First drive: 2016 Honda Odyssey J in the UAE
Japan has some quirky yet practical cars, a side-effect of the country’s unique culture as well as obsession with making life easier, be it with robots, gadgets or hugely-spacious cars with tiny wheelbases. Of course, we’re not getting 660cc “kei” cars on the streets of Dubai any time soon. What we have here is the 4-cylinder Honda Odyssey J, the slightly-smaller Japanese-built cousin of the full-size V6-powered American-built Odyssey minivan.
Honda Middle East felt there was a gap in the market for a more affordable minivan so they brought over the Japanese Odyssey. We don’t really keep track of the minivan market so we can’t really comment on that.
Love it or hate it, the Odyssey J has very unique “JDM” styling, with a humongous chrome grille up front, lined with LED headlights and running lamps, a body kit along the bottom and 17-inch alloys in full-fat trim. It looks like something my Filipino buddy would cook up (he who already runs a pimped-up Nissan Urvan with neons and alloys as his company’s staff bus) but that’s no bad thing. It’s unique enough to get respect on the road, especially at night when other drivers don’t understand what’s rolling up behind them with pointy LEDs and a mirror-finished face.
The interior is a design win, to say the least. Lined with fake wood and fake aluminium, it’s the abundance of well-padded stitched-leatherette surfaces that won us over. It’s there starting from the dash all the way along the doors and even till the third-row seating compartment. It’s much nicer inside than the current-gen Honda Pilot that costs more.
Our top-spec EX-V version has two seats up front with individual armrests and a walkthrough space in the middle, as the shifter console is moved up on the dash and the cup-holder/tray arrangement below that can actually move out of the way when needed. Its convenience proved true when my wife walked from the front passenger seat to the second row to pacify the crying baby while I was still driving, albeit carefully. MiniMash was tucked into his child seat fitted to one of the two second-row captain’s chairs, which can move front, back and even sideways to create a custom cabin, and comes with thigh extensions as well. Apparently these fancy rear seats are only available on the top EX-V, while trims get a bench just like the third row.
Aside from the very spacious second row, the third row fits adults as well. When not in use, the 40:20:40-split last-row seatbacks can be folded down individually, but the entire third-row seating can be folded flat into the floor as one piece. All the seatbacks can recline to a good degree, if that’s what you want for some reason. There’s hatchback-level cargo space left with all three rows in use, but if you fold down the third row, the boot is enormous.
Step-on height is very low, but that also means the bottom of the doors is very low, to the point of getting blocked by high curbs. It’s about the only ergonomic flaw we found in the Odyssey J, aside from the limited number of cup-holders in the second and third rows.
Powered by a 173 hp 2.4-litre 4-cylinder with 225 Nm of torque, it seemed promising when driven around town, very quick to 50 kph with the help of a well-tuned CVT automatic. But then we hit the highway, and it simply ran out of breath, requiring full-throttle action, high-revving engine noise and all, to make snail-like progress from 100 kph to 120 kph. However, if you avoid hard-charging situations and just cruise casually, it settles down beautifully for peaceful constant-speed journeys and fuel economy of 10.7 litres/100 km.
The Odyssey J rides pretty smoothly, maybe more so than its larger brother, with moderate levels of wind and road noise at highway speeds. Handling is also very good, with well-controlled body motions around corners. However, it’s very easy to reach its grip limits, where it cleanly understeers with plenty of warning. The steering is mildly weighted but lacks feedback, while the brakes are about adequate.
All-round visibility is clear, and the rear camera integrated into the touchscreen makes parking easy. The touchscreen itself features big button icons, but we’d use the jumble of steering-wheel buttons instead in the interests of safety while driving, even we didn’t get enough time to get used to any of them. We did appreciate the front and rear controls for the good a/c, but they’re also touch-based and annoying to use on the move. There’s also 2 USB ports, 1 HDMI port and Bluetooth, but no navigation.
As long as you aren’t a speed demon, it’s hard to find faults with the Honda Odyssey J as a family vehicle. The V6-powered Kia Carnival will give it a run for its money in terms of size and features, but the Honda’s level of cabin versatility is a touch higher, with far better fuel efficiency and driving feel. While the Kia’s V6 is a chronic underperformer, we did miss the American Odyssey’s solid V6. That would’ve brought the conveniently-sized “J” closer to ideal.
For UAE prices and GCC specs, visit the Honda buyer guide.
Photos by Mashfique Hussain Chowdhury.