BEFORE this year, buying a Honda Odyssey meant maintaining a sense of dignity in the people-mover realm.
Once you buy a traditional looking people-mover, it's a signal to the outside world you have succumbed to family life. The brood is number one and any semblance of driving enjoyment has been abandoned.
Yet the old Odyssey upheld the virtues of being more car-like despite having the capacity to haul a netball team.
But this new fifth generation leans heavily toward buyers who are family focused.
It pitches the Odyssey right at the van market, and despite price rises, still matches the segment's biggest seller - Kia's Grand Carnival.
One look and you can see why the United States (its primary intended market) has welcomed this new model. It's big on space, has a bold front end and offers some cool tech-savvy gadgets.
Gone are the conventional hinged doors at the back, replaced by two sliding openings.
In our entry-level VTi model, only the passenger side has electric opening functionality, whereas both are electric in the VTi-L. It makes for easy entry and exit with an excellent wide opening.
Cruise control, phone connectivity and stereo controls are at the driver's thumb tips with steering wheel mounted buttons.
The Odyssey has a large upright dash, featuring a mix of plastics, brown, woodgrain-look inserts, and fake-leather trim.
Matching velour cloth trim with the seats extends up the doors and to the windows ... it reminds us of an old-school RSL. The seats are ultra comfortable and even the beautiful bride commented that it was one of the best-positioned head rests she'd experienced.
Centrally positioned is the 17cm colour touch-screen audio display, and sitting below that is the electrostatic touch panel for the climate control system. While the latter looks good, it can be difficult to make changes quickly rather than with the traditional buttons and knobs while it can also be hard to see if the mid-afternoon sun is shining through.
We liked the connectivity available with the audio system when paired to an iPhone5 using the HDMI cable (android is coming soon).
The touch-screen operations are similar to that of an Apple device, and you can use Honda sat nav via the large display and also make use of it away from the vehicle.
Honda also has its own music app. There were some connection issues with the new apps during our experience, but it is still in the pre-production phase.
On the road
More van-like than car in its performance, the Odyssey remains fleet-footed with a tight turning circle and light steering feel.
With light steering and a reasonable response under your right foot, the Odyssey is a sound all-round performer which doesn't set the world alight with burly power, but it won't have you shouting for more grunt up inclines either.
The ride can be firm, especially over ruts and bumps like railway lines, although it's hushed in just about all circumstances.
What do you get?
Standard equipment on the VTi includes eight seats, a 17.7cm colour screen, six-speaker CD stereo with two USB and HDMI ports, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, climate-controlled air-conditioning with controls up front and in the rear, electric opening and closing door on passenger side as well as cruise control.
Safety incorporates a rear view camera, six airbags, tyre deflation warning, stability control and anti-lock brakes. The cool extra gadgets, like a 360 degree camera and blind spot warning, are only available in the VTi-L.
Dominating this sector is the soon to be updated Kia Carnival (from $38,990), while there is also the Hyundai iMax (from $38,290), Toyota Tarago (from $48,990) and the new Citroen Picasso (from $43,990).
Average official fuel consumption is 6.6 litres for every 100km, although we were closer to nine.
You could achieve better by use of the Econ mode which dulls acceleration response and decreases the power of the air con.
Capped price servicing looks reasonably cheap, and insurance should be about middle of the road.
The backs of the third row seat fold, and then can be rolled into the floor. The backs of the centre row seat incline and the whole seat slides for ease of entry and exit, but can't be folded away to create a pseudo van.
Down back, each row has two drink holders (the middle row pair is in the fold down arm rest) and each outer seat has an air vent.
Adults can fit in the third row, but it is territory best suited to youngsters. Six kids can be housed in the back.
There are various 12 volt outlets, along with two USB ports up front and a HDMI connection.
Just below the shifter is a cool storage area with pop-out cup holders that can be moved up and down depending on how far you want it protruding from the dash. It's perfectly positioned to hold phones, keys and coins.
The Odyssey has lost some of its sex appeal. Iterations coming here since the 1990s have been sleek with an air of prestige. Yet the fifth generation is more function over form.
Given the numbers purchasing the Kia Carnival, perhaps that is an indicator of what buyers want.
When it comes to hauling eight people, space and functionality is the winner.
Starting at the same price as the Carnival, the Odyssey could well be adored by a new generation of families.
Pleasant to drive with extra space Honda has focused on the key areas which are most important to families.
What matters most
What we liked: Cool touch-screen functionality, interior space, comfortable seats.
What we'd like to see: Diesel engine option, easier access to child seat anchorage points.
Warranty and servicing: Three-year/100,000km warranty. Servicing is at six months or 10,000km, capped price servicing is available for five years, at an average of $258.
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