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by Matt Brogan

Honda Odyssey vs. Hyundai iMax Shuttle vs. Kia Grand Carnival vs. Mitsubishi Grandis vs. Toyota Tarago

Models Tested:

  • 2009 Honda Odyssey; 2.4-litre, four-cylinder, petrol; five-speed automatic; wagon – $43,990*
  • 2009 Hyundai iMax Shuttle; 2.5-litre, four-cylinder, diesel; four-speed automatic; wagon – $42,490*
  • 2009 Kia Grand Carnival; 2.9-litre, four-cylinder, diesel; five-speed automatic; wagon – $41,990*
  • 2009 Mitsubishi Grandis VRX; 2.4-litre, four-cylinder, petrol; four-speed automatic; wagon – $44,950*
  • 2009 Toyota Tarago GLi; 2.4-litre, four-cylinder, petrol; four-speed automatic; wagon – $53,250*

Words Matt Brogan Pics Paul Maric

People movers; the mere thought of the words is enough to send the average car nut to sleep. But in testing five of Australia’s top-selling models this week the crew here at CarAdvice found that, as underwhelming as they might appear, this handful of practical and versatile family haulers really do have more going for them than meets the eye.

These vehicles aren’t exactly anyone’s idea of exciting motoring, I mean there’s no push in the back, no wind in the hair and there’s certainly no chance of turning heads at the traffic lights, but if you’re expecting all of that from a people mover then perhaps there’s a prescription-only medication out there with you’re your name on it.

The humble people mover is better thought of as ‘whitegoods’ motoring, an automotive commodity that is always willing to serve, week in and week out, through all those mundane duties that are – point in fact – the people mover’s textbook design brief.

If the school run, the groceries, weekend sport, or the three-generation drive — young kids, you plus ageing parents — are on your automotive dance card, then people movers are what you’re looking at.

As you’d expect from a test such as this we discovered this week that each of these vehicles manages different aspects of the daily grind with a varying aptitudes. There’s a mixture of petrol and diesel engines, and seven- and eight-seaters comprising the best seller list, significant variation in price, build quality, value and features.


It was a tough call but slick styling and features weren’t enough to stop the Mitsubishi Grandis wearing the wooden spoon.

Visually the Grandis is probably the second-best bus here, coming runner-up only to the stunning Honda Odyssey. Inside it’s a similar story with a simple yet practical approach to layout making Mitsubishi’s people mover one that is not only easy on the eye, but easy to live with as well.


Offered in a single specification level here in Australia, the VRX does come with a couple of features not seen in our other contenders, such as dual sunroofs and reverse parking sensors, but in considering the price difference, it’s obvious once again that Grandis is behind the pack in terms of what’s excepted as standard equipment with our base model rivals all comparing favourably.


The Grandis offers plenty of space with seven seats boasting accommodation levels suited to both adults and children alike. All seating positions are well serviced in terms of ventilation and visibility that makes for a comfortable ride no matter which pew you choose.


Grandis is also a flexible and versatile vehicle with 50:50 split third-row and 60:40 second row seating. The rear seats also fold flat in to the floor to more almost treble the 320 litres of cargo space in to a cavernous 1520 litres.


Under the bonnet Grandis is powered by a 2.4-litre, four-cylinder, petrol engine coupled to a somewhat antiquated and dull four-speed automatic transmission. Delivering 120kW of power and 216Nm of torque the figures are enough to let you know that in a vehicle weighing close to 1700kg unladen, that with a few people and baggage on board progress is bound to be a little sluggish.


Another important factor to consider here is that with a smaller engine working at near capacity to maintain the status quo, fuel economy is likely to suffer. The Mitsubishi Grandis totalled 12.5L/100km (combined) this week, some 2.5L above that of the official ADR fuel consumption figure.


The mechanical package is reasonably competent and within the confines of the urban environment the Grandis manages to keep up with fast-paced traffic while still offering a manageable drive with light steering and turning circle of 11.0 metres (the best in our test) making it easy to park as well.


The Grandis is not a bad bus, in fact in isolation it’s actually pretty good. But with its aging design and lack of crucial electronic safety equipment – namely ESC and Traction Control – the trusty Mitsubishi just fails to compete on the same level as our other players.

For a complete individual road test of the Mitsubishi Grandis, click here.


Kia’s Grand Carnival demonstrates how a relative newcomer to the Australian car market can enter a segment filled with big name stalwarts and enjoy a fair degree of success.

But with the car’s bulky design beginning to show its age, the Grand Carnival is now left with only one major drawcard: a strong yet frugal diesel engine.


Inside the dated design is equally obvious. Basic, plasticky décor comprising monotone plastic and velour trim highlights dated style cues that now appear familiar and dull.

The good news is that Grand Carnival does offer spacious and comfortable seating, with an agreeable driving position and ample room for eight adults, in fact the Grand Carnival is topped only in terms of space by its Korean cousin, the Hyundai iMax.


The feature list is however beginning to lag behind that of its base model competitors – yet another indication of Grand Carnival’s aging design.


With upwards of three years research and development benefiting three of our five competitors (Tarago, iMax and Odyssey), the Grand Carnival simply fails to deliver the same level of intuitiveness or fluidity in many of its basic functions.

Take for example the seating arrangements that, whilst versatile, can be cumbersome to utilise. The third row seats are especially bothersome with a clumsy, heavy action.


In saving the Grand Carnival from last place however is it’s 2.9-litre, four-cylinder, turbo-diesel engine. Offering 136kW of power and a hearty 343Nm of torque the engine provides capable performance both around town and on the open road.


Mated to a somewhat vague and indecisive five-speed automatic transmission the Grand Carnival makes up in fuel economy what it lacks in finesse with our week returning an average of  9.8L/100km.

Standard safety equipment includes ESC with Traction Control, ABS braking with EBA and EBD as well as dual front, side and curtain airbags (the latter two of which are optional).


Three point inertia reel seatbelts are not fitted in all eight seating positions with the two centre seats missing out. Child safety harness mounting points available in both the second and third rows.


A roomy and versatile bus the Grand Carnival leads the pack on both price and fuel economy, two points certain not to discount the Kia from any bargain shopper’s list.

For a complete individual road test of the Kia Grand Carnival, click here.


For the best part of three decades now Toyota’s Tarago has been the default option when buying a people mover, and to this day remains a sensible selection with a lot to offer.

Stepping away from the typical box-like styling, Tarago offers a futuristic take on the people mover segment with angular and edgy lines both inside and out.


The cabin features a mix of traditional plastics and felt-like cloth combined with a touch of soft faux metal finishes to give Tarago a bit of interest and personality, a trait not often associated with people mover innards.


Equipment levels see Tarago take a step up from our fourth and fifth place getters but when it comes to functionality, some features are a touch awkward with climate control buttons hindered in access by the retractable cup holders and the central instrument cluster distracting and slow to read. There’s even a little parallax error which makes an accurate speed check rather annoying.


These issues aside Tarago does offer spacious and comfortable seating for eight adults with enough versatility in design to almost double the capacity of the cargo compartment.


Tarago is powered by an engine similar in capacity to that of Mitsubishi’s Grandis at 2.4-litres. This four-cylinder petrol unit provides 125kW of power and 224Nm of torque, but as Tarago is heavier, at 1725kg, the additional power fails to satisfactorily motivate once you have a full house of people and baggage.


The one saving grace to this mathematical dilemma is Toyota’s smooth and quick thinking four-speed automatic transmission that really keeps the engine in that sweet spot. Delivering lively unladen performance the transmission even sees Tarago earn the title of second fastest accelerating vehicle (from 0-100km/h) in our test.

Another positive to come from this situation is that the Tarago also adheres closely to the ADR combined fuel economy figure with our week seeing a return of 10.6L/100km.


Optional ESC with Traction Control joins standard safety kit including front, side and curtain airbags plus disc brakes with ABS, EBA and EBD to earn Tarago a very respectable four-star ANCAP rating.


A civilsed and modern vehicle Tarago’s adequate internal proportions, generous feature levels and name synonymous with the segment could have seen it earn a better ranking – were it not for the all important question of price.

At $12,000 dearer than our cheapest competitor, the Kia Grand Carnival, Toyota’s Tarago has lost that important price edge, and as such it’s third place.

For a complete individual road test of the Toyota Tarago, click here.


The i-Series vans have made quite a name for themselves since their 2008 release.

Delivering a simple, safe and well-priced package with exceedingly generous proportions, the iMax benefits from a capable turbo-diesel engine that brings a strong level of dynamism back to what’s otherwise a rather gutless segment.


With a comfortable cabin iMax is also quiet once on the open road, a nice surprise from the big diesel, which leaves time to enjoy a fit and finish bereft of squeaks and rattles – a pleasing sign of quality.

Looks are quite conservative, but that boxy shape does afford iMax internal proportions that allow maximum utility for passengers and luggage alike – an important consideration for family buyers.


The downside to all this vehicular real estate is that some family buyers may see iMax as too big, or intimidating to drive, and while it certainly doesn’t feel that way, the evident bulk was a strong rationale in our choice to award the Hyundai second place.


Otherwise the iMax recipe is a tasty one with a decent standard feature list, competitive pricing, impressive safety levels plus a long and rather comprehensive warranty all big positives in scoring the runner-up’s place.


iMax does lack a rear windshield wiper, but most other kit is available after-market, and for buyers wanting no nonsense, no frills family motoring, these hip pocket saving are certain to bring a smile long after the novelty of a few extra gadgets has worn away.

And it’s that smile that is sure to return again and again when driving the iMax – and when it comes time to filling up.


A super strong and surprisingly quiet 2.5-litre, four-cylinder, turbo-diesel engine – boasting 125kW of power and an impressive 392Nm of torque – translates to a drive that is willing and confident, even when packed to the rafters.

Power delivery is smooth thanks to Hyundai’s slick shifting five-speed automatic transmission while fuel economy returns are equally impressive at 10.1L/100km, the second best result in our test.


As touched on earlier the iMax is right up there in terms of safety scoring a four-star ANCAP rating thanks to its standard inclusion of ESC, Traction Control, disc brakes with ABS, EBA and EBD plus the added reassurance of dual front, side and curtain airbags.


Were it not for the Hyundai’s massive external proportions, and omissions on the options front, the result could have seen this already top notch bus win our competition, but as it stands Hyundai’s commercial-van based people mover scores a highly commendable second place.

For a complete individual road test of the Hyundai iMax, click here.


Taking the blue ribbon in our people mover comparison this year is the exemplary Honda Odyssey.

The suave and stylish lines of the sassy low-slung Odyssey represent all that’s right with family motoring, and in doing so, proves that practical family motoring doesn’t have to be boring, pricey or a pain to drive.


Odyssey’s smaller proportions make it an absolute delight behind the wheel with a hatch-like ease that sees squeezing in to those ever diminishing parking spaces easier than ever.


Despite this Odyseey is still a true seven-seater thanks to some intelligent design work and clever packaging of the fuel tank and rear suspension. The cabin boasts a surprising level of accommodation that’s wonderfully comfortable, quiet and well equipped.

As you’d expect from the Honda nameplate Odyssey offers a quality fit and finish with features that are both intuitive and user-friendly in function.


Simply put: everything just works, and works well. There’s no compromises, no need to settle, no “it’ll do”, and it’s that sentiment that sees the Odyssey deserved of its first-place win.

Motivating the Odyssey is a 2.4-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine that develops a brawny 132kW of power and adequate 218Nm of torque delivered through an intelligent and smooth five-speed automatic transmission.


Fuel economy returns are equally impressive with a combined average of 10.2L/100km bettering that of the Odyssey Luxury tested by CarAdvice earlier this year.

A stress free drive Odyssey offers pliant suspension and sharp electric power steering to make the whole package feel alive and enjoyable with no cause to second guess the car’s intentions.


Seating allows a versatility that is easily the best of all the cars tested. Cargo capacity, although not the greatest in our test, is satisfactory for Odyssey’s intended purpose.


With a high-level of standard safety equipment and excellent visibility Odyssey is a solid proposition for family buyers. ESC with Traction Control, disc brakes with ABS, EBA and EBD, plus front, side and curtain airbags all adding to that feeling of reassurance important in a family hauler such as this.


Each of Australia’s favourite people movers spent some considerable time with all of our Melbourne staff this week being put through the rigours of family life, the horrid commutes and long highway travel, yet funnily enough, we all came to the same conclusion.

The stylish Honda Odyssey represents an excellent value for money package that is certain to keep family buyers happy for many years to come, and no matter what task you set it to, is capable, relaxed and frugal as well.

Specifications (click on chart to enlarge):