Honda Odyssey perfect if you have kids
POPULAR IN JAPAN FOR YEARS, PEOPLE MOVERS ARE SMALL FLEETS HERE
You buy a people-mover to please the children, correct? On that basis, the flagship Honda Odyssey L is a winner right out of the box.
If you’re accustomed to travelling in the back, you can be quite self-sufficient in this vehicle: comfort and convenience are certainly catered for.
Both of those sliding side doors are power-operated, for example. You can open them with the remote, the door handles themselves or a button on the dash; a quick click and motors whirr as the doors glide rearwards. Kids love this kind of stuff.
Inside, the Odyssey L has forsaken the eight-seat configuration of the entry-level Odyssey S in favour of a more luxury-oriented seven-seat layout, with two individual chairs in the centre-row. Those two chairs are something akin to business-class seats: they have fold-down arm rests, an impressive capacity to recline and enormous foot rests that allow you to stretch out La-Z-Boy style. Kids also love this kind of stuff, and because the upholstery is leather you can actually just let them be kids (which generally involves food and drink).
Rear occupants have their own air conditioning, with separate digital controls that feed roof-mounted vents. So if you’re in the back, you’re not reliant on the room-temperature whims and trickle-back climate of those up front. Yes, kids also love this kind of thing. If they can reach the buttons.
About the only thing that’s missing is an entertainment system, although that might be a little too much to ask in a $52,500 vehicle. If the kids are not impressed, they can always walk through from the rear compartment to the front to complain. You can do that in the Odyssey L.
Children love people movers, but adults? Not so much. At least not adults in New Zealand. It’s a popular market segment in Japan, where the Odyssey hails from: take a trip into any big Japanese city and you’ll see that large, boxy six-seat-plus machines are almost the default choice for family transport. Europeans like people movers as well, albeit in more design-oriented clothing.
In New Zealand, the people-mover segment is the smallest: just 1 per cent of total sales last year and not showing any signs of growing. In terms of lifestyle vehicles, Kiwis went straight from station wagons to sports utility vehicles (SUVs) without really pausing to consider the more prosaic world of the people mover.
So Honda has a hard job on its hands with the Odyssey. Its solution in the previous two generations (2003-13) was to work some platform magic and make a six-seater that was as low and sleek-looking as any sporty station wagon. It was a remarkable packaging job — but then that’s an area of expertise for Honda. See also Jazz and Magic Seat.
Anyway, the days of the low-rider Odyssey are over and Honda has embraced a conventional Japanese people-mover profile in this model. This fifth-generation version is actually the first to feature dual sliding doors, because no Odyssey before it has had the body shape to accommodate them.
Honda is quick to point out that the latest Odyssey’s platform is actually 60mm lower than the previous model, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s 150mm taller overall and clothed in sheet metal from the set-square school of design. Although the new car is apparently also more aerodynamic. Go figure.
Why the dramatic change? The answer is quite simple: in Japan, this Odyssey replaces not only the fourth-gen model but also another larger Honda people mover called Elysion.
We’ve established that there’s plenty to recommend the Odyssey L in the back. But is there anything for the person in the driver’s seat?
Performance-wise it’s a mixed bag, with plenty of power on paper from the 2.4-litre engine and a paddle-shifting function for the continuously variable transmission (CVT). But the powerplant lacks low-down torque, so you have to work the CVT that much harder, resulting in quite a bit of engine flaring as the revs rise and fall in that continuously variable way.
The handling is surprisingly good, though. The last thing you’d expect from a tall people-mover is a nimble cornering attitude, but the Odyssey turns in tightly and maintains excellent composure in fast turns. Not something you’d recommend with a full load of passengers on board, but nice to know you can.
The 18-inch wheels and low-profile tyres no doubt help that cornering aptitude. They do generate quite a lot of road noise on coarse chip seal, but the rest of the car remains relatively quiet at cruising speeds.
The Odyssey has equipment designed to take the stress out of its exterior size, including a 360-degree camera system and self-parking that can theoretically handle both side-by-side and parallel spaces. I say theoretically because it’s pretty hard to operate.
Getting the car into a space involves slow driving while the cameras scan, a lot of selection by the driver on the car’s touch screen and a high degree of concentration, because if you fail to obey the system’s instructions to the millimetre it will self-cancel. Honestly, there are much better systems and great visibility means it’s not actually that difficult to park the Odyssey yourself.
It’s not all about people, either. Odyssey is also a reasonable utility vehicle because you can slide the second-row away and fold the third row, leaving something approaching van-sized space for cargo carrying.