road test Toyota RAV4

Rather than concede defeat in the burgeoning market for MPVs (multi- purpose vehicles), Honda has distanced its new Shuttle from the mainstream opposition. With its pounds 23,000 price tag and take-it-or-leave-it specification, it sits at the top end of the market where sales are low and profit margins high.

Several rivals, including the Ford Galaxy, offer seven seats. The Shuttle has only six. Although the central ones can be removed to accommodate awkward loads, they do not fold, swivel or slide to and fro. As the front seats do not revolve either, you cannot rearrange the furniture and sit face to face for meals or pow-wows.

Although you sit well back from the huge screen, the Shuttle feels more car-like than first-generation MPVs such as the Renault Espace. To the left of the steering column is a clumsy gear selector, positioned to create walk-through space to the back - a useful feature. You sit tall, all the better for hazard spotting, embraced by comfortable armchair seats. The downside of this loftiness is high wind resistance.

As a multi-purpose vehicle, the expensive Shuttle is flawed. Club-class seating is all very well, but it is not what is required in a family holdall. Only if you want a roomy wide-aisled executive jet on wheels is the Honda in the frame. Even then, faster, smoother, cheaper V6 rivals outrank it.

Roger Bell

Specifications

Honda Shuttle, pounds 22,995. Engine: 2156cc, four cylinders, 148bhp at 5600rpm. Four-speed automatic transmission, front-wheel drive. Top speed 110mph, 0-60mph in 11 seconds, fuel consumption 22-27mpg unleaded.

Rivals

Ford Galaxy pounds 15,995 to pounds 23,300

Roomy, versatile cabin seats up to seven. Best MPV yet.

Mitsubishi Space Wagon pounds 15,799

Smaller, more compact, and cheaper.

Nissan Serena pounds 13,750 to pounds 15,995

Not much style but roomy, with seating for up to seven.

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