BY ANDY ENRIGHT
Amid a welter of same-old mini-MPVs, the Honda Stream stands out like a beacon. Not for its looks as it's a fairly low-key thing, more for its driving characteristics. Think of it as a mini-MPV for people who resent having to buy one and you're a little closer to hitting the nail on the head. Unless the responsibilities of parenthood have flattened every ounce of mischievousness from your system, chances are you'll love the way the Stream drives. With used models now beginning to filter onto the market in meaningful numbers, the concept of seven seats and a good time have just become that little bit more affordable.
Models Covered: 5dr Mini-MPV 1.7, 2.0 petrol (S, SE, SE Sport)
The Honda Stream was introduced in April 2001 following a hiatus of a year in Honda's mini-MPV production. With the Shuttle a distant memory, the Stream attracted a whole new raft of plaudits. Three models were available, a 123bhp 1.7-litre version in either S or SE trim and a rip snorting 154bhp variant in SE Sport trim. Both were fitted with Honda's VTEC engine technology and both were a hoot to drive.
What You Get
At first, the Stream doesn't promise too much. Settle in behind the wheel and you're greeted by reassuringly familiar Honda controls, a decent driving position that's different to many of the sit up and beg mini-MPV offerings and good all round visibility. The gear lever sprouts from the fascia like a hastily-buried dalek, but it works surprisingly well. Sporty though? Not a bit of it. There aren't any racy spoilers, liquorice strip low profile tyres or body hugging sports seats on display. The lines are neat, if slightly anonymous. Drop into the driver's seat and, again, there seems little to get excited about. You're greeted by reassuringly familiar Honda controls, a decent driving position that's different to many of the sit up and beg mini-MPV offerings and good all round visibility. The gear lever sprouts from the fascia like a hastily buried dalek, but it works surprisingly well. Sporty though? Not a bit of it. And that, in many ways is the sheer genius of the Stream. It will appeal to those who appreciate a sporty drive but need the practicality. They can have a car that's secretly something of a funster without being accused of being the oldest swinger in town. For convenience sake, let's imagine you're transporting six ankle biters to a football match. The Stream can easily accommodate the seating requests, although you may need to insist they share a towel and the half-time orange as six lots of bulky kit bags would have to find alternate travel arrangements. Yes, the Stream is a proper seven-seater, but how viable is the whole seven-seat scenario if you can't transport the allied paraphernalia with you? It's something of a moot point, but one that Vauxhall, Honda and Peugeot seem to have ignored. The seating is well planned, if not quite so smugly clever as is the case with the Zafira. Not that you'll mind unduly as the rearmost row of seats is easy to fold flat, giving you a very convenient five door with acres of carrying capacity. Standard features include air conditioning, twin front and side airbags and anti-lock brakes beefed up by electronic brakeforce distribution. You'll also find an electric sunroof, powered windows and door mirrors on the standard equipment list.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
Very little: the car tends to prove predictably reliable. A full service history is preferable. As with all MPVs, check for parking bumps and scrapes, plus interior damage caused by over-enthusiastic children.
(based on a 2001 1.7SE- approx ex-Vat) A full exhaust system (excluding catalyst) is around £450. Front and rear brake pads are around £60 per set respectively. A starter motor is around £295, a radiator around £210, an alternator around £310 and a front headlamp around £175.
On the Road
Fire up that smooth 16-valve four-cylinder engine and you'll hear no fruity exhaust trumpet, just a near imperceptible hum at tickover. Te 2.0-litre engine in particular is something of a work of automotive art. This is one of the latest i-VTEC Honda engines and is a generation on from the first VTEC units with their 'buy one get one free' engine characteristics. These powerplants operated a system where the cam profile changed at a point two-thirds of the way up the rev range, giving you a docile, fuel efficient engine at the lower reaches and an aggressive, performance profile at the top end. The i-VTEC (intelligent VTEC) does away with this binary step, instead offering a seamless, graduated transition from one phase into the other. The 2.0-litre Stream certainly benefits from this technology, borne out by its sprint to 60mph taking just 9.2 seconds for the manual version, or a less impressive 11 seconds with the sequential automatic box. A top speed of 127mph should be enough for most families of seven. Amongst MPV rivals, only the quicker versions of Vauxhall's Zafira offer performance this lively but the base figures only tell half the story. What makes the Stream genuinely innovative is the fact that Honda's engineers have set out to make it genuinely fun to drive. Coming from a company that's brought us the S2000 and wild Type-R models, perhaps that shouldn't be a huge surprise, but after the thrusting 187 inches of mediocrity that was the Honda Shuttle, our faith has been restored. Do fun and MPVs have to be mutually exclusive concepts? No. The Stream rides well, is pleasantly roll-free in corners and the two-litre engine is always up for fun. The steering, whilst feeling slightly artificial at city speeds, weights up nicely on the move and enables the Stream to move to the top of the MPV class for driving satisfaction. This may be construed as damning with faint praise, but the Stream is worthy of comparison with most medium range saloons in the twisty bits, its low centre of gravity belying its lofty altitude.
If the idea of trying to be 'Daddy Cool' at the school gates is too much to bear, a used Honda Stream may well appeal. It's understated but when push comes to shove it's a finer driver's car than many so-called hot hatches. You'll be happy, the kids will love it but your better half may well have to issue an occasional admonishment if you get a little enthusiastic. If you've got a family but hate the idea of a pipe and slippers mini-MPV, your chariot awaits...