Originally, mini-vans were intended to be purpose-built, uber-practical people carriers that could accommodate kids, cargo, and all the usual accoutrements of family life.
They still do that, certainly, but somewhere along the line, they grew up, got refined and are now kind of sophisticated. None more than the Honda Odyssey, which last year, was on the receiving end of some minor updates and refinements and carries over into 2015. For example, it now has a six-speed automatic transmission, and, if you want them, a lane departure warning system, push-button start, and blind spot detection. All of these features are fairly common in the upper end of the industry, but the Odyssey Touring version also has its own in-car vacuum cleaner system. That’s right; located in the rear compartment is a built-in vacuum with a reach of about two metres. Don’t expect to hoover up spilled liquids or anything coarser than sand or granola, but for the small stuff, it works well enough. A small canister can be removed and emptied after each session.
Like all self-respecting people-carriers, the Odyssey has decent safety credentials. The US-based National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration gives it its top “five star” rating and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives it a “top safety pick” for front end offset collisions. For many buyers, this can be a deal-maker.
But where the Odyssey really shines is in its driveability. Despite its sensible-shoes trappings, this is a lively, very roadworthy, eight-passenger hauler that will keep up with all but the most powerful sports sedans. You won’t find a better highway vehicle in this category. The 3.5 litre V6 has been around in this vehicle for years and it’s just as good now as when it was introduced back in 1999. Plenty of reserve power, smooth in operation, well-behaved, with decent fuel economy. These days, it develops 248 horsepower, which is not the highest in the mini-van market but nonetheless, important if you carry a full load of passengers and cargo on a regular basis. It feels livelier than the Dodge Grand Caravan, for example, which boasts a purported 283 hp.
Although it lacks Chrysler’s innovative “Stow ‘n Go” seating, the Odyssey does provide several seating combinations, and the middle row seats can be re-arranged to accommodate up to three passengers. Various convenience items include a rear passenger entertainment system, back-up camera, front beverage compartment, and full connectivity with e-mail and texting capability (not necessarily a good thing).
And perhaps in an effort to compete with Dodge’s top-selling Grand Caravan Canada Value package, the Odyssey for 2015 is available in a bottom of the range LX trim package, bringing the total number of versions to six. At $29,990 to start, the Odyssey LX is still priced well above the Grand Cavavan’s $21,000 base sticker price, but in terms of refinement and flat-out driver-friendliness, you could argue that it’s money well-spent.
- Base price: $47,990; as tested $47,990
- Engine: 3.5 litre V-6
- Transmission: Six-speed automatic
- Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 10.9 city; 7.1 highway
- Alternatives: Toyota Sienna, Dodge Grand Caravan, Chrysler Town and Country
- Looks: It’s a box. Park it beside a Sienna and it’s hard to tell them apart.
- Interior: Honda excels here. Excellent ergonomics/switchgear. Easy access everywhere. Still doesn’t have seats that disappear into the floor, though.
- Performance: Arguably the best handling/performing mini-van on the market. On paper, slower than the Grand Caravan, but on the highway, it’s another story.
- Technology: Variable cylinder management and blind spot warning/lane departure all good features….oh, and a built-in vacuum cleaner.
- Cargo: With 420t litres of total cargo volume, there’s room for everyone.
Not the cheapest mini-van on the market, but arguably the most driveable.