In the late 90s and early 2000s, Japanese manufacturers were on top of their people-carrying vehicle game. Mitsubishi had the Grandis… a wagon of space, Toyota had their Previa… where most meanings seem to point to something to do with pregnancy… oh no, and Honda had their Odyssey… yeah, I like my road trips. The Koerean brands too had strong offerings from the likes of the Hyundai Trajet and sister company KIA the Carnival, though quality back then was a question mark of brittle plastics… and the question I often raised was one of which interior panel fell or broke off first.
There is no denying that customer preferences have shifted over the last few years. SUVs have elbowed their way in to snag a small slice of pie, with recent offerings, like the Skoda Kodiaq and SEAT Tarraco sister cars, Mazda’s luxuriously built CX-8 and the KIA Sorento, with its high-torque diesel engine. The downside to buying into the appealing SUV form, is that function does take quite a back seat here. There is no dignified way to step in or out of the last row of an SUV while wearing a kilt.
Kilts and mooning aside, SUVs have made their mark, with many buyers gravitating towards the many offerings with 3-row seats. But if you are looking for serious people mover, a large MPV is difficult to beat.
The current Honda Odyssey recently got a midlife refresh. We like that mechanically, Honda has kept the car identical to the pre-facelifted one. What is new though is a more prominent front end design, that has stepped away from the droopy styling that is also seen on the previous Jazz hatchback. The rear end also gets a redesign with a tidier tail lamp cluster, a design that I could dare say is less organic. Overall, Honda’s restyling, especially at the front, does give their venerable MPV improved road presence.
On the inside, the most prominent change is the redesign of the upper section of the dashboard. This time round, Honda has gone with a refreshing minimalist approach, featuring a clean faux wooden surface that spans across the dash and onto the door cards. Other improvements, like an 8” touchscreen, an inch larger than the pre-facelift vehicle, features physical menu buttons and for a more traditional feel, two adjuster knobs which flank the display. The infotainment is equipped with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for improved connectivity. It would have been ideal if the car did come equipped with a wireless charger. The instrument cluster now has a 7” screen that forms half of the binnacle’s display, ideal for relaying more drive information and the all-important door opening diagram. The new steering wheel, a more pleasant design, is lifted right out of the Honda Accord.
As expected, you can find heaps of cubby holes and compartments to store family necessities, including a nifty movable utility tray between the front seats, and a compartment hidden under the faux wood trim on the top of the dash.
I have a few gripes though, there are two non-negotiable functions that the Odyssey still lacks, one are automatic headlights, and the other would be automatic folding mirrors that fold when you lock the doors. I would have traded those pointless paddle shifters (after-all it is a CVT) and their mechanicals for at least the auto headlamps.
While those who may still be thinking of a people-carrying SUV, might still be keen about form over function. Owners of the Odyssey are not going to worry about winning praises for its boring design. Where it shines is in its relatively low floor, and those large sliding doors for easy entry and exit; these to me are the MPV’s most important features.
The seats on all three rows offer very good comfort, and those at the front will enjoy an arm-chair like experience. The model here is the 8-seater variant, which is the more affordable one of the 2 available in our local lineup, and we believe, will be the better selling of the two. The 7-seater variant offers added comfort for those in the middle, with a pair of more comfortable Ottoman seats.
Obtaining access to the last row of seats is a simple affair, with the middle row being able to slide forward with ease. On both Odyssey variants, the second and third row seat passengers benefit from air-conditioning, with controls available to the middle row occupants.
Being an MPV, the way the boot has been planned, plays an important role in the “multi-purpose” part of the Odyssey. With all three seats deployed, the Odyssey boasts 322 litres, where a portion of this is from the dip in the floor, where the third row of seats stow into when not in-use. The folded third row arrangement leaves you with a flat loading area, though there are two catches ahead of the rear suspension towers that may get in the way. With the middle row moved forward, the Odyssey can swallow up to 1,725 litres.
The 2021 Honda Odyssey retains its naturally-aspirated 2.4 litre inline-four, mated to a CVT, and is capable of producing 175hp and a respectable 225Nm. Where Honda’s MPV shines is in the smoothness of the delivery of its drive, with a linear buildup which is ideal especially if you have your young ones sleeping behind. In most cases for turbocharged cars, you would experience a large lump of torque somewhere after the needle leaves idle.
The Odyssey retains the same comfortable suspension setup as the pre-facelifted car, and we liked that even going over uneven surfaces, the large MPV, with its heaps of different building blocks and materials painted into the interior, does not squeak and rattle; a testament to Honda’s dedication to creating a car with bullet-proof build quality.
Driving the Odyssey is a no-stress event, with its large windscreen giving good frontal visibility, coupled with a higher-than-average driving position, lets you see what is happening in-front. The large overall greenhouse allows for excellent visibility; useful especially for maneuvering around tight confines, and switching lanes.
One of the qualities that I enjoyed, is how the Odyssey cruises without much wind noise on the highway, and how it soaks up most bumps without fuss. For its size, the Honda MPV did approximately 10km/l with a fair mix of highway driving and start-stop road conditions.
Safety on the Odyssey is bolstered by the brand’s Honda Sensing suite, which comprises of Adaptive Cruise Control and Forward Collision Warning. Other features like Lane Keeping Assist System (LKAS)... ok now I am hungry... helps you to stay within your lane.
If you are looking for space that is more than adequate and without the worry of the SUV-prone mooning-the-public whenever you enter the back row, the Honda Odyssey shines with its low floor, and ease of entry.
Credits: Words and Photos by Clifford Chow