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Car Buyers' Guide: What to look for when buying a people mover
By Jack Biddle • 05/10/2014
Graeme has just sold his Suzuki Grand Vitara and is looking for a people mover type of vehicle to accommodate an impending increase in family numbers.
"I was keen on a 2008 used import Honda Odyssey until I found out it was fitted with a Constant Variable Transmission (CVT). From what I have read and heard, these transmissions can be troublesome but wondered if there were any known clear points where these problems were no longer an issue.
"My other option is to go for the higher specced Odyssey model (called an Absolute) which, from what I can gather, is not fitted with the CVT transmission and has the more conventional automatic instead. My aim is to find a suitable vehicle no older than 2008, travelled under 80,000km, that is within my budget and without any known mechanical issues," says Graeme. He has also looked at the Mazda Premacy and the Toyota Ipsum. Budget is between $15,000 and $17,000.
Let me start this reply by saying I own a vehicle fitted with a CVT and would recommend this transmission to anyone looking to purchase a new, or near new vehicle.
But sadly, as mentioned in previous Buyers' Guide columns, this type of automatic transmission has had its fair share of issues and Graeme raises a good question about trying to identify a clear point to reduce his risk.
I'm sorry to say it's not that straightforward or easy to provide a simple answer. Adding to the confusion, is the introduction to NZ of some used import models such as the Odyssey which have different specification levels and options to what was sold new in NZ. All the Honda Odysseys sold new in NZ have been fitted with the more traditional hydraulic/electronic automatic transmission, however, the latest wave of used imports to hit our shores can come fitted with either a CVT or the more standard automatic gearbox.
The confusion doesn't stop there because not all CVTs are designed and operate exactly the same.
In Honda's case, the well-publicised main problem area with its CVT (fitted to models such as the early Jazz, Fit, and Civic) was a shudder on take-off caused by slippage in what is called the start clutch.
With the used imported Odyssey models, however, this is not an issue because this particular type of CVT is designed differently, and does away with the start clutch (similar to the all-new CVT Jazz). And I'm reliably informed that used imported Odysseys fitted with this alternative type of CVT transmission have been pretty much trouble free with no known or reported ongoing problems thus far. But you can't always rely on the fact that because a particular vehicle has no known issues, it's okay to purchase.
As vehicles age and odometers increase, normal wear and tear on NZ new vehicles can easily replace the known mechanical problems with used imports so potential repair costs can still be significant. But history has shown that used imports can at times be like that famous box of chocolates; but in this case it's the bonnet that has to be opened before you discover just what you're gonna get. It doesn't make them bad vehicles, but like the NZ new makes and models, potential buyers should always seek an unbiased second opinion from sources within the industry to either confirm what they thought they knew, or be told otherwise. Bottom line ... it's dangerous to assume anything.
Honda Odyssey Absolute
Many potential buyers struggle to get past the people mover tag with the Odyssey but in this price range it's hard, if not impossible, to beat this vehicle for usable interior room. It's perfect for fitting in pushchairs and other young family requirements as well as retaining plenty of comfy space for adult occupants. Just be aware that the Absolute is a highly specced model and prices will no doubt be pumped to reflect this. However, items such as audio/DVD and Bluetooth systems will all be in Japanese, and GPS, if fitted, won't work in NZ at all. So try and negotiate an English in-dash upgrade to be installed before committing to purchase especially if buying from a licensed trader (dealer).
The 7-seater 2.4-litre Ipsum is a good all-round vehicle and overall has a good name in the industry for low overall running costs. It can be purchased with a factory body kit and alloy wheels to help lift street appeal. Only possible downside is lack of interior space in comparison to the Odyssey.
The 2.0-litre Premacy is another 7-seater with a solid reputation within the industry. Its biggest point of difference is the sliding rear doors which make entry and exit a lot easier especially in busy car parks where banging doors with your neighbour can be an issue when trying to load and secure children. It has a smaller engine than the Toyota and Honda so fuel consumption may be better - although around town on short errands with children it's never going to be brilliant.
Driven recommends: All three choices have their individual merits and with a young family practicality may have to overrule image.
Pick a model that best meets your needs and then ask your preferred repairer or an independent source such as your local MTA garage for its opinion. Or email a question to Jack at firstname.lastname@example.org