Car reviews - Honda - Odyssey - Luxury people-mover
Now with a lap/sash middle-seat seatbelt, ESP standard, smooth performance, refined cabin, thinner A-pillars for improved vision, easy entry and egress, expected high resale value
Room for improvement
$4200 price jump, AWOL sequential shifter for auto, roof-mounted child restraint anchorages, feel-free steering feedback, ugly dash top, foot operated park brake
25 Jun 2009
LIKE some people you might know, a car can sometimes become so focussed in one area that it loses something in another.
So welcome the somewhat new, certainly improved in many facets, but somehow not as good in others, fourth-generation Honda Odyssey.
This is the seven-seater people-mover that Honda sells only in sizeable volume in Japan and Australia (the North American Odyssey is an altogether larger, more Tarago-like device), and so is specifically tailored to Japanese needs and tastes.
In fact it’s probably the most Japanese Honda you can buy.
This was a problem for Australian buyers of the previous model Odyssey, since it lacked a centre-row middle-position lap/sash seatbelt. Apparently Japanese buyers don’t need or want such a thing.
Curtain airbags were not standard. Nor did the old Odyssey offer stability control – probably because Honda could not be bothered going to the trouble of engineering this essential safety item for Aussie buyers.
Now we have a new one – the fourth-generation model since the award-winning 1995 model appeared – with a fresh body, redesigned interior, revamped drivetrain and a myriad of other changes.
However, while the previous model’s DNA remains pretty much intact underneath, Honda seems to have become obsessed with safety ... and that’s a good thing.
Like a high school classroom roll call, every one of those dodgy old omissions has been addressed: Lap/sash seatbelt for every occupant? “Present". Stability control? “Here Miss". A full suite of airbags attached to both the base and Luxury models (we’re testing the latter one here)? “Yep!”
And there’s more. Honda has delivered an Odyssey complete with a far stronger body, a nose cone that is less traumatising on pedestrian impact and significantly improved driver vision as a result of thinner pillars, skinnier wipers and a lower dashboard cowl.
But something has been lost in translation from Odyssey III to Odyssey IV. It’s as if Honda engineered the extra safety in but exorcised some of the old car’s style and personality.
The angular, slightly mean-looking lines of the previous people mover give way to a fussier overall design featuring a grinning corporate Honda family face and a more generic tail treatment.
We also miss the elegant horizontal fascia from before. In contrast the new dash looks as if function triumphed completely over form. Who ever thought that placing that eyesore radio/CD player up high on top of the dash would look like anything other than like an afterthought?
Aesthetics aside, however, sitting inside the Odyssey looking out, one cannot help but applaud Honda for making this a more usable and practical bus for all of us.
It’s easier to get in and out, thanks to wider doors, and now the centre row seats slide across much more easily due to a single-action lever living beside each door to tilt and slide the second-row seat forward.
The good news keeps on coming, as Honda has increased the Odyssey’s cabin length by 60mm (totaling 2850mm) as part of its ‘Maximum-Man/Minimum-Machine Interface’ mantra pioneered in the latest Jazz light car.
As a result, the powertrain, suspension and other mechanical bits and bobs are now generally more compact, meaning that the ‘living room’ is now measurably more space-efficient and user-friendly than in the old Odyssey, even though the new one sits on the same wheelbase.
Honda has also altered the floor below the second-row of seats to liberate about 40mm of legroom for those behind another 20mm of knee space also magically appears due to the reshaping of the second-row seat each of the middle row’s 40/20/40-split seats slide, recline and fold and outboard second-row occupants can recline the front seat backrests down flush with their seat base to create a sort of aircraft-style extended-leg cushion lounge.
The tailgate is now slimmer and reshaped for more efficient space usage, but the opening itself is wider in the lower area to make loading bulkier items easier.
Equipment levels also rise. Full-length curtain airbags, ESC and traction control, alloy wheels and auxiliary input MP3/WMA CD radio audio join the standard features list, while the Luxury’s gains include Tri-zone automatic climate control that also includes a humidity sensor, and HID High Intensity Discharge headlights with auto-levelling low beam and washer.
So, on paper, the Odyssey sounds accommodating and capable.
Let’s see if the reality lives up to the PR hype.
Starting at the back, a small but useable and deep luggage space sits behind the rearmost seats – more so than we had imagined, in fact. The temporary spare wheel at least pays dividends here.
For the record, luggage space is now rated at 259 litres (up 15 litres) with all seven seats in situ.
Fold down one of the third-row seats and there’s even more room, while pushing the electric bench-folding button (s-l-o-w-l-y) lowers the entire third row into the floor, to create a shallower but longer load area to the second row.
This can increase with the second-row seats folded forward, for a long and continuous, though gappy and uneven, area of storage right up to the front seats. It isn’t wagon-like flat so you won’t be sleeping in the Odyssey, but it is pretty commodious. Honda says this measures 708 litres (previously 672 litres).
Even your 178cm tester can find serenity in the third-row bench after having no problem sliding the middle seat forward in one easy go, as each of the two occupants back there is supported by a face-level vent coming down from the ceiling, a cupholder, storage compartment, oddment tray, overhead grab handles, reading light and a pillar-sited airbag. A break from the hard plastics would be nice though.
Also, once on the move, a fair amount of road noise permeates, so conversation with people up front is a voice-raising experience.
Worse still, the Odyssey again resorts to roof-mounted child anchorage hooks, so the straps can foul heads and/or eat into luggage space. Surely Honda could have mounted anchor points behind the second and third row backrests?
Moving forward to the middle of the second row, this is truly a pew suitable only for a skinny child or large stick insect, as you are perched up on a hard section. And those with sensitive buttocks may feel the newly acquired lap/sash seatbelt receiver jutting out.
The middle-row outboard occupants, on the other hand, get to enjoy ample space for shoulders, heads and feet as long as there’s nobody or nothing sitting in-between, with the reclining seat providing sufficient support. Honda says it has moved these seats inboard slightly, so there’s a ‘V’ formation that is presumably visible only by aliens with X-ray vision looking down on to the Odyssey from space. There, we have the words ‘space’ and ‘Odyssey’ in the same sentence.
Back to the middle row, all the aforementioned vent and storage amenities also exist for the outboard occupants, along with a digital climate control setting (in the Luxury), map pockets, a 12-volt power outlet and side windows that lower (though not all the way down). We are fans of these seats, especially as the w-i-d-e doors really make it a cinch to use.
And so we make our way to the front seat area.
Tall people will find that the lower part of the glovebox fouls knee space for the passenger, but it does have a handy armrest, while the side-hinged centre tray contains a pair of cupholders as well as a sliding compartment. Why it actually drops away is a mystery, since only that stick insect is skinny enough to use this facility as a walk-through to the centre row.
The driver, however, enjoys the best seat in the house, because it is electrically adjustable as well as heated (like the left-hand one), and comfortable with plenty of support.
All round vision is excellent, with those welcome thin pillars and large mirrors making reversing, parking and lane-change manoeuvres much easier. Other car-makers, please take note here.
Honda says it placed all the controls where the driver can locate and recognise them easily. And this is true too, from the tilt and telescopic steering wheel (with its handily placed audio and cruise control switches on the steering wheel spokes), to the lateral placement of the impressively simple climate control buttons.
Ventilation is superb, coming on strong and with demisting a cinch.
As we said earlier, the dash itself, although modern and functional, lacks the futuristic style of the old model, with its hard (though attractive) grains and ugly radio/CD player housing. The latter would be better served housing a satellite navigation screen.
Honda will hate us saying this, but there is something Tarago-esque about the Odyssey’s fascia’s design, and this is carried through to the quite closely grouped together (but easy to read) instrumentation.
Finished in Honda’s signature white, blue and red markings, it features a round trip computer and odometer display in the centre, flanked by warning lights and transmission selector info immediately behind that, and then an arc of a tacho to the left and fuel and temperature gauges fanning out on the right after that.
As we said - it is Toyota-like. The foot-operated park brake, on the other hand, belongs in a 1951 DeSoto. This is the worst type of park brake.
What also isn’t easy to fathom is why Honda has dropped the sequential gear selector for a conventional PRND21 arrangement.
Owners of the previous-model Odyssey told us that having the option to use the sequential gears was one of the few driver-orientated features that eased the pain and occasional social stigma of driving a seven-seater bus about.
The fact is, though, that the Odyssey is a fine and satisfying drive anyway.
Its smooth and responsive 132kW 2.4-litre twin-cam i-VTEC four-cylinder petrol engine is a trier, revving easily and piling on the speed more quickly than you might expect.
Load it up with the family, and there isn’t a marked performance deficit, although a heavier right foot is needed to keep things moving along briskly. Of course, you’ll pay for it at the bowser. We watched our fuel-consumption average skyrocket from about 11.4L/100km to 15.
Empty or not, take-off acceleration is brisk, overtaking acceleration is sufficient, and the Odyssey’s highway cruising demeanour relaxed and fairly quiet, for the first two rows at least. Honda’s noise-reduction work seems to have paid off here.
Earlier we said this Odyssey is the most Japanese new Honda (car) out there in some ways, it’s the most Honda-like Honda too.
Underneath lives the company’s signature (and space-saving) double wishbone front and rear suspension system cribbed from the old model, connected to a more rigid chassis and improved suspension geometry.
If you are familiar with the larger of the Accord duo (the 2003-07 edition donated much of its running gear), then the Odyssey’s flat cornering attitude, excellent grip and smooth ride qualities will be familiar.
The steering is also light for parking speeds and satisfyingly measured yet responsive when tackling high-speed turns and tight corners alike. This is a well engineered front-wheel-drive chassis.
New to the range is the ‘Motion Adaptive’ electronic power steering, replacing the old hydraulic set-up. Honda says it works in conjunction with the stability control system to provide greater steering assistance when needed, and helps keep the minimum turning radius down to an agreeably tight 5.4 metres.
The important task of halting the Odyssey is no problem for the large four-wheel disc brakes, backed up by the aforementioned ESC (dubbed VSA in Honda-speak) and traction control unit, as well as the anti-lock brake set-up.
Larger bumps reveal a lack of long suspension travel, and the steering is almost completely devoid of feel despite being fairly quick ratioed. Otherwise the Odyssey is probably the most driver-orientated (and thus most car-like) new seven-seater people available this side of a Ford Territory (yes, we know, that’s an SUV).
But is the latest Odyssey better than before?
Of course, and with its excellent resale value and reliability record thrown in, you are not likely to regret buying this car one bit.
However, Odyssey prices have soared, and all the new safety items – although undoubtedly worth it – do not offset the $4200 difference. Honda blames exchange rates.
This means that the Honda people-mover is no longer the bargain that the likeable and prettier old one was either.
But it is virtually the complete people-mover package – aside from the child anchorage point anomaly.
If you can afford the latest Odyssey Luxury go for it. There’s now more to like but somehow now less to love.
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