Honda's signature MPV sheds sleekness for space
Odyssey charts new course The Odyssey EXV does not look very stylish and the crinkly seats make the interior look old, but it is big and well-equipped. -- ST PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER TAN

If it ain't broke, why fix it? That is one of the first questions that pops up when you see the new Honda Odyssey.

With it, Honda has clearly steered away from the streamlined MPV formula that has worked well for it over two generations in the last decade.

The previous models were apparently kept low to meet certain carpark heights in Japan. And because of their "low-slung" configuration, they also won the hearts of folks who usually abhor MPVs: driving enthusiasts.

Indeed, the previous two Odysseys were brilliant at the wheel as far as multi-seaters went. The driver enjoyed a decent level of car-like dynamics which escaped most, if not all, other MPVs.

In 2004, it was voted The Straits Times Car of the Year.

But after 10 years, no one seems to be impressed anymore. In Japan, the Odyssey is said to be losing market share to bento boxes on wheels. It seems the current breed of motorists loses all interest in owning a well-sorted car as soon as they have offspring.

They want space. Lots and lots and lots of space.

In this respect, the latest Odyssey delivers. The car is 150mm taller and 30mm longer than its predecessor, with a wheelbase extended by 70mm.

Interior vertical space has increased by 105mm, while the gap between the first and last row of occupants has grown by 155mm (more than double the wheelbase increase) because of better packaging.

The enhanced roominess is especially obvious for third-row passengers. There is also more space for luggage now, thanks partly to Honda moving the spare wheel to below the first row of seats.

Changing a flat will be quite troublesome, as you can imagine. But the extra space you enjoy otherwise is probably well worth it.

Headroom is extravagant. Even with a sunroof, a family of basketballers can fit without touching the roof liner. Despite its lofty ceiling, the new car is not as tall as something like the Toyota Previa, thanks to its floor being lowered by 60mm.

The lower floor does not make much of a difference to the young and fit, but the old and frail will find getting in and out a bit easier.

You might think the lower floor also contributes to better vehicle dynamics. Truth is, it takes more than that to offset the inherent unwieldiness of a taller vehicle.

The new Odyssey is more prone to body movements than a teenager on a dance floor. All it takes is the slightest undulation to rock the cabin. A speed hump will set off a seasick-inducing motion that lasts well over a second.

This is despite a new suspension system employing ZF-Sachs dampers - used for the first time in a Honda - that is supposed to control rebound. I hate to think what the car would feel like if it did not have this supposedly superior suspension set-up.

In terms of steering ability and road-holding, however, the new Odyssey compares well against rivals. Its 2.4-litre engine is slightly more torquey. Now mated to a continuously variable transmission (from five-speed auto previously), it is supposed to deliver better efficiency too.

Honda declares a fuel economy of 7.9 litres/100km, down from 8.3 for the previous model. Over a three-day test-drive, the car averaged 10.4 litres - still not too shoddy for such a big car.

As mentioned, the Odyssey's main improvement lies in roominess. The EX variant seats up to eight while the EXV seats seven, with the centre row being two exclusive reclinable cradle seats.

Like before, the third row of seats can be collapsed flat, although it is now a manual operation and not a motorised one. The space freed up is eye-popping.

In terms of amenities and refinement, the car impresses with its low noise and vibration levels. But its generous use of hard plastics is a bit of a letdown and its crinkly leather upholstery makes the interior look old when new.

The latter is said to mimic the soft upholstery found on some sofas, but the Odyssey's seats - while adequately comfortable - are not especially cushy.

The car is, however, the most well- equipped Odyssey ever. Features include automated parking, 360-degree camera system, blind-spot alert, one-touch twin sliding doors, cruise control, multi USB connections and compatibility with iPhone-based navigation.

Externally, the car has lost its charm as a one-of-its-kind MPV. It now looks a bit like the Toyota Estima and Alphard, and a bit like the Nissan Presage and Elgrand.

Again, I suppose the new generation of MPV buyers does not care much for style or sleekness. The 90 bookings the car has garnered since its launch is probably proof of that.


CAR INFORMATION

Honda Odyssey 2.4 EXV-S (A)

Price

:$184,999

Engine Type

:

4-cylinders in-line DOHC i-VTEC

Engine Cap

:

2,356 cc

Horsepower

:

173 bhp

Torque

:

225 Nm

Transmission

:

CVT (A)

Acceleration

:

11.5 sec (0-100 km/h)

Top Speed

:

196 km/h