Long before SUVs roamed our streets, parents turned to people movers when they needed something big to haul their families across the vast suburban plains.
Sure, styling was never really their strong point (and on early models in particular), but they easily accommodated half a soccer team in relative comfort, and so became the chariots of choice for large families.
Fast-forward 30 years and people movers, like station wagons, are becoming are harder to spot amongst a sea of SUVs. But of those still on the road, you'll notice the Honda Odyssey makes up a fair old chunk.
Explore the 2018 Honda Odyssey range
For my weekend test, I’m driving the seven-seat Honda Odyssey VTi-L 2018. Priced from $46,490, it’s at the premium end of the two variants on offer, and its price bracket puts it smack-bang into seven-seat SUV territory.
So, is the Odyssey still a compelling choice of vehicle for hauling the family around? And should it be considered over a seven-seat SUV? My kids and I had a long-weekend trip away to find out.
Friday / Saturday
I’d booked two nights in a beach house on the north coast, so we decided to drive up Friday morning to make the most of it.
The previous-generation Odyssey was quite a cool-looking car, providing a palatable option for those needing bus-like space without the boxy look. Weirdly, though, this fifth-generation Odyssey looks like it has been hit with the uncool stick. On the plus side, I would argue its van-like features, such as electric sliding doors, are an incredibly useful addition.
My kids were less interested with the exterior and were instead eager to find out what awaited inside. Opening the electric doors using the key fob, their enthusiasm was immediately directed at the two leather-appointed captain chairs taking centre stage in the middle row. With the ability to slide fore and aft and recline La-Z-Boy-style, leg rests and all, these seats deserve applause.
A scissors-paper-rock game quickly ensued to decide who would ride recliner-style on the trip to the beach house and who would sit up front. Normally, it’s a fight for the front seat.
The third row has space for three across, and, when not in use, can neatly fold away into the boot. Boot space with the third-row seats up is 330 litres, and 1332 litres with them folded flat (where we had them). With both rows folded, the number grows to 1867 litres. It's worth noting there's no power tailgate, which I think would be a useful addition in this category.
The sheer amount of luggage, board games and food for the weekend meant I was thankful for every litre of this extra space. Oddly, this meant we now had a four-seat people mover.
Our trip north was around two hours, which gave us plenty of time to get acquainted with the cabin. Storage in the Odyssey is on the lean side, with little in the way of cubby holes or bins to store stuff. Up front, there’s a useful pop-out tray to place mobile phones, and it has two USB ports and a power source located above it.
With no centre console bin, that leaves the glove box as the only other source of storage. Honda has definitely missed a trick here.
Seats up front are reasonably comfortable, with the driver's seat offering a commanding position and excellent visibility all around. Although well laid-out, the dash is surrounded by faux wood panelling that gives off a cheap and nasty vibe.
The 7.0-inch touchscreen interface looks a little dated, but it's easy to navigate and comes with standard nav, which is fortunate given the absence of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.
Our drive covered a combination of motorway and quiet urban back roads, on which the Odyssey felt comfortable and composed, the supple suspension soaking up the back-road bumps. It doesn’t give the feeling of being too top heavy, with handling much more car-like around most corners.
Engine and CVT noises aside (we'll get to that later), the cabin remained a largely serene place throughout the trip, with the kids comfortably and happily ensconced in their seats.
Under the Honda's bonnet, there’s a 2.4-litre, four-cylinder engine, producing 129kW/225Nm. It's matched with a CVT auto, with power directed to the front wheels. Around town, the engine is capable and has reasonable punch from a standing start - even with a car load of kids.
But when pushed, the CVT struggled somewhat, as was evident on the motorway where more aggressive accelerator inputs (for hill climbs and overtaking) triggered loud and rhythmic groans from the engine, with driving pleasure evaporating as a result. Clearly, this modestly powered people mover is much happier in cruising mode.
With our return trip scheduled for the afternoon, we hit the local beach in the morning, before heading back home in the afternoon with the kids stretching out in the captain chairs. The Odyssey comes with tri-zone air-conditioning, with rear passengers able to set their own temperature from a control panel located in the ceiling above the middle row. As always, they made good use of the numerous cup and bottle holders on offer.
Back home in the 'burbs, the confines of the local Woolies car park is where I became more keenly aware of the Odyssey’s people mover-sized dimensions. While it comes with a reversing camera, Honda has skimped on the parking sensors, making parking this 4840mm-long vehicle a little tricky.
The five-star ANCAP rated Odyssey comes with six airbags and, crucially, the curtain airbags stretch the entire length of the car. Big tick. AEB, reverse cross-traffic alert and stability and traction controls are standard, too. For parents with young kids, there are two ISOFIX points in the middle row and three top-tether anchorages.
Over the course of our long-weekend trip we covered around 550km of urban and motorway driving, with the trip computer displaying a fuel consumption figure of 9.2L/100km. Slightly higher than the claimed consumption of 7.8L/100km. The good news is it's happy to sip cheaper 91RON fuel.