Car Reviews

2014 Honda Odyssey VTi-L review

Robert Pepper’s 2014 Honda Odyssey VTi-L review with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety, verdict and rating.

Editor's Rating

How we rated the 2014 Honda Odyssey VTi-L
Practical Motoring Says: Most of Australia's SUV owners probably should have bought an Odyssey, because it's not only more practical but a better drive than most SUVs in the same price range. And, for those considering a large SUV that won't ever leave the bitumen, then put aside your preconceived notions about peoplemovers and put the Odyssey on your shopping list.

On the outside

The current Odyssey’s styling continues from its predecessor and avoids the classic people-mover, box shape with a low-slung profile and rounded features. It looks good although none of the people I asked seemed to agree with Honda’s characterisation of the vehicle as ‘sexy’. Never mind, to my eyes it still looks better than other people movers on the market.
 
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Room & Practicality

In its layout, the Odyssey is a typical people-mover with two front conventional doors, two sliding doors and a large tailgate.
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The sliding doors are electrically operated either by the passengers or driver and there’s a remote control for extra ease of use. The Odyssey offers a keyless entry system with pushbutton start. A missed opportunity is that you have to open the car then open the doors; I understand why Honda has done this but I still would have liked one press of a button to both open and unlock. Similarly, would be nice to have one press to close all doors and lock.
 
The steering wheel is adjustable for both tilt and reach, and the electric seat offers enough adjustment for most drivers to get comfortable behind the wheel, and both front seats are heated. Sadly, on the 2014-spec Odyssey we tested there was no memory facility which is a bugbear when different-sized drivers share the same car. There is also no centre console, just a flat space which turns out to be perfect for holding handbags, or so my wife tells me.  I’d like a storage system as an option, not owing a handbag.
 
There are two USB ports, a 12V socket and a full HDMI input up front, along with a clever little tray that slides in and out of the fascia, which ideal for phones and other miscellany as it has a non-slip rubber mat.
 
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We hooked up a computer up to the HDMI port which was rather pointless as it’s a tiny 725x580px screen and these days tablets are so cheap it’s hard to make a case for computer interfaces of this nature. But, full marks to Honda for effort.
 
Both front doors have decent pockets, there’s a sunnie holder in the roof and an average-sized glovebox, but that’s it for storage, which is perhaps a little so-so for a vehicle of this type and size.
Moving into the second row and there’s two seats rather than your average three. They can move forwards and backwards quite a long way (as you can see in the pictures) and, to some extent, left and right. Both are supremely comfortable. Our test car is the VTi-L, which has two seats in the second row and three in the third row to make a total of seven compared to the lower-spec VTi’s triple-seat second and third rows which makes it an eight seater.
Both of these second row “captain’s seats” get footrests, and it’s possible to turn them into comfy semi-beds in the manner of business-class airliner seats. The two centre windows have pull-up suncreens, handy for protecting young babies. The two centre seats have child restraint points handily located in the back of the seat, and there’s three more in the third row on the boot floor.  None of the seats have an ISOFIX option, but that will be rectified with the next model refresh, according to Honda.
 
The two centre seats are adjustable enough but require some effort to move and care to pull the right lever to operate the part of the seat you wish to change, something everybody new to the car continually managed to get wrong. Familiarity would sort that out, though.
 
The third-row seat is a single bench seat, and more than comfortable for two adults, but three adults are going to become intimate very quickly even if they’re only of average size. An annoyance is the way the seatbelts on the two outer seats cut across the passenger’s throats, but each of the three seatbacks can be individually adjusted for tilt, as can the headrests. The third row is reasonably easy to fold away or retract, requiring no great strength, just a couple of moments and two hands. From a practical perspective six adults can be very comfortably seated, two up front, two in the second row, two in the third, and there will be plenty of legroom for all.
 
 
Behind the third row is some useful storage space, not very long (380mm deep) but quite deep (1270mm tall) as it’s the space for the third row to fold into.  You could fit enough bags and general gear for a family outing and even a weekend trip if you’re not heavy travellers.  If the third row is folded down and the second row moved all the way back there’s a flat area of about 800mm deep by 1200mm wide, and if you put the second row all the way forwards you get 1500mm of depth, about the same as a dual-cab ute’s tray, although not as wide and there’s little legroom with the second row pushed forwards.
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Both the second and third row get twin air vents on either side of the cabin to make for a total of eight, and there’s a separate heat/cool control in the roof, only reachable if you’re seated in the second row.  There are also air vents in the floor, so the car can be warmed or cooled easily and rapdily.
 
As the second set of doors is a sliding style there’s no real seatpocket, just a drinks holder.  That said, there are strong seat-pockets on the back of the first row, but overall there’s not much space for storage of books, smart devices or anything else in either the second or third row so they might end up lying loose on the floor.    A disadvantage of sliding doors is that the sidepockets aren’t very big, so that’s no real help.
 
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Forward visibility from both the second and third row is very good, particularly if the second row is moved to the centre of the vehicle. One passenger remarked the Oydsessy would be an excellent car to transport people on sightseeing trips, and it’s hard to argue with that point. There are eight strong grab handles which will be useful for the infirm, and indeed the height of the Odysessy is pretty well ideal for people of limited mobility, or those that need to lift babies in and out of seats. 
 
There are four lights around the back half of the cabin, but that’s not really enough to properly illuminate it at night as passengers found when they struggled to work out the seat controls, one resorting to his phone light for assistance. I’d put in some LED striplights if I owned one, but a nice touch are puddle lights around the rear doors.
 
The sliding doors are very useful not only as an easy access point, but also because they don’t require much space to operate, useful in crowded parking spaces. All four windows are one-touch up and down; the rear ones don’t go all the way down into the frame.
 
It is possible to position the second row such that there’s no need to move it to allow nimble adults or children to get to the third row, and it’s also reasonably easy for the agile to get from the front row to the back of the car.  
 
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The rear tailgate is a single piece, and a bit of a pain as it’s so large – it’s heavy for children to use, and inconvenient for adults. This is one car that definitely needs an electric tailgate.
 
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You end up using the Odyssey’s space in ways you never thought about because normal cars just can’t do what people-movers can. I’m writing this as I wait for the press fleet office to open, sitting comfortably in the second row, typing on a laptop, with various kit including a coffee set out on the other seat as the footrest makes a reasonable table. So, yes, it’s a peoplemover but also a mobile office.  
 
Over the course of the week we transported numerous people from place to place, and everybody who was involved with the car loved it, either as a driver or passenger, but most still can’t get past the stigma associated with people-movers. That’s a great shame, because this is a fine vehicle and would be a worthy addition to any family.

Camera system

I see it time and time again – people take one look at a car and declare it’s too big to drive.  Wrong.  First, the Odyssey isn’t all that big, and second, it has a few tricks to help.
 
In the case of the Odyssey it is a naturally easy car to maneuver with good visibility and a tractable low-speed throttle, but some owners may still be concerned about the size – even though it’s no longer than a medium to large SUV, and turns tighter than most of them, and offers better visibility.  
 
But if that’s not enough then worry no further, because Honda has installed a superb camera system which works below about 25km/h and that makes the Odyssey easier to maneuver than cars that are much smaller.  There’s a rear camera, front centre camera, and two more under the wingmirrors to give a 360-degree view, and overlaid on the camera display are guidelines showing where the wheels will go.  The cameras can be controlled via the touchscreen or by pressing the end of the right control stalk.
 
The image below shows what you see on the display vs real life.
 
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Here’s another view of the display vs real life.  The gridlines clearly show if we continue with this lock we’ll hit the kerb!
 
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Here’s what the reversing camera looks like. One of the better ones we’ve used.
 
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We will be covering auto-park systems in a future article, using the Odyssey as one example.

On the inside

The VTi-L model is appointed in leather and and looks modern. However, the driver’s auxiliary controls are not easy to use because Honda has made the all too common mistake of eschewing boring old switches and dials in favour of a touch screen.  This means you cannot reach over to change, say, the temperate or fan speed by touch, you’ve actually got to look at where your finger is going.
 
The main touchscreen is a generation behind the latest products, although Honda says that will be redressed with an upcoming refresh that will see sat-nav become standard across the Odyssey range.
 
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Performance, Ride & Handling

Imagine a shopping trolley.  
 
Now imagine that trolley on the chassis of a go-kart. That is the Odyssey, and all our drivers were unanimous that Honda had pulled off the double win of making the Odyssey an easy drive as well as entertaining.
 
Of course, Honda has long experience in making very good front-drive vehicles and that expertise seems to have been employed in the design of the Odyssey, which turns in nicely, grips well and is blessed with reassuring brakes.  There’s no question the Odyssey is a better handler and more entertaining drive than the vast majority of SUVs, and even some passenger cars, and it retains that handling prowess even when loaded with seven adults. Honda… please bring out an Odyssey Type R. Please.
 
The transmission is a CVT and one of the best ones I’ve driven, beating even some sportscars for verve.  It doesn’t have the CVT trait of feeling like the engine is revving but you’re going nowhere, and indeed it moves along more quickly than you’d expect given the car’s size and the engine’s output.
 
There’s a sport mode with paddleshifts where the CVT is given the equivalent of seven gears, and this provides good engine braking. The car remains in gear even if you floor the accelerator but will change up if it hits redline. The driver’s visibility is excellent and indeed that goes for all the other passengers.  With all the seat headrests down the vision out the back window is pretty good. One niggle is that the cruise control doesn’t stop the car running away downhill.
 
The ride is acceptable and quiet for the class of car, but it’s no top-end limousine. Where you sit in the car does have an effect on ride comfort, with the best seats being the second row.
 
One criticism is the fuel tank size of only 55 litres, which won’t see you a long way down the road before a refill as the 7.8L/100km consumption figure is, in practice closer, to 9L/100km, and if you allow a 10L reserve that’s not even 500km. Combine that with the space-saver spare and the Odysessy does not emerge as the interstate travelling vehicle of choice.  At least it’s 91RON fuel and not a premium grade.
 
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Quality

Honda has a reputation for solid build quality which the Odyssey upholds. This test vehicle was a little unusual in that it had 19,000km on it.  Press cars are usually brand new and only just run in, but in some cases manufacturers will pull a vehicle from one of their own staff or other users to lend to journalists.  Such was the case here, and it was clear this Odyssey hadn’t left the dealership the day before we picked it up. Nevertheless, it presented pretty much as new, and what wear there was would be as expected for the mileage.

Pricing & Equipment

The Odyssey VTi-L on test will set you back $46,040 (+ORC) and is the second most expensive Honda on the Australian market. The lower-spec, but capable of seating eight, VTi is $37,610 (+ORC). Pretty much all the boxes are ticked with the glaring exception of built-in sat-nav – you can connect an iPhone via an HDMI cable and run a nav app but we were unable to test this, not owning any Apple products and there’s no Android version. 2015 VTi-L models have built-in satnav, but not the base VTi.
 
The camera system is absolutely first class and to be honest I think people are better off using smartphones in proper mounts for navigation then the relatively tired and static in-car sat-nav systems.
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Safety

The Odyssey 32.75 scores out of 37 which just makes it into the 5-star safety bracket. But, as ever, the mere star ratings are not the whole story. The Odyssey has reversing sensors as well as the 360-degree surround camera system described above, plus generally excellent visibility and handling.  It also has a cross-traffic monitor where the sensors look out for oncoming traffic as you back out of a spot.  This is what it looks like:
 
backout
 
There’s also a very effective blind spot monitoring system that flashes an icon in the wingmirror when there’s another vehicle in the blindspot, and beeps in warning if you indicate to move into its path.  The headlights are HID, so they’re very white and very bright.  There is a cornering light too, when you’re driving slowly and turn tightly the headlights illuminate the path in the direction of turn, one of those things you don’t think you need till you try it.
 
The spare tyre is a space-saver, unusually located under the front two seats where it should be easily accessible if needs be. A tyre pressure monitoring system is included, which really should be standard in all Australian cars as it hard to tell these days when your pressures are dangerously low.
 
Thanks to Peter, Elena, Geoff, Juliette, Muriel, Leonie and David for their assistance with this test.

2014 Honda Odyssey VTi-L

PRICE : $33,000  + $4000 Q Line Package (+ORC); WARRANTY : 3 years / 100,000km, 6 years for rust PERFORATION; SAFETY : 5 star ancap; ENGINE : 2.4L petrol; POWER : 129kW @ 6200rpm; TORQUE : 225Nm @ 4000rpm; TRANSMISSION : CVT, 7 simulated gears; DRIVE : Front-wheel drive; BODY : 4840mm (L); 1800mm (W), excl mirrors; 1695mm (H); TURNING CIRCLE: 10.8M; WEIGHT : 1776 kg; TOWING : 450kg unbraked / 1000 kg braked; FUEL TANK : 55 litres / PETROL 91 RON; THIRST : 7.8/100km (ADR81/02 combined); SEATS : 7 (8 in VTI trim); SPARE : Space saver

ALSO CONSIDER

The peoplemover market isn’t particularly crowded, but there’s the bigger Toyota Kia Carnival and same-sized Toyota Tarargo to consider, neither of which can top the dynamics of the Honda.  Both have the same base seating concept as the Odyssey.  Other people-movers are the Citoren C4, Hyundai iMax, Kia Rondo (smaller than the Carnival), Peugeot 4008, Proton Exora and from VW the Caddy, Caravelle and Multivan.
 
The other obvious option is a 7-seat SUV, and here there are too many choices to list.  In general, the SUVs will tow better – the Odyssey can manage only 1000kg – and have much better dirt and offroad capability. Conversely, they won’t drive as well as the Odyssey, and definitely not have its seating arrangement of 2-2-3, or have as much storage space in the back.
 
As a point of comparison, here are the exterior dimensions of two popular SUVs:
  • CX-9 5106mm (L); 1936mm (W), 1728mm (H);  turning circle 11.4m; braked tow 2000kg
  • Santa Fe 4600mm (L); 1800mm (W); 1600mm (H); turning circle 10.9m; braked tow 2000kg
Check back soon for an article on the peoplemover vs SUV question. 

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Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper