Odyssey great if passengers a priority
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.
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.