Ousting the SUV
When first launched in 1994, the Honda Odyssey was one of only a handful of people-movers on the motoring landscape, and quickly became one of the most popular.
The concept of seven and eight seat vehicles that could move whole families and extended families in relative comfort and safety was relatively new, so these newfound modes of mass-people transportation were well received.
But a lot has changed in the last couple of decades, with the SUV muscling in on the people-mover’s territory and gaining immense popularity, particularly here in New Zealand, for its supposed rugged, go-anywhere, sporty, outdoor lifestyle-friendly usability. And SUVs can be had in seven and eight seat configurations too, so despite all the logical reasons and practicality offered by people-movers, the activity-based SUV relegated the seemingly mundane people-mover to the ranks of Japanese Import used car yards.
Sporty SUVs taken the place of people-movers
New vehicle buyers stopped purchasing people-movers, opting instead for the SUVs that car company marketing people told us we needed if we were to have some street cred and identify with the Ian Fergusons and Sarah Ulmers of this world.
Truth be told, most SUVs rarely leave the leafy inner city suburbs, but owners justify their purchase, telling themselves that in the event they choose to go off-roading or driving up to the ski slopes, they can!
So, why have Honda decided to launch the new fifth generation Odyssey into our market, when they have a perfectly decent SUV in the shape of their CRV on the price list?
This was a question posed to Honda’s marketing team at the Odyssey launch, and one that Honda Marketing Manager Nadine Bell addressed. “Not all people requiring a vehicle with multiple seating positions need to go off-road or tow a boat” she said, adding that “the lower ride height, comfortable and spacious interior will appeal to many buyers who have no need for an SUV”.
And it’s a fair comment. In truth, the virtues of the people-mover probably outweigh those of an SUV for many owners. However, it will be a huge challenge to extract people out of their SUVs and get them into a people-mover, but a challenge which she says her team is more than up to.
Full of equipment and luxury touches
It has to be said that the Odyssey is very well equipped. There are two models on the price list, an eight seat Odyssey S and a seven seat Odyssey L. Both are powered by a 129kW/224Nm 2.4 litre four cylinder i-VTEC powerplant driving the front wheels through a CVT transmission.
Both models have a 7 inch touch screen, a three angle reversing camera, automatic headlights, daytime running lights, heated and folding mirrors, and all seating positions have 3 point seatbelts.
Luxury touches that the Odyssey L receives over and above Odyssey S specification are electrically adjustable and heated front seats, leather trim, smart proximity key with push-button start, navigation, auto-dimming rear view mirror, rear door privacy blinds and in place of the 3 seat configuration of the Odyssey S, second row seating in the L is provided by way of a pair of luxurious captain’s chairs.
Clever seating arrangement
The clever seating arrangement allows for the captain’s chairs to slide forward and aft, with each seat having a built-in adjustable ottoman, and much like a business-class airline seat, there is leg-room for the tallest of passengers to sit back and relax. Seating configurations can be adjusted to allow a walk-through arrangement if desired. L model buyers also get an upgraded heating/air-conditioning system with tri-zone climate-control and rear floor vents, as well as Active Cornering Lights and an Aero Sports body kit.
Both grades have 17 inch alloy wheels, painted silver for the S and silver with piano black for the L model, and both have a power sliding rear passenger door on the left side, with the L having the addition of a similar door on the right hand side. Additional safety upgrades for the L are Blind Spot Warning, Smart Parking Assist with a 360 degree multi-view camera and Cross Traffic Alert.
Being front wheel drive and with a towing weight limited to 1,000kg for braked trailers, the Odyssey does have some drawbacks when compared with a 4WD SUV. But with a soft, compliant ride, it will delight many buyers in this sector who find some modern vehicles too firm, primarily those fitted with 18 and 19 inch wheels and firm springs.
We’re not great fans of Honda’s electric steering feel and coupled with the soft suspension set-up, which, to be honest, we found to be quite “floaty”, the Odyssey won’t suit enthusiastic drivers, but they’re hardly the target market.
The Odyssey S is listed at $45,900 and the Odyssey L is $52,500.
With various seating configurations, a great deal of practicality and comfort, and a fully optioned standard spec sheet, the Odyssey could well be the sensible alternative for buyers considering an SUV, providing they don’t have a need to go off-road or tow the Queen Mary up a slippery boat ramp.