Practicality for the real world
“MPVs were boring to look at some time back, but recent designs wisely fill up the gap between their sedan and SUV counterparts.”
“The amount of interior space is just too much by our usual sedan or medium SUV standards.”
“There is plenty of head and shoulder room even at full capacity.”
“MPVs can be better value for money as they run on smaller engines and on-road tires,” said Ershad.
Not everyone is excited to see an MPV or a van passing by on their daily traffic halt. Prior to driving one, I even had thoughts about drafting a request to the world automobile headquarters to stop making these! (Ah no! I wasn’t really going to.)
My association with vans was a bit clunky. Back in my home country, I was hauled to school (along with 101 other kids) jam-packed in something that was shaped like a bread pack, was rusty and never felt like it would pass a test for roadworthiness. Still it could take in a lot of passengers and luggage compared to our family car; and I always had that association of unlimited storage space with anything that looked like a van.
Remember the ‘Mystery Machine’ in Scooby Doo series? I always wanted to own one.
The van largely remained as a people carrier with more function over form in my mind, until I started reading auto magazines. Then, as I traveled abroad for studies, I could see better-looking vans from well-known carmakers, which increased my curiosity about this segment. Fast forward to my professional life in the Middle East where vans generally form part of an airport shuttle/city tour fleet. Here it’s all about living the off-road life, even though a good majority of SUVs spend their time on pristine tarmac.
If you are driving only on the roads, then why an SUV? We had the 2018 Honda Odyssey and Odyssey J for a week, and I would say, it was quite a revelation.
The Honda Odyssey has been in production since 1994 and with almost 2.7 million units on the road, there should be something nice about it! MPVs were boring to look at some time back, but recent designs wisely fill up the gap between their sedan and SUV counterparts. First, look at the Odyssey and it feels big. Straightaway you know that there is going to be a big roomy interior to fit in your family plus your friend’s family and go shopping at Ikea. Our test car was the top-end Touring version and the full LED headlight cluster adds a touch of modernity to the updated Honda grill section, which follows the line of other models in the family. The front end stoops heavily from the windshield area, which may hint at good front visibility when driving, we will check that later. Viewed up front, the Odyssey looks clean and uncluttered. Walk around the Odyssey and you will be walking a lot. With an overall length of more than 5,000 mm, the Odyssey still has to try hard to look good in profile. Featuring a completely new exterior design, there are some clever tricks which make the Odyssey easy on the eye. First off would be the wrap-around side and rear glass, which lends a floating roof feel. And the next would be those nicely hidden sliding door tracks which normally look like a black strip fixed on the body. Two bold character lines also help the Odyssey to shrug off some visual heaviness. 19-inch wheels on the full spec tester fill in the wheel arches nicely. The rear part is dominated by the C-shaped LED tail lamp cluster now seen across new Honda models, but this one took time to grow on me. Overall, the Odyssey looks modern but there is no hiding the stretched-out van feeling. A lot of glass area around the van means that you will never get tired of travelling in this one. Let’s find out!
Stepping into the Odyssey is easy, thanks to the low floor height. As you settle into the wide driver seat and take that casual glance towards the rear, believe me: you are in for a shock. The amount of interior space is just too much by our usual sedan or medium SUV standards. The Odyssey is made to take eight passengers, including the driver, and I could easily fit two more within the cubbyholes and storage compartments! If you could find seven passengers to go with you, then it’s fine. If not, the Odyssey lets your imagination run free to arrange seats within the cabin. The Magic Slide feature for the second row not only allows front and back seat movements, but also sideways. With the center seat removed, the outermost seat on the second row can be moved towards the center for the easiest third row access ever. And then there are about five various positions for the second row seats, which I just managed to learn during my test tenure. Third row features 60/40 Magic Split as well as a single pull flat folding feature which can further help the Odyssey swallow cargo of almost any size and shape. The interesting thing is that it is difficult to feel cramped in an Odyssey regardless of your seating position. There is plenty of head and shoulder room even at full capacity. One distinct feature noted while playing with the seats was the adjustable tailgate height which allows operators of all heights to be comfortable with the opening height. It also helps in places where you have low roof heights. Our top spec test car came with leather upholstery as well as integrated sunshades for the second and third rows. Comes in very handy when you are testing a car with no window tints in the Middle East!
A gentle push on the start/stop button cranks up the 3.5-liter i-VTEC V6 engine. A push-button gear selector replaces the conventional knob. Even with a 2,000 kg curb weight, the Odyssey pulls off pretty easily with no drama. Mated to a 10-speed auto tranny, the 280 horsepower engine drives the front wheels. Drive is smooth and quiet, as expected from a Honda, especially because our Touring spec Odyssey had acoustic glass, extra sound damping material and active noise cancellation. Suspension handles bad surfaces with ease and works without too much body roll. Honda Sensing finds its way into the top-of-the-line Odyssey, which brings in a host of safety features such as adaptive cruise control, blind spot detection, lane control systems, collision prevention systems and pedestrian safety systems; all of which are increasingly being seen in modern cars as we travel towards autonomous/semi autonomous transportation. As difficult as it might seem to maneuver the Odyssey in tight spaces, the park assist and reverse assist packages work together with the dual pinion power steering to make our loves easier. Not to mention the ease of getting in and out through the sliding passenger doors, which means no more hitting the neighbor’s car door!
The Odyssey features a range of infotainment options to keep you and the passenger group engaged throughout the trip. Two new features are CabinWatch (which uses a night vision camera to bring up images of rear passengers on the front display screen) and CabinTalk (which helps to talk to second and third row passengers through the car’s speakers). An eight-inch touch display unit in the console helps you with the audio, navigation and different customization options. A 10.2-inch screen can display content for second- and third-row passengers through Blu-ray or HDMI input. In the Touring spec, the Odyssey also features an 11-speaker premium audio system to make sure that all occupants get the best music delivered to them.
After half a week in the Odyssey, it was time to switch over to the Odyssey J. Even though they share the same model names, the Odyssey and Odyssey J have only two similarities. One is that both of them are made by Honda and the other one is that they are both vans.
The Odyssey J is the smaller cousin among the two. Dimensionally smaller than the Odyssey, the J is made to fit into an urban environment where going around with a full-size van feels crazy and you need to take care of your fuel bills. Powered by the Earth Dreams 2.4-liter i-VTEC four-cylinder engine, the J develops 173 horsepower and sends power to the road through a CVT. I was searching for gear selector buttons, but the J features the conventional shifter knob placed high on the console. Compared to the Odyssey, the J needs to be pushed hard to keep the spirits high and does feel a bit harsh on higher rpms. But I guess it would just be the Odyssey V6 playing tricks in my head. For the typical urban commute, the J does great.
Styling is taken a notch higher on the J. If the Odyssey was all about serene and clean lines, the J likes to be a bit louder. Multiple horizontal slats on the front grille, snazzy looking air dams and body kits find their place on the J. Headlamp and rear lamp clusters look disco-spec and go well with the overall theme. In fact, I liked the rear lamps on the J better than the Odyssey. And make sure you have a good look at the colors available for the J. They have some very blingy options!
Stepping into the J suddenly feels cramped because of my Odyssey blues but things were fine in just 15 minutes. Interior feels a lot livelier and controls fall into hand easily. Wooden garnish is strewn all over the dashboard and door pads, which is not particularly to my taste, but can attract customers. There is a mix of black plastic, beige and wood finish on the dashboard, which feels a bit overdone. Our test car was the top spec EX-V that can accommodate seven people in total. The second row features two Captain Cradle seats and even though the third row is a bench seat, three would be a squeeze. The second row is the place to be with even calf supports in place. With the seats reclined, the second row in the J would definitely be a good place to unwind after a tough day. The third row features full flat folding for bigger cargo.
A seven-inch infotainment system finds its place in the center console and the climate control buttons are touch sensitive too. There are very few physical buttons on the J compared to the Odyssey. There are still a lot of options for storage and knick-knacks. Honda Sensing features are available on the EX-V version as well.
Summing up my experience with the Odyssey vans, I could really vouch for the practicality of this segment for the real world. They allow you to take your entire large family and a lot of luggage, if required. MPVs can be better value for money as they run on smaller engines and on-road tires. The only place where I felt the hitch was on my beach drive where I could take the Odyssey only as far as the other sedans. But yes, this segment has a purpose and the Odyssey cousins are brilliant at it. It would be great to see these models outside of the commercial fleets and into personal garages.
The Odyssey continues its reign as an undisputed segment king in the region, while the Odyssey J has been seeing some competition building up recently.
Let’s hope that the 70s van culture returns soon!
Pros: Huge interior space, quiet and supple ride, unbeatable Honda reliability
Cons: Parking can be tricky in tight spots, dynamics still remind you of the old Odyssey, engine can be thirsty in urban conditions (time for a smaller powerhouse with turbo?)
Rivals: Kia Carnival, Toyota Previa
one word: car-a-van luxury
3.5L i-VTEC V6, FWD, 280 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 357 Nm @ 4,700 rpm, 10-speed automatic
0-100 km/h: 8 secs, top speed: 192 km/h, fuel consumption: 13 L/100 km
Weight: 2,080 kg
Pros: Jazzy looks, mix-n-match seat configurations, compact dimensions for car-like usability
Cons: Jazzy looks (mixed opinions), dashboard feels overdone (too many materials and finishes), engine feels busy at highway cruise speeds
Rivals: Kia Carens, Toyota Innova
one word: JDM-style utility
2.4L i-VTEC 4-cylinder, FWD, 173 hp @ 6,200 rpm, 225 Nm @ 4,000 rpm, CVT
0-100 km/h: 12 sec, top speed: 200 km/h, fuel consumption: 8.5 L/100 km
Weight: 1,600 kg