When you need to move a lot of people around, your options are limited. A seven-seat SUV might not have the 'daggy' stereotype of a people mover, but you can't argue against the practicality of a van.
Over the Easter long weekend my family descended on my tiny apartment with big plans to explore the city and experience everything Sydney has to offer. Seven people – four adults, two children and one teenager.
This was a great opportunity to compare two very different people movers, putting them to the test as we climbed in and out, looked for appropriately-sized parking spaces and tested our patience with the most annoying question in the world – 'are we there yet?' – on constant loop.
Our two cars for the weekend were the 2017 Honda Odyssey and the 2017 Volkswagen Multivan. The first few days were spent in the Odyssey base-model VTi before we switched into the entry-level Multivan Comfortline. To get an idea of the similarities and differences, let's take a look at the basic specifications.
The Honda has a 2.4-litre four cylinder petrol engine that produces 129kW and 225Nm, teamed with a continuously variable transmission (CVT). It's 4840mm long, 1800mm wide, 1695mm tall and weighs in at 1727kg.
The Odyssey VTi is an eight-seater, laid out in a two-three-three configuration, and it's priced at $37,610 before on-road costs.
On the other hand, the Volkswagen has a 2.0-litre four cylinder turbocharged diesel engine producing 103kW and 340Nm, teamed with a seven-speed direct shift gearbox (DSG). It's 4904mm long, 1904mm wide, 1970mm tall and weighs 2174kg.
The Mutlivan Comfortline we had was a seven-seater, laid out in a two-two-three configuration, and it's priced at $52,990 before on-road costs.
Visually, they are very different vehicles. The Odyssey is clearly more 'car-like' in its dimensions, while the Multivan is longer, taller, wider and boxier in shape, despite being the short wheelbase version. Looks-wise, the majority of my passengers preferred the Odyssey, noting it was more similar to a car than the more commercial van looking VW.
The people mover segment may be dominated by the Kia Carnival, but the Odyssey was the second-biggest seller in 2016 and is almost $4000 cheaper than its Korean rival. The Multivan is considerably more expensive and its sales figures are well short of both the Carnival and Odyssey.
The Odyssey VTi was the first cab-off-the-rank, so to speak, for us. All passengers were excited to take part in my comparison, and one-by-one, my mum Linda and her husband Peter, my sister Deana and her two little darlings Tiger and Jayla, and my daughter Alyssa, all selected where they wanted to sit and climbed in.
Despite its outward appearance, the family was surprised at the amount of space inside. And so was I. The huge gap and flat floor between the driver and front passenger seats provide the perfect spot to store a backpack full of sunscreen, water, hats and snacks. We were off to Sydney's iconic Luna Park!
Of course, the 'are we there yet?' chorus began less than two minutes in, but the little ones were easily distracted when told to look around and take note of what they like and dislike about the car. Charged with a mission, the adults scored a few minutes reprieve and I was able to keep a close eye on them with the conversation mirror – a feature I love in big cars.
The front seats are really comfortable, the large captain's chairs sport individual armrests and the fabric on the seats felt deliciously like velvet or velour. My sister had called shotgun on the front seat, mum and Pete were in the second row and the three kids had piled into the back. Needless to say, the four adults had ample room and while the kids felt a little closed in in the third-row, they weren't suffering either.
When it comes to features, the Honda has pretty much everything you need. The multi-view rear-view camera is clear and makes parking a breeze, it has cruise control, dual-zone climate control with second and third-row (floor) vents, a kerb-side electric sliding-door, seven-inch touchscreen with Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, 12V in the front and rear, two USB outlets, HDMI, radio, CD, MP3, 10 cupholders scattered about and among the safety features, full-length curtain airbags. A few things you might miss in the entry-level are blind-spot monitoring, satellite navigation and ISOFIX points, both standard on the flagship seven-seat VTi-L.
Filled with people, the Odyssey was more impressive than I expected on the road. Of course, it was a little slower to get moving than when empty, but not entirely sluggish. It absorbed road imperfections nicely and the two-out-of-three young ones who occasionally suffer from motion sickness were both left feeling perfectly fine after spending a good half-an-hour in the back.
Along with Luna Park, over the next few days we hit Taronga Zoo and took a drive through the city. Everyone found it relatively easy to get in and out of because it's just as low as a normal car, although the mechanism to fold the second row to climb through is a little clunky and not as accomodating for adults as it is for children. The large windows made it feel light and spacious inside and there was a good amount of storage for all the random drinks, phones, wallets and iPads.
We were a little sad to wave goodbye to the Odyssey, until we opened the sliding door of the Multivan and discovered the seats in the middle row spin around. The kids had a ball swinging them from forward-facing to rear-facing, and then began to fight over who would get to sit in them. Two swivel seats, three kids – negotiation time...
In the end no one could agree so the three kids were again lumped in the back in favour of the adults, at least for the first trip in our new ride. We piled in and headed for Circular Quay to see the Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Behind the wheel of the Multivan is very different place to the Odyssey. It's a much larger car and it feels it on the road. The driver's position is high, which makes it feel a little more like a truck and there's more than a foot of extra headspace which seems a bit unnecessary. Visibility is excellent though and the turbo diesel made light work of hauling us around.
Given the sheer amount of space in the cabin, it was noisy at times with both engine and road noise echoing around. My passengers found it a little firm and crashy over bumps, though not enough to inspire a road-side sick stop.
It was a bit of an effort to climb up into the driver's seat and you need the huge grab handle on the door to help swing it shut. However, the front seats are big and comfortable with armrests on both sides, though the material doesn't feel as nice as the Odyssey.
When it comes to kit, the Multivan may not look as flashy in regards to interior trim, but it has a good list of standard features.
The rear-view camera with front and rear parking sensors was a godsend; I would have struggled to park it quickly in the city without that helping hand. It has a 6.3-inch touchscreen with Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, CD, MP3, USB, 12V outlets in the front, rear and cargo area, electric sliding doors and power latching tailgate, auto headlights, climate control with front and rear controls, ISOFIX points on the two second row captain's chairs and third row outboard seats, and child seat anchorage points on all second and third row seats.
No satellite navigation, however connecting to Apple CarPlay or Android Auto will do the trick. You can also option lane change assist and blind-spot monitoring, both of which are standard on the short wheelbase Highline specification.
Teppanyaki in the city and a day out at Bondi Beach rounded out our time with the Multivan, and at the end of the day it was hard for my passengers to decide which they preferred. Both had clear strengths and weaknesses, the kids liked features the adults didn't and vice-versa.
So, here's what they had to say.
2017 Honda Odyssey VTi
"This is a really nice car, very comfortable and smooth to ride in as a passenger. It was also easy organising the kids as they climbed in and out. It looks really stylish from the outside, love the colour, the armrests, the electric door and the gap between the front seats is perfect for handbags or shopping.
"Not a people mover fan generally, but I would consider it if I needed to carry around a lot of people regularly."
"I didn't like how squishy it was when me, Alyssa and Tiger sat together. It made us feel really hot. Didn't like how the electric door beeped all the time when it was moving. It was cool, but."
"Overall it was very comfy and I loved the colour. It was smooth riding and easy enough to get in and out of unless perched on a steep Sydney driveway, then all muscles had to be engaged to manoeuvre oneself with grace and elegance in and out of the vehicle. But that was a great upper and lower-body workout! It didn't feel crowded with seven people – definitely a plus for me.
"It doesn't feel like you're in a minibus or tradie commercial work van and the kids enjoyed getting into back seat. Compared to the Multivan though, there wasn't as much room for things like handbags."
"The Odyssey was more car-like and I think it looks good, the seating was very comfortable and it was spacious for a seven-seater.
"It was easy to get in and out of, though I do question the need for an electric door – is it a necessity? I can see the potential for it to be an issue if it's misused. The ride was quite flat and I could feel the bumps, and I didn't like the colour. Purple people-eater."
2017 Volkswagen Multivan Comfortline
"It was spacious and was a really good people mover. I loved that it was so spacious but it felt too much like a transporter compared to a comfy vehicle. I'm going for the Odyssey because it was more traffic savvy and nice to travel in."
"The doors were both electric so it was easier and I liked how it had window shades – they are very cool and I liked how it kept the sun out and stuff.
"I like how it wasn't very squishy in the back and the air wasn't hot. I like how the seat spins and there is way more room to spread out."
"It wasn't quite as comfortable to sit in as the Honda and it felt bumpier on the road. It was higher and harder to get into for me, but more spacious and easier to get the kids through to the third row. Really liked the big armrests and the rotating seats were a novelty.
"The extras like the window shades are great from a safety perspective, but tempting for the kids to play with. On the negative side, it felt more like a delivery van than a family car and I'm not sure I'd feel comfortable parking it."
"This is just such an easy vehicle, easy to get into and easily fits seven people. It's more van-like and drove well, seemed very direct steering through traffic but it was more rigid on the road but I didn't mind that. Loved the captain's chairs too.
"It didn't have as many bells and whistles as the Odyssey but it was sufficient. The armrests were a bit uncomfortable but you can put them down. At the end of the day, the Volkswagen wins for me."