Odyssey great if pas­sen­gers a pri­or­ity

Taranaki Daily News - - Motoring -

Peo­ple mover shows SUVs the way to go on space and com­fort. But not in other ar­eas, re­ports David Lin­klater.

This story did not de­velop like I wanted it to. I was go­ing to me­thod­i­cally point out that if you con­sider the main rea­sons peo­ple pur­port to buy large SUVs, like ride height, space and ver­sa­til­ity (let’s face it, ‘‘of­froad­ing’’ isn’t re­ally one), a peo­ple­mover ful­fils ev­ery brief a whole lot bet­ter. And that the only rea­son ev­ery­body buys SUVs and no­body buys peo­ple-movers is some per­ceived idea of what’s fash­ion­able and cool and what’s not.

Year-to-date in New Zealand, 4495 peo­ple bought large SUVs, and 175 bought a peo­ple mover of any kind. You can see my point.

This, de­spite the fact that big SUVs are so ter­ri­bly com­pro­mised. Their seat­ing po­si­tions, pas­sen­ger­com­fort and cargo space all fail to achieve their op­ti­mum be­cause they have to fit around the num­ber-one pri­or­ity for a ve­hi­cle of this type: to look cool and out­doorsy.

So why don’t large-SUV peo­ple buy some­thing like the Honda Odyssey L Sens­ing?

The Odyssey has a sim­i­lar foot­print to a Toy­ota High­lander (same length), but be­cause it doesn’t care about look­ing sleek it has a tall cabin and flat sides that max­imise pas­sen­ger space.

This Odyssey L model has seven seats be­cause there are two mag­nif­i­cent-look­ing re­clin­ers in the mid­dle row, but go for the much cheaper $45,900 S ver­sion and you ac­tu­ally get eight seats.

The L is so much more costly be­cause it has gained a full suite of safety gear: it’s ac­tu­ally called the ‘‘L Sens­ing’’ (or LS if you pre­fer) be­cause it has adap­tive cruise con­trol, lane-keep as­sis­tance, col­li­sion-mit­i­ga­tion brak­ing as­sist, for­ward col­li­sion warn­ing, road de­par­ture mit­i­ga­tion sys­tem and lane de­par­ture warn­ing.

Oh, and ‘‘smart park­ing’’ with 360-de­gree cam­era, blind-spot mon­i­tor and cross traf­fic warn­ing. It doesn’t have the nifty off­side cam­era of some other Honda mod­els though, which shows you a view of the ad­ja­cent lane on the in­fo­tain­ment screen when you in­di­cate left.

Add all of that to the LS’s in­te­grated nav­i­ga­tion, key­less en­try/start, tri-zone cli­mate con­trol, power/heated front seats, leather up­hol­stery and pseu­dos­nazzy body kit/wheels (see, they do try), and you’re ac­tu­ally get­ting quite a lot for your ex­tra money.

Fam­i­lies will love this thing. By which I mean kids will love it. The side doors power open with a touch of a but­ton (oddly though, not the tail­gate), ingress is easy thanks to the low floor and there’s acres of space for all.

It’s not a per­fect pack­ag­ing ef­fort: those busi­ness class-style seats are great in most re­spects, but the nov­elty as­pect of be­ing able to re­cline and ex­tend the footrest is just that – a nov­elty. There’s ac­tu­ally not enough legroom to go full La-Z-Boy.

Still, it’s a great way to travel. And ac­tu­ally a great way to carry stuff. The third-row seat­ing does an in­cred­i­bly clever tum­ble-fold to dis­ap­pear into a well in the boot, leav­ing you with two rows of seat­ing and over 1300 litres of lug­gage space. The mid­dle row can’t be re­moved or hid­den, but push those two chairs for­ward (they’re on rails) and you get nearly 1700 litres. That’s a big enough box to wheel a cou­ple of bikes in, stand­ing up. No prob­lem.

Even with seven peo­ple on board, there’s still 330 litres of lug­gage space – equiv­a­lent to a small hatch­back.

Up front, the driv­ing po­si­tion is com­mand­ing and there are many clever lit­tle touches, like a tray that can be folded away into the cen­tre con­sole or popped up to hold phone-sized stuff.

All sounds too good to be true, right? It kind of is. The travel ex­pe­ri­ence is great, the driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence... not al­ways. The 2.4-litre en­gine is ca­pa­ble of de­cent fuel econ­omy when treated nicely, but it’s a bit thrashy un­der load – some­thing not helped by the con­tin­u­ously vari­able trans­mis­sion, which flares up in an un­pleas­ant way when asked the hard ques­tions.

Not a fan of the switchgear and in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem, which all seems a bit murky and con­fus­ing. The tech is there, but it’s far from in­tu­itive and many of the graph­ics look a bit Atari 2600. But that’s true of many Hon­das, not just the Odyssey.

Han­dling is sur­pris­ingly nim­ble. The Odyssey might be tall, but the plat­form has been en­gi­neered for a low cen­tre of grav­ity – a bit of a Honda spe­cial­ity. In fact, this high-sided model ac­tu­ally has a lower cen­tre of grav­ity than the fa­mously lowslung pre­vi­ous-model Odyssey.

If only the ride was as ac­com­plished. It’s sup­ple enough in ur­ban run­ning but crashes into bumps on the open road. It doesn’t up­set the equi­lib­rium in the cabin too much, but it doesn’t sound very nice.

The Odyssey LS is very good at what it’s de­signed to do – which is to trans­port seven or more peo­ple from A-to-B in space, com­fort and safety. With the bonus of truly vast load­space when re­quired.

But that’s all about func­tion. Your av­er­age seven-seat SUV is far more en­gag­ing to drive and re­fined on the road, even if the whole con­cept is un­avoid­ably pre­ten­tious. So yes, you’d buy the Odyssey over an SUV with your head, but who does that?

SUV peo­ple, I get it.

PHO­TOS: DAVID LIN­KLATER/STUFF

The Odyssey LS has the same foot­print as a large SUV, but the boxy shape means gen­uine space for seven peo­ple.

Im­pres­sive and comfy, al­though there isn’t quite the space to re­cline like this.

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