Review: Kea Odyssey SWB

By: Bill Savidan, Photography by: Bill Savidan


From weekday work wagon to weekend getaway van, the Kea Odyssey SWB offers a unique solution for finding that perfect work-life balance

The prototype Odyssey debuted at the Auckland Covi show in 2017.

It illustrated a concept not seen here before: a small motorhome that converted to a secondary use.

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The interior is set up so that overhead lockers are unobtrusive and the settees fold out of the way (even removed if necessary), creating a large load space at the back of the van. This makes room for work tools, supplies, equipment, and whatever the owner needs to carry during the week to earn a living. Come the weekend, the van can be quickly and easily converted for more recreational purposes.

Vehicles built with two uses in mind are more common in the UK but the Odyssey has this field to itself in New Zealand.

Comments from those who saw the prototype at the Covi show were favourable and some of those ideas were incorporated into the concept. Action Manufacturing has since built 30 units for the Maui rental fleet.

THE BUILD

Odysseys are built into the Renault Master panel van. While the number of Renault Master vans on New Zealand roads is growing, in Europe, Renault claims to be "Europe’s number one light commercial brand for the last 18 years".

Master vans are competitively priced, slotting between Fiats and LDVs. Features buyers appreciate include a low floor level, a short rear overhang, a timing chain instead of a belt, 12-month or 30,000km service intervals, and a comprehensive suite of driver aids and safety features.

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Driver comforts include cruise control, a multi-function trip computer, audio streaming Bluetooth, CD/MP3 radio with steering mounted controls, two USB audio inputs, and a 12-volt auxiliary power outlet.

Renault Masters come in three different lengths: the medium wheelbase that the Odyssey SWB is built on as well as longer and shorter versions. Rear-wheel-drive options are available on some cab/chassis models and the larger panel vans.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

The Master panel van has a neat clean appearance and a build quality you would expect from a major European light commercial vehicle manufacturer. It has a large sliding door kerbside and rear doors that open 90 degrees.

The cab layout serves the driver well with the main instrument cluster seen through the steering wheel and the radio above the aircon controls in the centre console. Below that are the drink holders and a useful parcel shelf, with more shelves above the sun visors. Mounted on the back of the passenger’s visor is a large mirror that covers the wide blind spot the kerbside mirror usually misses.

It also serves as a vanity mirror.

ON THE ROAD

The Master is pleasant to drive. It is powered by a 2.3-litre dCi diesel engine available with power outputs of 110hp and 130bhp in single turbo form, or 145hp, 165hp, and 170hp in twin turbo trim. Fitted with the 110hp motor, the Odyssey is lively and responsive in both city traffic and on the motorway.

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The automated manual transmission (AMT) gearbox is excellent to use. It functions like a true automatic transmission in most situations. Gear changes can also be made manually. I found that sometimes, the box resisted returning to full auto function. It needed an extra nudge of the selection lever to make the switch to auto.

Action Manufacturing’s Grant Brady says the Odyssey concept has been well received by younger renters and buyers. "They really get it," he says. "They don’t just use the load space during the week for work related items. They use it on weekends as well to stow bikes, surfboards, and dive gear in the summer and skis, snowboards, and packs in the winter. They appreciate the Odyssey eliminating the hassle of driving off the mountain each night. They overnight in the carpark saving time and money."

NO-FRILLS INTERIOR

It is a simple interior layout. Behind the driver’s seat is the ablutions block; behind the passenger’s seat, the small kitchen block.

Behind this is space to enter or leave the van through the large sliding door. The rear third of the van contains the folding side seats and various storage lockers. In the ceiling above is a drop-down bed—a feature that makes the Odyssey concept successful and the reason for the bump in the roof.

KITCHEN BLOCK

I refer to the kitchen unit as a block because its size and shape reminded me of a butcher’s chopping block. The similarity ends there because in this case, the top is entirely occupied by a stainless steel unit containing a kitchen sink and a two-hob LPG cooktop, all covered with a hinged, dark glass lid.

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Under the bench top, along with the 85-litre fridge, are two drawers and a cupboard for cutlery and storage. Opposite, tucked in between the ablutions department and the driver’s side folding seat is an arrangement of drawers and shelves.

There are two overhead lockers each side at the back and two beside the sliding door. The lockers don’t have doors. Instead, stretchy nets that are sufficient to stop the contents falling out cover half the locker opening.

BASIC BATHROOM

The bathroom is fairly basic with a shower stall and toilet along one wall and a handbasin moulded into a corner.

Bathroom

BEDROOM

The rear area is the ultimate multi-functional space. It serves as a load carrying space as already mentioned.

With the table in place and the seats down, it becomes the dining room. Remove the table to chill out or entertain and lowering the bed turns it into a bedroom.

The two side seats are surprisingly comfortable and accommodate two a side or three at a pinch, so entertaining guests is a breeze. When the bed (1980x1220mm) is completely lowered, the top of the mattress is 700mm off the floor, making it easy to get in to and out of. If you are carrying a tall load, such as bicycles, the bed can be stopped and used in a higher position that clears the load.

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It is not a large bed but it does have a comfortable foam mattress, so after a hard day’s tramping, skiing, or bike riding, with the curtains drawn and the lighting set to low, I’d say it would look very inviting.

And that is the essence of the Odyssey. It is for those wishing to travel to places that are often ‘off-grid’ to enjoy their favourite activities that, in most cases, involve bulky equipment. With the Odyssey they can sleep on location, not 20km away, and in comfort with their gear secure, not on the ground in a tent.

VERDICT

That the Odyssey can be used during the week for commuting and double up as a trade vehicle when needed is an added bonus in the buying process. This RV certainly occupies a unique niche in the New Zealand motorhome landscape.

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The Odyssey comes ready to freedom camp complete with a certified self-contained certificate. Fresh and grey water tanks, a 75 amp/hr deep cycle house battery, and a 110-watt solar panel are included, and the Odyssey is wired for TV and a satellite aerial.

The Odyssey SWB models from the Maui rental fleet retail for $84,990, including GST and ORC. They also offer the Odyssey LWB at $89,990, including GST and ORC. RV Super Centre has confidence in the product; they offer a 12-month ‘RV Super Centre Guarantee’.

Kea Odyssey SWB Specifications

Vehicle make/model Kea Odyssey SWB
Engine  2.3L turbo diesel
Transmission 6-speed AMT auto
Berths  2
Approx. overall length 5600mm
Approx. overall height 2800mm 
Tanks  75L fresh, 75L grey
Gas  1x 4.5kg LPG bottle
GVM  Maximum of 3500kg

Kea Odyssey SWB price (as reviewed): $84,990

Pluses

  • A cool concept for a younger active market.
  • No-frills approach. Attention to detail but nothing fancy.
  • The new European base vehicle, the Renault Master.

Minuses

  • Locker storage is limited.

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