The Honda Odyssey is about function and making family life easier. It can carry a family of eight, or half a high-school soccer team, along with all their coolers, balls, tents, shoes, whatever. It can tow a small trailer with a motorcycle or watercraft. Odyssey can carry 4×8-foot plywood flat on the floor. In fact, 10-foot-long boards could be stacked on them, extending between the front seats when the convenient removable console is taken out. Best of all, it’s loaded with conveniences designed to simplify life.
The Honda Odyssey was thoroughly redesigned and re-engineered for the 2011 model year, marking a new generation of one of America’s favorite multi-purpose vehicles.
For 2014, Odyssey got minor tweaks to trim that freshened its appearance. Noteworthy equipment updates included the addition of Bluetooth and Pandora as standard equipment, plus the industry’s only built-in vacuum cleaner. Standard in the top (Touring Elite) model, it works better than any cordless vacuum we’ve used and better than most corded handhelds. Neatly stowed in the left rear cargo area wall (where lesser models secure the second-row middle seat not in use), the Shop-Vac built HondaVAC unit runs for 8 minutes on battery, indefinitely with the engine running, and can reach anywhere in the van.
The 2014 Odyssey also gained in safety, with more warning systems and driver assists, a benefit of its revised structure. Odyssey was the first van to earn an IIHS Top Safety Pick Plus, including a Good rating in the small overlap front crash test. (The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is a lobbying organization for the auto-insurance industry.)
Because the Odyssey received a number of upgrades for 2014, the 2015 model continues with no significant change.
Though still called a minivan, there’s nothing mini about the modern minivan. The Honda Odyssey, Toyota Sienna, Dodge Grand Caravan, Chrysler Town & Country, Nissan Quest, and Kia Sedona are big passenger vehicles, most stretching past 16 1/2 feet in overall length. If you need a true mini-van, you might consider the Mazda5, which is sized more like European family vans.
For many uses, and especially for carrying people, a Honda Odyssey or one of its competitors makes more sense than a full-size sport-utility or crossover. A minivan often handles better and is generally more space- and fuel-efficient. The Odyssey is less expensive than a luxury SUV, gets better fuel economy, and has more cargo room, with greater flexibility in how the space is configured.
Unless you need all-wheel drive or you tow a big car or boat, the Odyssey should work nicely. Odyssey’s third-row seats set a new standard in legroom, with as much space as the front seats in a Cadillac Escalade, or even the Odyssey itself.
Honda’s 248-horsepower V6 engine and 6-speed automatic transmission lead the class in fuel economy without lagging in performance. Active cylinder management lets the engine run on 3, 4 or 6 cylinders as needed, improving fuel efficiency. Specifically, the EPA estimates Honda’s minivan at 19 mpg in city driving and 28 mpg on the highway (22 mpg combined).
Comfort and poise are excellent, even with six large people on board. Six airbags, including three-row side curtains, are standard. Blind-spot and lane-departure warnings, Honda’s LaneWatch right-side camera view, and forward collision warning are optional.
Odyssey’s main competition is the Toyota Sienna, which offers more choices with a four-cylinder engine, a sport model and available all-wheel drive; Sienna does not offer eight seats, however. Dodge Grand Caravan and Nissan Quest are the primary alternatives to the Honda and Toyota, and Kia has redesigned its Sedona for the 2015 model year.
The Honda Odyssey got longer and wider in its 2011 revision, resulting in good aerodynamics. Refreshed styling for 2014 added new premium elements. Highlights included new black-trimmed headlights, new fog lights, a more muscular-looking hood, a black-surround grille, new body-color side mirrors, more bright trim, revised rear styling, and LED taillights with clear lenses. Weight savings came from the use of aluminum for the hood, front fenders and front-suspension lower control arms.
The LX model features 17-inch steel wheels with premium covers, while EX and EX-L models utilize 17-inch premium aluminum alloy wheels. Touring and Touring Elite models feature 18-inch premium sport aluminum alloy wheels.
Odyssey is within a couple inches of its competitors in every measure. The grille and headlamps appear to be a cross between the Honda Insight and Civic, and the Toyota Sienna. Odyssey’s looks are somewhat daring by class standards, but boxy minivan architecture, function and mission all conspire to limit styling. Touring models have aero rocker panels and mirrors, as well as larger wheels.
One distinctive visual feature is the drop at the bottom of the window line, behind the sliding doors. They call it the lightning-bolt look, a bit of an exaggeration, but it does break up the monotony and improves the view from the third row.
The front and rear door handles are paired in a mild recess, almost reminiscent of a Rolls-Royce with rear-hinged rear doors. The sliding doors and hatch can be opened with the touch of a button.
The roofline looks something like a tent pulled taut over a stake, similar to that of the Acura MDX, or even the late Mercedes R-Class. Taillights use clear lens signals with amber bulbs for visual pop without the expense of LED lamps. A spoiler atop the hatch is standard, and the power tailgate (EX-L and above) has pinch protection. Roof rails are a dealer accessory.
It may look the same as previous Odysseys, but the 2014 model got a revised body structure underneath for improved crash and rollover protection. At this writing, no van has tested better.
The ultimate gadget for many will be the Odyssey Touring Elite’s built-in vacuum cleaner. A leading consumer publication that knows about vacuum cleaners approved, and we tried dirt, Goldfish, gummy bears and M&Ms without issue. The vacuum looks and feels like a high-quality unit, with a long, high-quality hose and carpet and crevice tools. Pulling it out and re-stowing it is delightfully quick and easy.
On Odysseys with leather, you can get DVD rear-seat entertainment. On the Touring Elite it’s a 16-inch HDMI widescreen that shows side-by-side images or one panorama, using 650 watts driving 12 speakers in 5.1 surround sound. If someone ever asks, Are we there yet? you won’t hear them.
It’s easy to see why the Honda Odyssey is called a benchmark. When it comes to road manners, it’s the most refined of its kind. When it grew in 2011, it also got tighter.
The 3.5-liter V6 is smooth, quiet, and efficient. All versions use a 6-speed automatic, so EPA ratings are 19/28 miles per gallon across the line. Over thousands of very hard miles, our unit had averaged more than 19 mpg; our personal experience was 17 mpg in town and 28 mpg cruising at 65-75 mph. Odyssey’s EPA ratings beat the six-cylinder Toyota Sienna, Nissan Quest, and Chrysler Town & Country, none of them better than 19/25 mpg. The Odyssey’s V6 has higher EPA ratings than a four-cylinder Sienna.
Odyssey comes with an excellent 6-speed automatic transmission. It shifts quickly and smoothly as needed. The transmission lacks a sport mode, but we don’t think it’s needed. If using lower gears in snow or ice, we recommend selecting them from a standstill.
Vans generally handle better than people expect. They’re often more stable than SUVs, because their center of gravity is lower. Among minivans, the Odyssey is one of the best combinations of benign, predictable handling and smooth ride quality. Fully loaded, an Odyssey splits the weight almost perfectly among all wheels, so handling behavior doesn’t change significantly.
The steering is light on center, and weights up with cornering effort. It’s direct without being overly quick, gives good feel for the front tires, and can pull a U-turn in 36.7 feet, which is very good for a big box. We found the Odyssey corners like a heavy, front-wheel-drive sedan: stable, predictable and secure. The electronic stability control is not invasive; on the one occasion we managed to reach the limit, it gently and quietly put things back on the ideal course.
The Odyssey rides like a big sedan, too, admirably soaking up bumps. The Toyota Sienna is stiffer but, compared to the Odyssey, it feels rubbery, leaving the driver slightly less connected and passengers rolling more. Among the vans, the Sienna Sport is the one we’d put closest to a driver’s car.
The brakes also have good feel, unfazed by our downhill charges. No van is tuned for sports-car handling, but that didn’t stop us from trying sports-car roads and parking-lot autocross courses. That tells you something about how it would behave in an emergency maneuver.
The Odyssey doesn’t offer all-wheel drive, so it’s not a van for places with lots of snow. The Toyota Sienna is available with AWD.
The Honda Odyssey seats plenty of people, has a vast cargo capacity, excellent room, and is chock full of storage places and good ideas for convenience. Its crash ratings are the best of any minivan. Honda’s V6 is smooth and efficient, with excellent fuel economy. The handling and ride are sweet. The Odyssey can be equipped for full-tilt style and fun, with a rear-seat entertainment system. For most people, the Honda Odyssey is a better vehicle than a crossover SUV.
G.R. Whale and Sam Moses contributed to this NewCarTestDrive.com report.