SEEN a Honda Stream recently? No, neither have I.

At a time when you can't move for MPVs, the Japanese firm's compact people carrier has never really left the showrooms in the same numbers as those from European manufacturers.

Sure it does a fine job, but it can't hold a candle to Citroen's best-selling Picasso or Renault's chic Scenic in the all-important popularity contest.

As a firm that is constantly tweaking and improving its product range (the NSX is still going strong, after all), Honda has redoubled its efforts in the shape of the FR-V (pictured) in a bid to challenge the current mid-size continental contingent.

FR-V can stand for whatever you want, but the underlying concept is a six-seat people carrier with enough room for half a dozen adults, family hatch levels of boot space, some nice practical storage touches and a driving experience that is more Civic than a cross-channel ferry in a force nine gale.

Squeezing two rows and six seats into a tin box is no longer new thanks to Fiat's Multipla, but Honda has cleverly put some distance between its offering and that of Fiat's by styling the FR-V less like a cube on wheels and more like a conventional car.

As you approach the FR-V, you notice that the Honda isn't as tall as your average full-blown MPV. The car's gently sloping roofline, saloon-like nose and modest-looking glass areas are all at odds with its ability to carry people and stuff in greater quantities than your average family motor.

Climb aboard and you're first greeted by Honda's usual high build quality. Dig a little deeper and the essentials of modern MPV motoring - cup holders, cubby spaces and centrally mounted controls - are all there, too.

The latter attribute is an important one as the ability to "walk through" the front cabin is much easier when you don't have the handbrake and gear-lever to trip you up.

The acid test, however, for any mid-size MPV is whether adults can sit comfortably in the back. With the FR-V's gently sloping roof you'd be forgiven for thinking the back seats are out of bounds; the reality is that, so long as you don't play for a basketball team, you'll be fine.

Of course, there's more to filling the FR-V to the rafters. The rear seats easily fold flat for bulky loads and the centre two seats can be slid fore and aft on runners, which is handy (especially for the rear seat) if they're occupied by children, as mum or dad can reach them easier. When not in use the rear chair can fold forward and impersonate a table and the front seat hides a pull-out tray plus extra storage under its squab cushion.

There are just two things left to say about the FR-V - how it drives and equipment levels. The engine line-up comprises 1.7 and two-litre petrol units, and from summer 2005 the Accord's acclaimed diesel motor will make an appearance. The 1.7 gets a five-speed manual gearbox, the two-litre comes with six cogs - there is no auto option.

On paper the 125PS 1.7 is fine but, in reality - hauling kids, shopping and being late for work - the 150PS two-litre variant is more refined, doesn't object to being pushed hard and is happier cruising at motorway speeds.

The overall driving experience, irrespective of engine choice, is up to Honda's usual high standards.

The FR-V feels safe and secure at speed, direction changes are executed promptly, all but the severest of bumps are dispatched without drama and around town it feels anything but unwieldy thanks to a surprisingly tight turning circle.

As for equipment levels, Honda has endowed the FR-V with a comprehensive tally of safety and comfort items such as twin front, side and curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes plus EBD, CD stereo, climate control and three Isofix-equipped seats.

Trading up from the 1.7 SE to the two-litre SE gains 16-inch wheels, electronic stability control and a six-speed gearbox. The flagship Sport adds alloy wheels, cruise control, leather trimmed steering wheel and gear knob, front fog lamps and power folding mirrors.

Crucially for Honda, although many of the FR-V's attributes are present in rival MPVs, you'll struggle to find a competitor boasting all the Japanese car's features in one package.

The FR-V might be styled on the conservative side but it'll happily seat six and feels unburstable.

Likewise it manages to combine decent levels of occupant comfort with the ability to behave like a competent family hatch when the road ahead is far from straight.

It may lack the showy flair of certain rivals but its maturity and competence shines through after even the briefest of drives.

For more information, call City Honda in Basingstoke on 01256 697850.