22 March 1996

A HYBRID VEHICLE FOR THE HOVERER

In this months Country Car Andrew Faulkner kicks off our MPV series with a ride in the Honda Shuttle, while David Cousins drives Citroëns ZX estate. Andrew Pearce

tests a tweaked Discovery and compares two of the markets trendier 4x4s. More chic than hick, do these mini off-roaders have a place on farm? We find out

THE Multi-Purpose Vehicle (MPV) is a mystifying machine. Ask most owners about their choice and theyll tell you how the car has changed their lives, has become another member of the family – they love the car.

Ask a non-believer and the reaction goes something like: ugly and awkward; thirsty and ungainly; a mini-bus with fewer seats and more shag-pile; and "I wouldnt be seen dead in one."

So why the difference? To be fair, leaving status to one side, the other critiques are based in truth. MPVs are not quick and theyre certainly not pretty.

Now a little controversy. The MPV is unquestionably an alternative to that under-utilised 4×4. Unthinkable? Maybe, but then how often is your 4×4 used for what it was designed for – wading through mud and towing heavy loads? Now compare with the times its used for family transport because its more roomy than the car and the kids can see out. If you already own an old truck for the mucky jobs, why buy a 4×4?

We kick off our "MPVs at a glance" series with a hybrid, the Honda Shuttle. Neither conventional estate car nor fully-blown MPV, this is a car for the hoverer, the buyer who cannot commit him/herself to fully paid-up membership of the MPV club.

What this car lacks, in MPV terms, is the little knick-knacks the sector is best known for. There are no swivelling chairs, no centre table nor cupholders on every ledge, and probably most importantly it only seats six. Most rivals can accommodate seven.

There is no shortage of comfort for the six who do make it in, though. Armchair-like comfort for driver, co-pilot and two mid-section passengers, and even the rear bench is better than most.

Performance-wise the Honda comes in at the top end of the MPV league table, thanks largely to its healthy power:weight ratio. Matched to a four-speed auto box, the 2.2-litre Accord-derived engine is surprisingly lively and does a fair job of concealing that youre travelling in what amounts to a high-spec, 2t van.

Nothing too van-like about the price, though, which at £22,995 again puts the Shuttle well up the MPV list. Justification comes in the form of air conditioning, auto box, ABS, electric sunroof and alloy wheels – all standard.

The verdict: An excellent motorway cruiser, the Shuttle supplies from one-up to six-up, long-distance travel at a level of comfort difficult to match. Dump the passengers and dispose of the four rear seats, and you also get a sizeable load area with a payload of more than 0.5t. Admittedly, its not four-wheel-drive and, no, it wont tug 3.5t. And yes, it does cost as much as a Discovery. But for those households in which Mum has commandeered the 4×4 and Pops been relegated to the pick-up, the Shuttle and its ilk are well worth a look as tomorrows transport for

the farming family.


SHUTTLEDATA


&#8226 Model: Honda Shuttle

&#8226 Price: £22,995

&#8226 Engine: 2.2-litre, four-cylinder petrol

&#8226 Top speed: 114mph

&#8226 0-62mph: 12.2secs

&#8226 Test fuel consumption: 25.4mpg

&#8226 Insurance group: 16

Armchair cruising six-up, the Honda Shuttle is priced at the top end of the MPV sector. It is only available in one trim level and costs £22,295.