Car reviews - Honda - Odyssey - VTi-L
Massive reclining armchairs in the central row pamper occupants like few other vehicles, huge flexibility of legroom and luggage space
Room for improvement
Chintzy interior, infuriating touch-sensitive climate control panel, nauseating rear-seat ride, no digital speedo, frustrating infotainment system, foot-operated park brake
Safety tech upgrade and other tweaks improve Honda’s enigmatic Odyssey people-mover
13 Mar 2019
HONDA continued its rollout of active safety and driver assistance technologies in late 2017 with an update to the Odyssey people-mover range, applying adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane-keep assist and road departure mitigation to the top-spec VTi-L variant.
Accompanying this upgrade were some minor changes inside and out, including noise, vibration and harshness improvements plus some tweaks to interior comfort and storage.
The Odyssey VTi-L is certainly a unique take on the people-mover genre, but we didn’t come away convinced that different was necessarily better.
Price and equipment
The two-variant Honda Odyssey range starts from $37,990 plus on-road costs for the VTi, with the VTi-L tested here costing almost $10,000 more, at $47,590.
With the 2018 model-year update, the price gap widened to the current level owing to the standard fitment of adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane-keep assist and road departure mitigation to the VTi-L.
At the same time, the less expensive VTi received a similar fascia design as the VTi-L, as well as chrome surrounds for the foglights, reducing the visual differentiation between variants somewhat.
That said, the VTi-L remains aloof with its own bumper design containing LED foglights, as well as a dark chrome finish on the upper and lower grilles that is repeated on the doorhandles.
It also justifies its substantial price premium with a long list of features not available on the VTi.
These include a tri-zone climate control system providing a rear temperature control panel with floor-level vents for third-row passengers, leather upholstery, electric front seat adjustment and heating, power-sliding doors on both sides, rear privacy glass, a sunroof, LED headlights with cornering function, keyless entry with push-button start, sun shades on second-row windows, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a 360-degree parking camera, park assist, LED rear puddle lights, one-touch electric windows all round, and black woodgrain-effect trim.
Unique to the VTi-L is a pair of captain’s chairs for the second row that recline, slide side-to-side and feature extendable ottoman leg-rests. For this update, they also gain in-built drinks holders and larger, plusher head restraints.
New paint choices Cobalt Blue Pearlescent and Platinum White Pearlescent replace Modern Steel Metallic and White Orchid Pearlescent for this update. All are no-cost options.
Despite the presence of park assist, rear parking sensors are a $697 dealer-fit accessory
To the uninitiated, the Honda Odyssey VTi-L interior looks and feels like that of an obscure vehicle aimed at the Southeast Asian or Chinese markets.
It’s all glossy plastics, chintzy chrome, wrinkly black leather, fake wood and mismatched switchgear. Then there’s the awful pseudo-futuristic touch-sensitive digital climate control panel and a middle-row accommodation that looks like the lovechild of a dentist’s chair and those coin-operated massage machines found in otherwise disused corners of airports.
Among all this, Honda neglected to improve the infuriatingly slow, difficult-to-use, woefully dated and frankly ugly multimedia screen for this model-year refresh. The logic of this is beyond us, especially as the units in the Civic and CR-V are so good. The Odyssey touchscreen would be embarrassingly inadequate in a $15,000 econobox, let alone a vehicle that costs upward of $50,000 on the road. We disliked having to use it.
The instrument panel is a similar story. For all its digital, colourful bling, there is only an analogue speedometer. And to get things moving requires the use of a foot-operated park brake that collides with your shin when not in use, while a dashboard protrusion that accommodates the gear selector constantly chafes your left knee.
With no centre console to speak of – just a narrow gangway – storage is not as good at it could or should be in a people-mover. There is, however, a strange tray at the bottom of the dash that moves upward and back and conceals a pair of retractable cup-holders.
Having spent a week with the brilliantly executed and comparatively classy Kia Carnival immediately prior to testing this Odyssey, we felt deeply disappointed with the Honda’s interior.
Granted, the Kia is a fair bit more expensive spec-for-spec, but a lot of the technology in the Odyssey is so poorly implemented that we’d rather go without than have to use it on a daily basis.
More positively, we found the leather soft and expensive-feeling, the front seats comfortable enough and particularly enjoyed their individually adjustable fold-down armrests. Visibility is good, too, thanks to a high driving position and big glass area. There’s a fair bit of wind noise on the move and the drivetrain is frequently vocal under acceleration, but while cruising along, we found driving the Odyssey a pretty quiet experience.
We found the new adaptive cruise control to work pretty well and the lane-keeping assistance pretty intuitive. It isn’t a proactive self-steering system, but reactively nudges the steering wheel in the right direction and jiggles it in the driver’s hands if the Odyssey is allowed to drift too far towards lane markings.
The individual second-row seats have a huge range of fore-aft adjustment, providing stretch limo-like legroom if required. They move side-to-side as well, to create a continuation of the gangway that originates between the front two seats.
A full recline is possible, and leg supports can be raised up for the full business-class travel experience. Adjustable armrests on both sides along with plush padding and the Odyssey VTi-L properly pampers its second-row occupants. Compared with the eight-seat VTi, this luxury is at the expense of one seating position.
Rather comedically, we did fit a child seat into one of these armchairs – they both have Isofix – and with the ottoman raised, they provided a handy step for a child to access their restraint and somewhere to rest their feet on each journey. But we couldn’t locate any child seat anchorages in the third row, despite Honda’s spec sheet claiming their presence.
After experiencing the plush armchairs of the second row, we assumed the third row would be less classy, but it’s still pretty comfy on the bench back there – although it’d be a bit narrow for three adults abreast. They recline too, and the massive amount of adjustment possible with the central seats makes it easy to provide lots of legroom for all passengers. Middle-row occupants might have to sacrifice their ottoman if tall folk are riding at the very back, though.
Access to the back two rows is excellent, too, via huge sliding doors with commensurately sized windows that have both privacy tint and pull-up sun blinds in the VTi-L, or by slipping through the gangway if the central row seats are both slid to their most outboard positions.
Like the Carnival, the Odyssey’s rearmost row is stowed in a trough-like area to create a large, flat boot floor with just four seats in use. The trough makes up for the lack of load length when all three rows are deployed, although Honda claims just 330 litres of capacity in this configuration compared with 960L in the Kia.
A weird clasp system is used to secure the third row into its stowed position too and seems like an afterthought. There’s no way of stowing the armchairs, which just have to be slid as far forward as they will go to provide maximum boot capacity.
Alternatively, the central seats could be slid all the way back to provide a large load area between them and the front seats, accessed via the sliding side doors. We found this to be a pretty useful feature.
Engine and transmission
Under the Odyssey’s raked bonnet is a 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine with idle-stop, driving the front wheels through a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT).
It produces 129kW of power at 6200rpm and 225Nm of torque at 4000rpm, which isn’t that much when you have 1817kg of car plus passengers and luggage to shift about. This, coupled with the rev-flaring CVT, makes for noisy acceleration and hill-climbing.
Cruising gently around town or on the motorway – provided there are no hills to negotiate – the engine is incredibly quiet, refined and pleasantly responsive too. And the idle-stop system was one of the most seamless we’ve experienced.
The engine also remains impressively smooth while working its little guts out when asked to propel the Odyssey along briskly or tackle steep inclines.
But it’s clearly overworked, borne out by our average on-test fuel consumption of 9.4 litres per 100 kilometres compared with Honda’s official 7.8L combined-cycle figure – which incidentally is what we got on a long motorway journey (the official highway cycle figure is 6.8L/100km).
Ride and handling
From the driver or front passenger seat, the Odyssey rides pretty well and handling is nimbler than expected for a slabby people-mover.
It is not unusual for cars with a low-speed ride problem to improve at higher speeds, but weirdly the Odyssey’s sense of stability and agility seems to settle into its stride above 80km/h more convincingly than it does round town for example.
But at any speed, the steering has an unpleasantly viscous, obstructive feel a few degrees either side of centre that is accentuated during quick direction changes such as when negotiating roundabouts.
Unfortunately, travelling in the back of the Odyssey is like being in a different car altogether. The rear axle seems to buck around abruptly as though there is very little suspension travel and it can be clearly heard trying to deal with bumps and undulations. It’s far from smooth-riding back there.
We felt decidedly nauseous after around 15 minutes travelling in the central row of the Odyssey, even when sliding our seat as far forward as we could to distance ourselves from the rear wheels and obtain better visibility from the side windows.
Perhaps it was just this particular tester’s constitution on a particular day, though, as a toddler travelled in the Odyssey all week without complaint and adult passengers on a night out when we volunteered as designated driver seemed more than happy in their reclining armchairs.
Regardless, there is a clear disconnect between the experience of driver and rear passenger in the Odyssey. It might seem fine from behind the wheel on your dealership test drive, but we recommend you do a few laps in the back to experience the difference for yourself.
Safety and servicing
In 2014, the Odyssey got a full five-star ANCAP crash-test rating, with a fairly low 12.75 out of 16 scored in the frontal offset test, but 16 out of 16 in the side impact test and the maximum two points in the pole test. Whiplash protection was deemed ‘good’ and pedestrian protection ‘acceptable’. It scored two out of three for seatbelt reminders, with an overall score of 32.75 out of 37.
In addition to the new safety and assistance tech added to the VTi-L tested here, both Odyssey variants have dual frontal, side chest and side curtain airbags (curtains) as standard, along with the usual anti-lock brakes with electronic brake distribution and electronic stability control (ESC). Advanced seatbelt reminders are fitted to both front seats.
Honda now provides a five-year factory warranty with unlimited kilometres, unless you are a fleet or commercial operator, in which case it is capped at 140,000km.
There is also a six-year rust perforation and three-year paint warranty, while roadside assistance remains a cost-option upgrade.
Scheduled maintenance is every six months or 10,000km. Under Honda’s capped-price servicing program, the first 10 visits cost between $267 and $305 depending on interval, with the caveat that replacement brake fluid, cabin filter, air cleaner, fuel filter, spark plugs and transmission fluid are not included and cost between $54 and $261 extra depending on the vehicle’s age and kilometres (prices correct at time of writing).
After a week living with the Odyssey and using it as family transport – with a stint as unpaid taxi service on a night out when volunteering as designated driver – we just couldn’t get to grips with it.
It’s certainly big on space and our rear-seat revellers relished the adjustment and comfort of those captains’ chairs, but in the end they, much like several other features in the Odyssey, felt gimmicky and cumbersome.
Borderline unusable climate controls and multimedia systems are an unforgivable flaw in a vehicle designed to be packed with passengers who will no doubt conspire to distract the driver. Trying to adjust the temperature or program the sat-nav is all but impossible in the Odyssey unless stationary, and even then, it’s a hair-tearingly frustrating experience.
The engine isn’t quite up to the task, the rear-seat ride comfort leaves a lot to be desired and while the driving experience is reasonably good, the point of a car like this is to take care of its passengers. Deft handling, while a surprising positive, is pretty irrelevant on a people-mover.
The Odyssey clearly has room for improvement, and we look forward to the next generation if the excellent Civic and CR-V are anything to go by.
Meanwhile, we recommend readers to look elsewhere.
Citroen Grand C4 Picasso Exclusive: $38,490 plus on-road costs
Kia Carnival Si petrol: $47,990 plus on-road costs
Hyundai iMAX Elite: $48,490 plus on-road cots
Based on the still-respectable iLoad van, the iMAX was recently updated with cosmetic and specification changes, meaning there is still a lot to like about this honest and spacious vehicle.
Model release date: 1 December 2017
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