Does Honda's seven-seat stalwart still pass muster as it enters its twilight years, or is the people mover well and truly obsolete in this SUV-mad era? Elise Elliott finds out.
Elise has been a journalist across the trifecta of TV, radio and print for more than twenty-five years. When not shackled to her computer or beloved kid, you’ll find this working mum indulging her other passions — skiing powder off piste or trying to catch a wave on her 8’ Mini Mal.
WHAT IS IT?
The Odyssey is Honda’s people-mover offering. The top grade VTi-L, tested here, is a five-door, seven-seater wagon aimed at growing families. Honda promises the Odyssey will “bring joy to your people”.
Only one engine is available in the Odyssey: A 2.4-litre, four-cylinder petrol with Continuous Variable Transmission.
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO DRIVE?
The Japanese car maker calls the Odyssey “Sleek, Sexy and Refined”. Sleek and Refined? Maybe. Sexy? Er, no. Let’s face it: People movers are daggy. Most Mums and Dads, hoping to cling to the last vestiges of cool, opt for SUVs. That way they can pretend they veer off the beaten track when not stuck in suburbia.
The Odyssey, however, should not be under-estimated. I ferried five kids to and from school for a week and found it a surprisingly agile and responsive ride — more car than commercial van.
Need more detail? Read about the 2019 Honda Odyssey range price and features
As any parent knows, school drop-off is a war zone overrun with SUV tanks. The Odyssey held its own in the battlefield. Its tight turning circle (10.8 metres) means drivers won’t get honked attempting a u-ee at the school gate. Despite its length (4.8 metres) the Odyssey is easy to reverse park, thanks to deep windows providing good visibility and multi-view cameras. A smart parking feature is also handy
for manoeuvring into tight spots.
Neither the engine nor the transmission is exceptional, but combined they do their job.
I am a little, shall we say, vertically challenged, so the high riding position and ability to adjust the height of the leather wrapped steering wheel is a welcome addition.
The can’t-miss-it pushbutton start is a bonus, but the foot-operated park brake — when you manage to locate it — feels clunky and American.
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO LIVE WITH?
I have a “Sliding Doors” phobia. Blame Gwyneth Paltrow in that ridiculous yet curiously memorable movie. On vehicles, they appear too commercial van-ish. Thing is, sliding doors on people movers make sense. First, they’re practical. Second, they prevent kids swinging regular doors onto — and denting — neighbouring cars (admit it, this happens). Third, sliding doors make entering and exiting a breeze.
Don't need the VTi-L? Read about our review of the entry-level Honda Odyssey VTi
The power sliding doors on both sides of the VTi-L open and close automatically by either simply touching (not forcing) the door handle, or by pressing the remote key fob. One word of caution: The doors are extremely low slung; park too close to a curb and you’ll lose some chrome trim on Melbourne’s ubiquitous bluestone.
Once the doors slide back, the Odyssey has a Tardis-like feel; it’s seriously roomy inside without a bulky exterior. The front leather seats are mercifully heated — a must for bracing 6-degree school drop off mornings.
Second-row passengers are treated to a Business Class experience with luxurious Captain’s Chairs that recline, slide forward, back, and side-to-side — with the option of creating an aisle. They even come with extendable leg rests, if you don’t mind.
That’s not to say third-row passengers are treated like a cattle class afterthought. The car’s rear enjoys floor and roof vents and independent controls so passengers can adjust fan and temperature settings. No more nagging: “Muuuumm, I’m too hot/ cold”. Manually controlled shades keep the sun off those in the back, too.
There are also four anchors for secure placement of child seats. I checked out my passengers in the conversation mirror, incorporated into the overhead console’s sunglass holder, and there were smiles all round.
How's it compare? Read our Honda Odyssey vs Kia Carnival comparison review
There are no fewer than eight cup holders and multiple storage compartments that prevent drink bottles and iPads rolling around the vehicle. Because all the controls, including the gear lever, are mounted up on the dash there’s a tonne of space between the two front seats; perfect for storing that overflowing handbag. Trust me, chicks care about this.
With the third-row seats up/ in use, cargo space is a tall and slim 331 litres. With the third-row seats folded away into an underfloor recess this expands to 1672 litres. Folding the middle and third row seats down increases luggage capacity to a whopping 1867 litres.
Unfortunately, the upright tailgate bothered me. It can’t be opened from the key fob. And due to its sheer height when raised it feels heavy and high — too much for kids to close themselves after chucking their school bags in the back.
The full-colour, 7-inch touchscreen display is simple to use — except the fiddly volume control. Basic functions like this should not be difficult to decipher, but it took me four days to figure out one should swipe, not poke, the volume controls. Maybe this feature is second nature to the swipe left/swipe right generation but I prefer a good old-fashioned volume knob.
Connectivity is important to me and here Honda delivers. It was a cinch synching my phone. The fact I agreed to let the kids blast retro embarrassing ‘80s hits like “Jump” by Van Halen, however, diminished what was left of my cool cred.
IS IT WORTH THE MONEY?
Despite the abundance of chrome trim, no one is going to check out you and your Odyssey at the lights, especially with said bad tunes blasting. But if you can leave your ego in the garage, this people-mover is practical motoring at its best. At $47,590 (excl. on road costs) Honda provides value, room and a surprisingly luxe feel.
The Odyssey carries a 5-star ANCAP safety rating and the VTi-L comes with “Honda Sensing” — a suite of six driver assist technologies including Adaptive Cruise Control and Lane Keeping Assist system.
A 5-year unlimited km warranty is also standard.
On the official fuel test the VTi-L consumes 7.8L/100km (city and country combined). However, during a week of mostly stop-start, inner-city, school-hauling driving, a substantially thirstier 13.7L/100km was reached. It seems that this engine is a more natural fit for highway work.
It’s crazy what rocks a kid’s world. My pint-sized passengers loved the ride, saying it was like being on a business class bus with all their mates. So, Honda delivered on its promise: The Odyssey did bring joy to my people!
PROS: Spacious cabin; heated, leather front seats; Captain’s chairs in the second row; ample storage.
CONS: Tailgate too high; sliding doors set too low; the “dag” factor.
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