Every so often I see a car on the road that makes me do a double take, and although more often than not the car in question is one from my wishlist or maybe a loud supercar, there are occasions when my attention is drawn by something mainstream but just pretty uncommon. The Honda Stream is one such model and as soon as I spotted one (driven by an elderly boy racer on my drive home) I knew that I had to attempt some sort of blog post/review about the largely forgotten MPV.
Most people seem to consider the birth of the modern compact MPV began with the launch of the Renault Megane Scenic back in 1996; I guess this is partly because of Renault’s unarguable ties with the segment in the form of the Espace, but there were plenty of models before the Scenic which could also lay claim to being the first of it’s type. Whilst I tend to remember a few Nissan Prairies when I was growing up, Honda’s Civic Wagon/Shuttle arguably captured more attention and sales than it’s Japanese rival…no doubt thanks to it’s association with the revered Civic nameplate. Essentially a tall hatchback with a larger boot, the Shuttle soldiered on until late 1995 – just before the launch of Renault’s competitor – and in a time when sales full size minivans/MPV’s were starting to decline in the face of competition from more profitable SUV’s. It took Honda 5 years to re-enter the segment in Europe, again with a Civic-based MPV with the appearance of an estate car, this model was the Stream and it lasted a mere 6 years before being discontinued in Europeans markets.
Looking at the Stream and you will immediately see the reason it was not really a success over here…it just looks really bland and lacks any distinctive detailing bar the unusual rear window reminiscent of the 2006-12 CR-V. Being based on the 2000-06 Civic it retains the relatively upright styling of it’s little brother; the oversize headlamps look a little startled and the large front/rear overhangs combined with small wheels make the car look all bloated and not nearly as attractive as the popular-but-dull Vauxhall Zafira and sharp Renault Grand Scenic which it faced in the battle for buyer’s hearts and cash. A facelifted model debuted in 2004 but the relatively mild changes (mainly different grille and headlamps) was not enough to stop the hoardes choosing the more mainstream and cheaper rivals.
Had they looked inside buyers would have been pleasantly surprised at the high quality and modern design of fixtures and fittings. Whilst it certainly did not have too much flair, it is an interior which does not look too outdated today, especially compared to those aforementioned rivals. I am not too keen on the high up location of the gear lever, but the majority of vehicles in the segment have a similar arrangement nowadays so I guess the Stream was somewhat of a trend-setter in that regard. Being an MPV you might expect practicality levels to be high, and to a degree you would be correct as with 7 seats and a decent amount of storage cubbies the Stream should suit a young family on a budget quite well…but the rear most 2 seats are apparently quite limited in terms of leg room, and the lack of a 3-point centre belt on facelifted models could be another black mark against buyers seeking out the most practical option on the market. On the plus side though equipment levels are high, and most models get things like climate control and 4 electric windows as standard.
The main thing that the Stream was praised for on it’s release was the way it handled, a factor which continues to remain one of the key reasons for recommending it it seems. Honda have a knack for making sharp handling vehicles, and when combined with one of their VTec engines it can make many auto journalists go weak at the knees…even in a compact MPV it seems! I won’t degrade myself so much as to lie and say I’ve driven the Stream (long term readers should know by now that I am purely speculating based on too much reading online!), but by the sounds of it the low body, Civic steering and 2 litre petrol engine can make for an entertaining drive on the back roads…although it seems that even with those small wheels it shares the same ride deficits as newer Hondas like my mum’s Jazz. A 1.7 litre engine was also available when new, but besides costing slightly less I doubt there is much reason to buy one because of the minimal differences in running costs and higher spec on the 2.0…plus if you want an auto you will have to get the larger engine. The other major factor which seems to be the driving force behind choosing a Honda Stream is, as with any Honda, reliability; the youngest Streams are now over 7 years old and any vehicle this age or younger is going to show at least some signs of mechanical/electrical issues…all apart from Honda models it seems, so the Stream is likely to be a much more dependable choice than a similarly aged Zafira or Scenic.
Had Honda decided to persevere with the Stream it may have gone on to become one of their more popular models; MPV sales are still on the up and a 7 seat Honda would see some buyers clambering over each other to buy one, but for reasons unknown to anyone outside Honda head-honchos they chose to replace it with the only slightly less disastrous FR-V, whose 6 seat/2 row layout made it a very different to anything else on the market (besides the Fiat Multipla). I guess the Stream’s poor sales resigned it to it’s fate, but the second generation (available in Japan) is actually a decent looking car, and bestowed with a few more engine choices to offer a reduced entry-level price and/or better mpg for business buyers it could have been a surprise hit for reasons mentioned above, but Honda seems to have chosen to focus it’s efforts on the Jazz and CR-V in terms of practical choices, leaving the sporty MPV market for the Ford S MAX.
Would I recommend a used Honda Stream? Well on alot of levels it is a great car and so buyers like the elderly gentlemen I saw driving one yesterday will be able to appreciate the reliability and ease of ownership of any Honda in a more practical shell, but the majority of buyers might be better off taking their money and choosing the much newer (in terms of age and design) second-gen Zafira, which will probably cost the same!