Parents with a penchant for popping out children are spoiled for choice in the Australian car market.
There are mid-sized crossovers with part-time pews in the boot, ute-based off-roaders with seven seats, and purpose-built SUVs like the Holden Acadia competing for a slice of a pie once dominated by cars like the Toyota Tarago (god rest its soul) and the Honda Odyssey.
Life's been tough for the Odyssey lately. Along with the crossover squad, the long-running nameplate is battling the Kia Carnival for a share of the people mover market.
And the Carnival is giving it a kicking, owning a whopping 49.7 per cent of the market. The (slightly smaller) Honda has a (much) smaller 21.0 per cent share. Which is a shame because the Odyssey isn't perfect, but it's a good thing.
For starters, the most expensive 2019 Honda Odyssey VTi-L sneaks in below $50,000 ($47,590 before on-road costs) but wants for nothing. It's a seven-seater with two plush 'captain's chairs' in the second row instead of a three-seat bench, which cuts your head count by one but really cranks up the luxury.
The seats slide to the very rear of the cabin if the third row is folded flat, freeing up enough legroom to cater for seriously leggy passengers. Forget BMW and Mercedes limousines – if you're in the business of hauling NBA players around, an Odyssey could be the car for you.
Although it was updated in 2018, the top-grade Odyssey has never wanted for standard equipment. Three-zone climate control with vents in all three rows, leather-trimmed seats (heated up front), a sunroof, and the full Honda Sensing suite of safety systems are standard fit.
Honda Sensing brings adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, lane-departure warning, road-departure warning, and lane-keeping assist – all nice features to have, given most people movers spend most of their time carting precious cargo around.
In what's becoming a bit of a theme with Honda, the full active technology suite is reserved for top-spec models, forcing safety-conscious buyers to spend an extra $10,000 over the entry-level Odyssey VTi for technology that should just be standard across the range, especially given every Kia Carnival gets it.
Forget about the equipment for a moment, though, and just bask in the space on offer in the Odyssey. Space Odyssey. There's something there, you can work it out for yourself in the comments.
With the sliding second row in a more sensible position, the back row is properly spacious as well, especially for anyone accustomed to the cramped pop-up seats on offer in most seven-seat SUVs. The rear bench is a bit narrow if you plan on squeezing in three broad-shouldered teenagers side-by-side for long periods of time, but smaller kids and regular-sized adults are well served there.
Raising and folding the seats is an absolute doddle, too. You just pull two cloth tabs and they pirouette up from the floor, leaving a deep boot cavity behind (and beneath) them. Even with all seven seats erect there's 330L of space. The central backrest can be independently flattened to serve as an armrest or child divider as well.
The Odyssey had more than enough space for six full-sized adults and their hockey kit, which is a strong endorsement of its practical credentials. The fact the third-row passenger dozed off on the way says good things about the car's refinement, too, but more on that later.
A boxy people-mover silhouette isn't sexy, but it frees up expanses you just can't match with a high-riding statusmobile.
Thanks to the vast, electrically operated sliding doors and sliding second row of seats, the third row (or the back back, as I would've called it as a kid) is a breeze to access. With the captain's chairs slid forward and outboard, small kids will be able to just amble straight through the middle, while the car's low ride height means there's no awkward step up for short-legged passengers.
The second-row seats can also be manually dragged forward and have their backrest folded with one lever, although it can take a bit of muscle to get the seat moving if the car's carpet gets caught up in the seat sliders. While we're griping, the manually operated bootlid could really benefit from a powered upgrade.
Honda's smartly designed rear passenger area isn't backed up by a high-tech flight deck up front. The driver is faced with a clear analogue speedo flanked by small, monochrome readouts for your fuel level and revs.
The centre of the speedo houses the trip computer, but no digital speedo – no great loss, given the analogue unit is so easy to read.
The biggest pain point is the Odyssey's archaic infotainment system, which misses out on smartphone mirroring and shows its age with blocky graphics, slow responses and confusing menu structures. The system in the Civic isn't what you'd call industry standard, but it'd represent a huge step forward here.
It does get inbuilt navigation, however, which is something the Civic's system can't match.
Processing isn't the only area where more power would be nice. The Odyssey is powered by a 2.4-litre petrol engine and CVT transmission, making 129kW and 225Nm.
On the positive side, the Odyssey is smooth and quiet with only one passenger on board. With such limited outputs hauling such a heavy car, it quickly becomes clear hurried progress isn't really an option, with the engine and transmission tune instead encouraging the driver to sit back, relax and enjoy the ride at a more sedate speed.
Even that is tricky with a full load of people on board. There's just nowhere near enough grunt on tap, which means you need revs to make even pedestrian progress on anything other than a fully flat surface. And unlike some of the special sports cars from Honda's past, this big family bus doesn't get any nicer to drive as the rev counter nears redline, it just gets noisier.
Thankfully, the cabin is whisper quiet once the engine has settled into a cruise. That lack of power doesn't even deliver impressive economy numbers: we averaged 11.0L/100km through a mix of city and highway driving, with both one passenger and a full cohort in the back.
Honda hasn't managed to work out the car's ride, either. As we've noted in previous reviews, it's floaty and loose with no-one on board, but never really settles with a full load, and it's unusually willing to slam into its bump stops over sharp imperfections. It's a bit confused, failing to deliver the effortless ride usually associated with loose body control.
Servicing is required every six months/10,000km and costs $2832 for five years, although Honda charges extra for consumables, bumping the capped-price cost to $3234. Like the wider Honda range, the car gets a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty.
For all its strengths, the Odyssey VTi-L is caught in no-man's-land. It isn't as big as the Kia Carnival, and the lack of a proper eight-seat option makes it less practical than the entry-level VTi. Making things trickier again is the fact Honda Sensing isn't available on the VTi, essentially forcing parents to choose between safety and outright practicality.
There's no doubting the Odyssey is well packaged and surprisingly sumptuous, with a far more usable interior than the average seven-seat SUV.
But it isn't quite luxurious enough to cut it as a boxy executive shuttle, nor is it practical enough to properly compete with the Kia Carnival. It's a very nice way to carry six people around, but just lacks the purity of focus that makes great cars... Great.