The fully imported Honda Odyssey has since been facelifted and gets the Honda Sensing suite found in the Accord and CR-V. The refreshed Odyssey arrived in Malaysia in February, 2018.
Desaru is either numbingly boring or an idyllic getaway. It's really a matter of perspective.
Miles and miles of oil palms, punctuated by the occasional settlements, are what motorists will gaze at as they near the east coast destination after meandering their way from Petaling Jaya to the south-eastern corner of Johor.
With Singapore nearby, the place is also an accessible holiday spot for its people especially on weekends and school holidays.
Young couples gravitate to Desaru as well, and its rather remote location would make it quite the hush-hush rendezvous for the two-timing man and his mistress. Desaru apparently appeals to people from all walks of life.
So one weekend in July, after feeling particularly jaded with the usual PD-Malacca-Ipoh-Camerons-Penang circuit, we decided to go someplace where there were more vegetation than people.
“We” in this case was a family of four that included two boisterous teenage boys in tow.
As far as wholesome family escapade goes, Desaru fits the bill.
It’s by the sea, isn’t too far from civilisation and isn’t urban the way Kuantan or Johor Baru are. With bags packed, off we set out for some rest and recreation.
After five hours on the road, skirting the Johor Premium Outlets and crossing the distinctive Sungai Johor bridge, we finally arrived at the Pulai Desaru beach resort.
If you overlook the hotel’s limited breakfast menu, it’s actually a lovely spot by the South China Sea to power down and do absolutely nothing if one is so inclined.
With rooms overlooking the beach, it was pleasant to while away the hours on the balcony or walk barefoot on the sands as the children played in the sea or frolic in the swimming pool.
One can also read a book or nap on any of the hammocks strung up between trees and be slowly lulled into slumber on a balmy afternoon, with waves gently crashing ashore metres away.
Tourism brochures tell of numerous attractions and activities in and around Desaru such as firefly river cruise, fruit farm tour, ostrich and crocodile farm visits, canoeing, fishing and golfing.
As the holiday theme was relaxation, we decided to stick to one or two activities instead of going all over the map.
The Desaru Fruit Farm is worth a visit. Growing some 100 varieties of seasonal and non-seasonal fruit and herbs, the 72ha orchard in Kota Tinggi is open to the public.
A guide takes visitors on a walkaround of the grounds, highlighting the health benefits and medicinal properties in some of the fruit and herbs such as dukun, mangosteen, stevia, etc. It’s a delightful way to while away a few hours learning of nature’s bounty.
There’s even a go-kart circuit in the farm for those who want to indulge in a bit of friendly rivalry. A mini mart, stocked with fresh produce, souvenirs and snacks, offers visitors something to take away.
And what’s a holiday without eating out?
The Sungai Rengit fishing village, a 30-minute drive from the resort, has been singled out by food bloggers for its fresh seafood.
It goes by the monicker Lobster Village for good reason - its numerous restaurants offer locally sourced lobster that’s simply scrumptious based on two nights’ feasting at this unassuming hollow.
Eateries like You Kees, Straits View and Jade Garden are renowned for their crustaceous specialty, served up in assorted styles.
Tying all these experiences together was a Japanese MPV. The Odyssey, courtesy of Honda Malaysia, made the outing a reality.
The journey to Desaru readily endeared the MPV to the wifey and kids, telling a parallel tale of discovery.
What particularly struck them was the space and the room to move around in the fifth-generation Odyssey.
Headroom was plenty as this is one tall MPV with a low floor and the dimensions to make the cabin feel expansive.
Design-wise, it is unlike the last two generations where the Odyssey was low-slung and wagon-ish.
The strong air-conditioning passed the test in their book with no hotspots to complain of as it has tri-zone automatic climate control.
While the steering wheel bristles with buttons, the dashboard and instrumentation are not overly busy.
The woodgrain panelling and leather seats give the cabin an upscale ambience.
In common with many higher-end MPVs, the gearshifter is mounted on the dash, thus freeing up space between the two front seats; this flat-floor centre aisle runs all the way to the rear.
That space is appreciated as it allows the driver to slot in personal effects or walk to the back without getting out of the vehicle.
The 7.0- inch touchscreen infotainment display is placed at the right height, making it easy for the driver to quickly glean pertinent info while driving, which is enhanced by high visibility.
The key highlight has to be mid-row, which hosts the best seats aboard. They are a pair of Captain’s seats that have extendable leg rest.
The airline-style recliners sit on railings and can be slid further back for more space and comfort or pushed sideways to be closer together.
The boys love the seats so much they had blocked them off for the duration of the trip, telling their mum they were not swapping places this time.
A sun shade keeps out the glare and give some privacy. The only thing missing in the chairs is a massage feature, and two LCD screens to keep the young ‘uns occupied.
Seats in front row are supportive and comfortable but not to the same extent as those directly behind.
Three persons can go in third row, and it isn’t cramped as the captain seats ride on railings and can be adjusted forward to give third-row passengers some relief.
Stowage space is abundant. Typical of MPVs, variable spaces can be created by folding the rear bench seats into the floor and, in this case, pushing the captain seats further front.
Externally, the thick horizontal chrome slats in the grille cut a robust image, complemented by daytime running lights.
The stylised LED headlamps and cornering lights cut a wide path ahead after sundown; we found it very reassuring when travelling on the pitch-black back roads of Desaru.
Viewed from the side, the front has a rakish profile, the better to give the cabin a roomier feel while rendering the MPV with a sporty exterior look, enhanced by aerokit add-ons in the EXV trim.
This is a much better looking Odyssey as it doesn’t have that abrupt kink at the base of the C-pillar found in the North American model (which by the way comes with a built-in vacuum cleaner; no such conversation piece for the Malaysian-side model).
Like the front, the rear looks well thought out. The Odyssey badging is centrally positioned, stretching out either side and blending seamlessly with the rear LED lamps.
The Odyssey aspires to offer as much of a luxurious ride as a sub-RM300K MPV would allow.
There’s keyless entry, start/stop button, sunroof, power sliding doors, 8-way driver power seat, leather upholstery, 360-degree camera system, and blind spot sensors with cross traffic monitor that alerts the driver if its radar senses approaching vehicles upon reversing.
The MPV even helps the driver parallel-park or reverse-in park.
The addition of 7-speed paddle shifters to “row” through the CVT seemed gratuitous in a people lugger.
What’s missing are sat-nav and electric tailgate that would have heightened the vehicle’s stature. The Odyssey remains a sprightly MPV despite a 1.8-tonne heft.
It is propelled by what Honda labels as a new “Earth Dreams” engine that is more powerful and more fuel efficient than the previous model.
Acceleration is decent and power is meted out progressively from low revs and the car quickly gets up to highway speeds without drama.
The CVT action is smooth and doesn’t feel as “drony” or rubbery as other such gearboxes. We could go at high speeds on the expressway and sustained it without feeling twitchy. When the right foot gets tired, cruise control can be turned on to share driving duty.
Body roll is well controlled because of a stiffened suspension and the interior is well insulated from noise, vibration and harshness.
Steering is light and accurate, making for an enjoyable drive. Load it up with seven people onboard, and expect the 2.4-litre mill to work much harder to maintain momentum.
To round up, this Honda is a proper people carrier that delivers some of the luxuries you would find in even more expensive MPVs.
It has been seven weeks now. Looking back, the journey down south lives on as fond memories of an odyssey to a place of placid revitalisation.