1998 Honda Shuttle LS 2.3
Well built, but to a price, with good spec
The prospect of owning a people-mover inspired nothing but terror. A necessary evil for me due to the exhibition furniture that had to be carted about twice a year which always involved the hire of a Transit van.
Except for the Vauxhall Zafira and Honda Shuttle, the other manufacturers' MPV offerings were ruled out. For maximum cargo, 2 rows of individual rear seats had to be removed. A major inconvenience. Bringing the equipment list to match the Shuttle's standard specification in LS trim, bumped up the Zafira's price to the point that the Shuttle was cheaper to buy. So I bought the Honda without even taking it for a test drive.
It was a revelation I drove off the dealer's forecourt. Short of invigorating, the acceleration was at least highly spirited. The absence of hesitation between applying the accelerator and take-off, banished any notion that automatic transmissions in vehicles with less than 3 litres created more noise than momentum. Mid-range acceleration is impressively strong even with a full load.
On the Shuttle, the steering column mounted gearshift means you can sit in a similar fashion as in your favourite armchair with one foot stretched as if slumped over the armrest, right hand on the steering wheel instead of holding a beer can, elbow on the window ledge instead of the armrest and one foot on the accelerator instead of petting the dog. By the way, the Shuttle's front seats are equipped with armrests. Just be warned as it is difficult to get back into a normal car's front seat without having anywhere to rest your left elbow.
If talking on the phone, the other party will hear the road noise that instrudes over 60mph. While tolerable, it is worse than a Mondeo.
The Shuttle's handling is not it's best feature given a ride that is below average, but better than most 4x4's such as the Frontera. The Shuttle does not smother imperfections in the road and can be unsettling at times although never seriously jarring. Meanwhile, roundabouts and twisty country lanes require a little forward planning to strike a balance between speed, body-roll and the amount of steering (geared rather low) needed to tackle a tight bend. The handling is miles better than a Transit and no worse than an E-Class estate, but the Merc does have a better ride.
The higher seating position takes credit for turning my style of driving from aggressive to stately. Sitting at a standstill in traffic is a bit like being in a bus. It eliminates the stressful frenzy that plagues youngish-drivers of smaller cars to constantly change lanes.
Yet negotiating the dodgems at Hyde Park Corner is a doddle because other drivers avoid you in the same way that White Van Man strikes fear in the hearts of the average motorist. An MPV is your Moses to part the traffic at central London's worse roundabouts like the Red Sea.
Have you ever seen an MPV pulled to the side of the motorway by a cop? My new found stateliness in driving does not exclude speeding, but I suspect MPV's are less likely to be pulled over doing 10mph above the limit compared to a normal saloon.
Numerous short, stop-start journeys in rush hour traffic take their toll on petrol consumption where the Shuttle's mpg will average no more than the very low 20's. That's with the a/c on or off. At least the auto gearchanges are jerk-free. The same route on a traffic-free Sunday does not seem to make much difference, but fuel consumption improves very dramatically to over 30mpg on longer journeys involving the motorway and roads with few traffic lights where motorists are moving even if it's just at 10 miles-per-hour due to temporary control signals. You just need to watch how much oomph you want in your acceleration for better miles per gallon of over-priced, UK petrol.
As of May 5, 2002 the odometer reads 65,257 miles. Nothing mechanical nor electrical has failed. Engine fires-up on the half turn even during freezing winters. With the middle row of seats folded up, passengers in the 3rd row travel with more leg-room than most stretched limo's.
Weaknesses are limited to an air-conditioner that cannot cool the rearmost quarters (Japanese versions had roof mounted rear vents), a very ordinary looking dashboard (the deepset instrument panel is great for clutter like sunglasses and cigarettes) and the feeling that the vehicle was built to a price. Okay, it is very well screwed together, but it does feel like a £17,000 whereas Skoda's Octavia manages to fool you into thinking "hmmm...could almost be an older Merc C-Class". Dynamically, the fantastic engine gives unexpectedly lively acceleration for which you pay at the petrol pumps. Neither the hard-ride / good-handling nor comfortable-ride / soft-handling compromise is on offer in the Shuttle. It's more hard-ish ride and soft-ish handling. A bouncy castle on a skateboard? It's perverse that I derive a little fun from this sober, family vehicle which brings the White Van Man out of me.
If only Honda would bring the Odyssey to the UK now that Shuttle sales have ceased. The Stream is too small. If Honda had to stop selling one of its models in the UK, it should have been the Legend. Mine just sits in the garage and has done nothing for 3 years.
Come on Honda... an Odyssey, please. With an economical, but powerful 3 litre turbodiesel engine, with the refinement of a Lexus IS400. Otherwise it's the new E-Class Estate from Mercedes once my Shuttle has done 100,000 miles.
I don't think it's out of the question to have limo luxury with minivan utility plus mildly sporting saloon-like handling with the acceleration and economy of a decent executive turbodiesel offered by the likes of Audi, BMW, Mercedes.
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes
Review Date: 5th May, 2002