The second row of seats in the ‘L’ version of the new Honda Odyssey might just be the point of difference the carmaker needs to broaden the appeal of its people-mover.
The PM segment isn’t big, averaging around 750 private and business sales a year since 2010. But it has its loyal followers. Typical PMs for the private market are the Odyssey, Kia Carnival, Citroen C4 Grand Picasso, Toyota Previa, Chrysler Voyager.
Honda NZ has launched two Odyssey variants, the ‘S’ ($45,900) with eights seats in three rows and the ‘L’ ($52,500) with seven in three rows, both built in Japan. The eight seats are laid out two/three/three, the seven two/two/three. In the world of Honda the ‘L’ stands for ‘leather’, the ‘S’ for nothing in particular.
The seven versus eight seats is pretty much the only difference between the two variants, apart from the ‘L’ getting a few more bells and whistles and safety devices and weighing marginally more than the ‘S’.
Both share the same 2.4-litre four-cylinder 129kW/225Nm engine, a revised unit that is mated to a stepless continuously variable transmission (CVT) rather than a five-speed automatic; both have identical dimensions inside and out; both have seats that fold every which way.
But it’s the role of the second row of two seats in the ‘L’ that could hold the key to a few new sales. They are so-called ‘captain’s chairs’, in that they work like an aircraft’s business class seats. The armrests can be adjusted for height too.
Tilt the seatbacks and a foot rest slides out from underneath each seat. Just the ticket for weary feet. Not only do the seats slide fore and aft, they can be moved laterally, to allow a walkway of sorts between the front and third rows.
But the captain’s chairs really come into their own when the third row of three seats is folded into the floor. Doing so allows the two chairs to slide even further back, over fore and aft travel of 740mm. Now the ‘L’ becomes a four-seater, with a laid-back second row and plenty of room in the rear for luggage. An airport express for a luxury lodge? Perhaps.
The fifth-generation Odyssey comes 20 years after the first-generation model appeared in NZ. The second arrived in 1999, the third in 2003, and the fourth in 2008. This latest Odyssey is 30mm longer and 150mm taller than its predecessor but is the same width, 1800mm.
The wheelbase is longer by 70mm, but the 5.4m turning circle is the same. One-touch rear sliding doors in place of hinged doors boost shoulder room for passengers, while the 60mm lower floor helps improve head height.
Honda says it has used 20 per cent more high-tensile steel and extra chassis bracing in the new Odyssey to improve its torsional rigidity, compromised in the bodyshell of PMs with all the ‘holes’ for sliding, or wide-aperture hinged doors, large windows, and large tailgate.
A claimed 50 per cent increase in sound-deadening material has reduced noise, vibration and harshness, and the improved exterior design has meant the taller Odyssey maintains the same 0.36 co-efficient of drag as the previous lower model.
From the driver’s point of view, the lower dash improves visability and the use of a centre screen showing what the vehicle’s four cameras – one in the grille, one each in the wing mirrors, and one at the rear – are seeing helps manoeuvrability and safety.
Honda claims town-and-around fuel use for the Odyssey of 7.7-litres/100km, thanks partly to a stop-start system. It aims to sell 75 new models before the year is out and around 100 next year. A brief drive showed up improved ride and more accurate handling, thanks to twin-piston shock absorbers up front and lighter rear suspension geometry, and a dual-pinion steering rack designed by German component specialist ZF Friedrichshafen.