hard drive in the vehicle or on an SD card. In theory it means you can update the maps easier and faster when required. Outdated mapping is definitely a bugbear on vehicles as they age, so the fact you can update via your phone app as needed is noteworthy.
In practice, we’ve found the system a little fiddly to operate and you certainly need to take into account the fact that your phone can use data when it is connected to the system depending on how you're using it. There’s also the fact that you have cables connected at all times - it all looks a little on the messy side. Save your route to the system at home though using wireless and you can head off using Sat Nav without using phone data.
If you opt for the top spec VTi-L, you also get a sunroof and tri-zone climate control. The AC works especially well, with the flexibility of running the rear zone with the front zone off, ensuring passengers are always comfortable.
There are also sunblinds for both sliding doors, and they definitely shield the passengers in the second row. When not in use, the shades stow neatly down into the door recess as well.
Another important addition to the VTi-L is the multi-view camera system. Base model Odyssey gets a reversing camera, but the VTi-L adds to this with the birds-eye view and forward-view camera, as well as blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and an automated parking system.
From the outset, aside from the sat-nav system, my only gripe is the extremely low front doors. The Odyssey has a very low floor height, which means headroom inside the cabin is increased. The flip side, though, is super-low doors that can easily be bashed into gutters or verges when parked. You need to be careful and crucially you need your front-seat passengers to be careful, too, unless you want gouges taken out of the doors.
On the plus side, entry and egress is as good as it gets, all three rows are comfortable, the cabin is quiet and insulated, and all round visibility is excellent. It’s not small, the Odyssey, but it really does ease its way into the daily commute. Against a claimed fuel consumption of 7.8L/100km, our first few weeks returned a measured 9.9L/100km. Not bad overall, given I spent most of my time around town in traffic (with stop/start disabled).
I’m now set for my first month of long-term driving in the Honda Odyssey after a few weeks of sporadic commuting. People movers aren’t for everyone, but the Odyssey – on face value at least – ticks all the boxes for those buyers needing to carry more than three passengers most of the time. Stay tuned for our next update.
Date acquired: April 2014
Odometer reading: 4561km
Distance travelled at time of writing: 1110km
Consumption at time of writing: 9.9L/100km