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Car reviews - Honda - Odyssey - people-mover range

Our Opinion

We like
Safer, stronger, quieter, smoother, more practical, more economical, less polluting and more powerful than before
Room for improvement
Auto has lost its sequential shift, 10 per cent price rise, less distinctive styling, foot-operated park brake, feel-free electric power steering

6 Apr 2009

WHAT do the Honda Odyssey, Lexus RX, VW Golf, and Mazda3 all have in common?

All have been completely redesigned over the last few months, and all their predecessors were unveiled internationally during 2003.

So? Well, their predecessors were all strikingly fresh in design and/or engineering, while the latest versions for each of these cars are unremittingly “evolutionary” (read: dull) this time around.

Did the economic slowdown of the early Naughties make stylists bolder, while the boom years that followed (until the global financial crisis hit) then leave them all complacent?

Take the new Odyssey – the fourth people-mover to wear the moniker since the series burst on to the scene in 1995.

Frankly some journalists at the launch were wondering out aloud if there had been any significant changes to the styling, inside or out.

We saw their point, but (of course), your trained motoring correspondent, along with the 13,000 or so happy owners of the last Odyssey, will spot the changes from at least 10 paces away.

The cool and confident look of the old car has given way to a Honda Insight-esque corporate face upfront and a rather anonymous profile and backside. We can’t see too many being ‘dropped’ and modified as with the old Odyssey.

At least the (now all alloy) wheels better fill the arches.

Stepping inside is similarly non-eventful after the artful interior presentation of the previous Odyssey.

Change for the sake of change is all around. Really, while there is absolutely nothing wrong with the look or feel of the latest version, it does not seem as special as the old version simply because it’s all been seen before somehow.

We also think that Honda’s decision to ditch the sequential shift function is a big mistake. On several occasions since 2004, we have heard some mummies and daddies comment that this people-over series’ gear shift allows them to pretend they are driving something sexier and sportier.

What gives, Honda?

Mind you, that awful foot-operated park brake would soon bring them thudding back down to the mid 20th century. This anachronism is almost too much in a 2009 model-year vehicle that is not even sold remotely near North America.

Anyway, enough of the whingeing, because once we got over the less-striking styling and ho-hum looking interior, we actually discovered a massively improved vehicle that probably fits the role of people-mover better than any other for the money.

For starters: hooray to Honda for fitting thinner pillars. Making any vehicle easier to see out of is a huge step forward. Bring it on. This is just a fantastic development.

Then there are the standard safety features. Finally ESC stability control has been made available, while curtain airbags are fitted as standard at last.

Better still, Honda has entered the 1990s with a lap/sash centre seatbelt for the middle-seat occupants. No more visions of dissected corpses after an emergency stop.

Moving on, the outboard centre row seats seem comfy enough, and have the added bonus of sliding backwards and forwards as well as reclining to suit the size of the person, while the third-row bench is surprisingly accommodating – aided by a face-level vent, storage bins and easy access.

The Odyssey is also quieter (though the third-row seat is still not immune to road rumble), less raucous mechanically, and smooth on the country roads we sampled.

Performance is sufficient and effortless, but nothing startling (we still miss the classic old Mk2 Odyssey V6), and the electric power steering is responsive but devoid of feel and too light for our taste.

It is probably great around town – what with the Odyssey’s tight 5-metre turning radius – but Honda never gave us a chance to test it in inner-urban conditions. A full roadtest awaits.

Studying the specification sheet, we think Honda should be applauded for making the Mk4 Odyssey cleaner and more economical, even though power is up a little and weight has also risen between 35 and 65kg.

So there you have it.

This Mk4 Odyssey is really just a rebodied Mk3 Odyssey with more safety, efficiency, refinement, comfort, practicality and features.

But it costs a whopping 10 per cent more, looks way less cool, and has lost the one thing that kept some buyers connected with the spirit of sporty driving – that sequential auto shifter.

Never mind, though, because the latest Odyssey still does exactly what it says it will do on the box.

We only wish Honda’s designers thought more outside-of-the-box like they did with the sleek but flawed 2004 Odyssey way back in 2003.

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