Car reviews - Honda - Odyssey - VTi
Classy interior with heaps of space, great second- and third-row seat access, low loading heights, electric sliding door on base model VTi
Room for improvement
Ride and handling have taken a step backwards, high fuel use, no rear-seat media system
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11 Feb 2014
By BARRY PARK
One of the big benefits of the Odyssey over its rivals is that it has always tried to shy away from a traditional two-box design that, for some rivals, screams too many children and too few dollars.
However, this time around, Honda has attempted to split its market with a new-generation Odyssey that will appeal to families down the lower end, and what the car-maker hopes will be a very different buyer – those in need of an upmarket shuttle bus.
Let’s start with the VTi family car, then, priced from a Kia Grand Carnival-rivalling $38,990 plus on-road costs.
Honda has kept its focus on designing a people-mover that tries to look like anything but a people-mover. The new design has progressed to keep the swept-back form of the previous generation, as well as pushing out the extremes to give it a more slab-sided profile.
From the front, it is almost SUV-like, but the deep bumper bar that sweeps back alongside the side profile makes it appear as though it is hugging the ground.
Creases roll down either flank, with a runner channel for the sliding rear doors – they replace a pair of traditional ones – carefully blended in via a chrome strip running from an edge of the tear-shaped headlight. It looks good.
The rear also does well to hide its trade van-like proportions, mimicking the front in the way it wraps around in a falling line offset with slanted, trapezoidal tail-lights.
Good. You won’t be embarrassed to leave it in the driveway.
Inside, things have been tidied up a fair bit. While the dash on the previous-generation Odyssey bordered on spaceship-like, with a radio crammed in almost as an afterthought, the new is quite stylish and premium-looking.
The dash is more tactile, although you’d be hard-pressed to call it soft, and cloth trim covers the doors where the elbow falls. The rather plain dash is dominated by a large LCD screen that takes over many of the communication and entertainment system settings that scattered buttons around the old Odyssey’s dashboard. Oh, and most of the media functions only work with an iPhone 5, with Android compatibility said to be on the way.
Oddly, Honda has included a HDMI port for video sitting alongside two USB ports on the console. You need something like a video camera or laptop to use it, and because there’s no rear-mounted screen, you can only view video on the screen in the centre of the dash while the vehicle is stopped.
Getting in behind the wheel is easy thanks to a wide-opening door and a deeper floor that adds 100mm to the hip-point on the seat. This means less bending and twisting to climb up into the rather flat driver’s seat that features a squab that is a little short for my liking.
The seats and their armrests adjust manually, and the steering has both reach and rake settings to make finding a comfortable driving position easy.
Visibility is quite good, too, with a commanding view out the steeply raked front window and down past the surprisingly narrow rear pillars.
One feature that’s missing from this generation of Odyssey is a large, folding tray that rested between the driver and front passenger seats. Instead the new Odyssey features a much smaller pull-out tray built into the lower part of the console that incorporates a pair of cupholders. It’s no substitute.
The new Odyssey ditches the former model’s 2-3-2 seating arrangement for a new 2-3-3 configuration made possible by the much wider sides yielding enough room at the rear to sit three people side-by-side.
Adding sliding doors to the Odyssey also helps with its new carrying capacity.
The kerbside rear door slides open and closed at the press of a lockable button mounted in front of the driver’s right knee – bad luck if the rouseabout is sitting on the passenger side – and yields a cavernous space for getting in and out. This will be especially welcome to parents with infants in baby or booster seats, as there’s next to no extra stress on the back when reaching in. The floor also sits very low to the ground.
The seats are comfortable enough for a long trip, and suit even large passengers. One annoyance, though, is an intrusive lump in the carpet in front of the centre seat where the space-saver spare wheel is hidden away between the front seats.
Once again, the rear of the Odyssey has roof-mounted air vents, but this time around instead of mounting the unit in the middle of the lining, they’re offset to the outboard seats for both the second and third rows, and include reading lights. The controls for the rear system are mounted above the centre middle seat.
Honda’s marketing suggests third row seats for children, but they can comfortably accommodate even a tall adult for longer trips.
The rear is accessed via the second-row seats that fold and slide forwards, needing a bit of work to return them to their original setting.
Once you’ve worked it out, the opening to the third row is ample and clutter-free, as the seatbelts for the centre row tuck away nicely, and the centre seat has its seatbelt integrated.
The third-row seats have a noticeable knees-up position, and are rather flat although comfortable and with a very short seatback that won’t give shoulder support to taller passengers. Still, you could live with it for a short trip, and there’s a handy 12-volt charging socket and drinkholders to make it feel more accommodating.
Unlike some rivals, the rear pews feel light and airy, with good forward visibility.
The centre rear seatbelt drops from the roof.
Third-row passengers can release themselves using a foot-mounted lever on the base of the second-row seats. Both rear rows split-fold 40/20/40, and the third-row seats stow nicely into the deep tub to leave a huge, flat load space with a low lip and high-rising bootlid.
It’s pretty handy on the inside, then.
Crank the key in the base model, and the 2.4-litre engine bursts smoothly and quietly into life. Despite its familiar displacement, it’s an all-new engine using a lower compression ratio to help eke out fuel savings.
It is paired with a continuously variable transmission with seven pre-set ratios, replacing the former car’s lacklustre five-speed automatic.
Fuel economy has improved on paper, and it is OK in the real world. Our loop around central Victoria included long highway legs, yet fuel economy on the VTi sat at 8.7L/100km compared with the official combined average of 7.6L/100km.
The old engine liked a rev, and this new one is no different. However, now the engine holds revs rather than rolls through them as the CVT keeps things in their sweet spots.
Under light acceleration, you don’t really notice. But that brings us to the other big loss with the new Odyssey.
Despite its purpose, the previous-generation Odyssey was a bit of a driver’s car. Once you’d dropped the kids off at kinder or school, a few corners and a rush of blood showed the older Odyssey up as a bit of a sports car wannabe.
One reason for that was the five-speed auto, which extracted the most from the peaky four-cylinder engine.
Plant the foot in the new Odyssey, and instead of a rorty note there’s a flat drone as the revs hold steady.
Another reason, though, is the change from four-way double wishbones to a Macpherson/torsion beam set-up.
It makes sense for Honda to abandon the heavy, expensive suspension set-up of the old Odyssey, but it’s one of the things that made the old generation corner and steer like a car, not a stock crate on wheels.
Honda went for interior packaging this time around, so the torsion beam allows the car-maker to extract as much space as possible from the boot floor to stow the second-row seats. The same goes for the more upright Macpherson set-up up front.
Now, though, there’s plenty of body roll around corners, and while the new Odyssey soaks up most of the sharper lumps and bumps with aplomb, it struggles to take a big dip as the extra weight pushes the suspension near the limit of its reach.
The steering has decent feel, but will rattle a bit around some of the rougher corners. The brakes, meanwhile, are rather bitey with only two bodies on board, and need a bit of moderation.
It’s also much more noisy inside than before. The older generation Odyssey was renowned for its muted interior. Now, road roar from the tyres and air-conditioning fan noise from the rear-mounted unit spoil the experience.
We don’t need to spend too much time on the more upmarket VTi-L, with the “L” more suitably attributed to “limo” than “luxury”.
It is priced from $47,620, with the seat count falling by one over its cheaper sibling. You’ll pick it on the road by its much deeper, chrome-swathed grille compared with the base model’s more pedestrian version.
It gets more niceties such as electric adjustment and heating – the switch for this is on the door, of all places – as well as leather trim throughout, although no lumbar support.
It also gets gargantuan rear-seat proportions for a pair of leather-trimmed captain’s chairs that replace the second-row bench in the family-friendly model.
Stow the third-row seats, and the cabin yields enough room to manually recline the captain’s chairs like an airline seat. There’s even a footrest, dubbed an ottoman, that pops up from the seat’s base so you’re almost lying on a flat, albeit slightly inclined, bed.
As we found out, the recline function isn’t a very good trick to try at highway speeds on our drive through central Victoria. However, deep padding makes the seats extremely comfy to use as upright pews.
But if I was businessman wanting to recharge a mobile phone after a long flight, there’s no easy solution as the USB slots are all up the front. If there are more than two passengers, too, someone is either going to have to sit up beside the driver, or fold themselves into the third-row seats.
Honda’s fifth-generation Odyssey, then, has taken a step backwards to take another one forwards in its evolution.
In terms of interior space, it has grown into a vehicle that a family can grow into. In terms of a car that doesn’t feel like a people-mover, it has lost much.
That said, for once I reckon my children will be happy to be consigned to the third row.
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