Honda has launched the fifth generation version of its popular Odyssey people mover with a taller body, extra interior space and, for the first time, the option of eight seats.

One of the major players in the people mover class, Honda Odyssey took a different styling path from its competitors by adopting a much lower, almost station wagon, appearance in contrast to its taller, boxier rivals. Now with an extra 150 mm in height and a much bolder grille it has taken on a semi-SUV style – a smart move given Australian car buyers’ passion for these vehicles.

With new Odyssey’s more spacious interior Honda is looking to draw sales from the commercial and fleet buyers who constitute around two-thirds of the total Australian people mover market as well as from seven-seat SUVs.

One feature which will increase Odyssey’s appeal to many buyers is sliding rear doors, another first for the big Honda. In combination with the car’s low-slung floor these make for easy entry and exit with an opening of 1230 mm in height and 750 mm in width.

Both doors on the higher-specced Odyssey VTi-L model and the passenger’s side of the entry level VTi can be operated remotely either through the key fob or by a nudge of the handle. The sliding door on the driver’s side of the Odyssey VTi operates manually.

The seating arrangement in the eight-seat Odyssey VTi is two-three-three and in the seven-seat VTi-L is two-two-three. The second row individual bucket seats – Honda likes to call them Captain’s Chairs – in the VTi-L come with a built-in adjustable footrest (Ottoman). The seatbacks can also be reclined and, when the third row seats are folded flat, the central seats can slide up to 740 mm forwards or backwards as well as laterally.

The second and third rows in the eight-seater have three-way split seatbacks that provide a variety of seating and cargo options. Dedicated boot space has been increased by storing the space saver spare wheel under the front seats.

The engine is a 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol unit with peak power of 129 kW (down from 132 kW in the outgoing model) and top torque of 225 Nm (up from 218 Nm). The V6 engine once offered in older generation Odyssey’s is no longer available here and while Honda has recently added diesel engines to its Civic and CR-V ranges it has no plans for a diesel Odyssey. Honda Australia has left the door open for a possible petrol/electric hybrid.

The biggest change in the drivetrain is the replacement of the previous five-speed automatic with the greater efficiency of continuously variable transmission (CVT).

New Odyssey comes with the usual raft of safety equipment that we expect from the contemporary car. These include front and side airbags as well as curtain airbags that cover both second and third row seats; ABS brakes with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, Brake Assist and Emergency Spot Signal; Vehicle Stability Assist and Traction Control System; Tyre Deflation Warning; and Daytime Running Lights.

The VTi-L adds front fog lights; Blind Spot and Cross-Traffic Warning; Smart Parking Assist; and a multi-view camera system that uses four fisheye cameras located in the front grille, side mirrors and tailgate to provide normal, 180-degree wide and top-down views.

The Odyssey’s information and entertainment system is centred around the Honda Display Audio system which uses a dashboard-mounted colour touch screen to display audio functions, Bluetooth features and car system information.

We found the touch screen to be spongy and quite frustrating to use, especially because it needed multiple touches to adjust radio volume. This is potentially dangerous as drivers, despite warnings to the contrary, are likely to take their attention off the road. Having said that it does have steering wheel mounted audio controls.

In a cost-saving move that’s likely to become increasingly common across the automotive industry new Honda Odyssey doesn’t come with satellite navigation as either a standard or optional feature. Instead it relies on the assumption that all drivers will have a smartphone with them and provides access to a special downloadable app which links through Bluetooth to the car’s in-dash monitor. At this stage it only operates through an Apple iPhone5 although any SatNav app should provide voice instructions via any smartphone when paired with Bluetooth.

We were able to test the gen-five Odyssey on a 250 km drive out of the Melbourne CBD and to the north-west of the city. Unfortunately the presence of bushfires caused a late change to the route and we were left with a fairly uninspiring collection of flat rural roads and motorways.

Then again that’s where most Odysseys will spend their time and the big Honda cruised effortlessly throughout albeit with the ride a bit lumpy on some of the undulating roads that we encountered.

While acknowledging the efficiency of CVTs we still cringe at the occasional high revving stages and often used the steering wheel mounted paddles to manually override the system.

Although Kia Carnival has dominated people mover sales in Australia for more than a decade Honda’s Odyssey has consistently been the preferred choice of private buyers. Honda is looking to push into the lucrative commercial and corporate segment that makes up around two-thirds of total sales.

With its new styling, increased interior space and versatile seating there’s every chance that the new fifth-generation will make its presence felt.

The complete 2014 Honda Odyssey range is:
VTi 2.4-litre eight-seat five-door wagon: $38,990 (CVT automatic)
VTi-L 2.4-litre seven-seat five-door wagon: $47,620 (CVT automatic)
Note: These prices do not include government or dealer delivery charges. Contact your local Honda dealer for driveaway prices.

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