Its fantastic driving dynamics and awesome versatility make it a must-have for any active family.
There are few vehicles that get less respect than a minivan. For years, they have been the epitome of adulthood saddled down with responsibilities and devoid of any fun. They are seen as the kind of vehicle you buy when you give up all of your coolness and decide to be a soccer mom or dad ferrying anywhere from one to six kids around. This is pretty unfortunate, because after testing the 2019 Honda Odyssey Touring, it was pretty plain to see that this people carrier was a fantastic vehicle, regardless of what societal pressures and norms are put on it.
While the base LX Odyssey starts at $35,490, the tested van in question here is the top trim Touring, which rings in at $50,890 and comes loaded with all the kit and caboodle that a minivan should come with. While all Odysseys come with eight passenger seating, the Touring gets bits such as a HondaVAC in-car vacuum system(!), power sliding doors and tailgate (with programmable height settings), a power moonroof, Blu-ray rear entertainment, “CabinTalk” in-car PA system, leather seats, a heated steering wheel, navigation, LED headlights, and 19-inch wheels. Since Honda equips their cars by trim level, no further options are available (other than dealer installed accessories) other than $300 extra if you want a White Diamond Pearl paint job.
Inside, there isn’t really much of a comparison to a similarly sized sport utility vehicle. While it’s a few inches longer than a Pilot (reviewed here), second and third row seating room is much more generous anywhere you sit, and cargo capacity is much larger. There’s 3,973, 2,452, and 929 litres (140.3, 86.6, 32.8 cubic feet) behind the first, second, and third rows, respectively, compared to a Pilot’s 3,072, 1,583, and 510 litres (108.5, 55.9, 18.0 cubic feet). When families have to haul people and their stuff, the Odyssey wins hands down.
There were at least a couple furniture pickup runs during our week of testing, and Honda’s minivan was able to accommodate a dining room hutch and cabinet set without complaint – not possible in most any other SUV of a similar size. The powered tailgate and sliding doors come in real handy, and are also operable from the either the driver’s seat or the keyless remote. One gripe would be that the second row of seating does not fold into the floor, and the second-row captain’s chairs and centre seat must be removed entirely if need be. While most able-bodied people are able to lift each of the three pieces by themselves, it can get a little awkward and a second set of hands is usually a good idea. Only Chrysler’s Stow ’n Go seating has a folding second row, but the Pacifica (reviewed here) and Grand Caravan’s seating isn’t quite as comfortable due to the design compromises required.
Adding fuel to the practicality fire, the Odyssey Touring’s fifteen-cupholder interior comes chock full of features that many families will find useful. The rear seat entertainment system takes Blu-ray discs and has an HDMI input port for playing off your own devices or for connecting gaming consoles. The built-in CabinTalk PA system is useful for threatening homeward van turn-arounds to both your kids and adult boomerang children, and the overhead sunglasses compartment doubles as a convex mirror that’s suitable for even the most stern finger-wagging.
For powering gadgets and accessories, each row has at least one 12-volt power outlet, and there’s also a 115-volt AC outlet up front. The HondaVAC isn’t particularly powerful, but will suck up all sorts of random messes and dust bunnies that get left behind. Sadly, the refrigerated Cool Box does not make a comeback from the previous 2017 and earlier generation.
In the area of infotainment, there is the latest Hondalink implementation amongst sport utilities, and you’ll find a very similar setup in the Pilot and new Passport (reviewed here). While there aren’t any many uber-functional buttons flanking the screens as compared to the Accord four-door sedan, a proper volume knob and dedicated buttons for heating and air conditioning are more than welcome touches. The menu system is a bit cumbersome and not the most intuitive, but Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone connectivity standardize things to be great for usability. The button-based shifter for PRND functions is a bit odd, but is one of the few foolproof yet aesthetically implementations in the industry.
Propelling the Odyssey and all its contents forward is a 3.5-litre V6 engine, and while the block family itself has been around for over two decades, it is still the smoothest and most fun minivan or small/midsize SUV engine on the market today. Peak output is 280 horsepower at 6,000RPM, and peak torque is 262 lb-ft at 4,700RPM. For the sportier Honda enthusiasts, VTEC (Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control) is present on this sweet singing V6, and a cutover to a hotter camshaft profile happens at around 5,400RPM.
Once this happens, the minivan pulls with intense fervor towards redline, and – nobody will believe us until they try it – it sounds like an old Acura NSX when it does so. Furthermore on the cutover versus peak power and torque ratings, one can infer that VTEC gives the best of both worlds – horsepower peak happens on the hot cam, and peak torque happens on the more civilized one. In either case, power deliver is as smooth as it gets.
Coupled to the Odyssey Touring, specifically, is a ten-speed automatic transmission. All lower trims make do with a nine-speed, which isn’t exactly a shortage of cogs to choose from, either. The Touring’s ten-speed shifts well, without feeling like it’s constantly shifting and hunting for the right gear. While performance can be increased by spacing each of the ten gears more effectively, one large motivation is for an improvement in fuel economy. Rated consumption is up by a few percentage points to 12.2L/100KM in the city and 8.5L/100KM on the highway.
Curiously, the nine-speed vans do marginally better on the highway (8.4L/100KM), and worse in the city (12.6L/100KM); this likely boils down to a slightly higher cruising RPM on the Touring. Observed economy over a week of mixed driving netted 11.1L/100km. A start-stop system is employed to save fuel in heavier traffic, and Honda’s implementation lets you more finely tune whether you want the engine to stay on or shut off. Stopping with light brake pedal pressure keeps the engine on (say, at a stop sign), and putting the pedal down turns the engine off (say at a red light). Tank capacity is 73.8 litres, and regular octane fuel is acceptable.
Out on the road, the 2019 Odyssey rides as well as it drives. With well-weighted steering that keeps the driver engaged, the suspension and brake tuning makes the big Honda drive a lot more nimbly and – dare we say, fun – in all conditions, rain or shine. Despite this, ride quality is very good, and the cabin is whisper quiet at any speed. To keep occupants safe, today’s modern safety suite of driver assist features make up the Honda Sensing system, which includes forward collision warning with automated braking, lane departure warning with lane keep steering assist, road departure mitigation system, automatic high beams, and adaptive cruise control. These systems can intervene quicker and more effectively than even the most seasoned and safe drivers, and so are a good safety net to have.
Despite having much fancier and sportier vehicles present during our test week, it was all smiles after getting out of the 2019 Honda Odyssey Touring. Its fantastic driving dynamics and awesome versatility make it a must-have for any active family, regardless of how it makes you look. The real cool factor here is having the best vehicle that can be had for a given amount of money, and for fifty large, you’ll probably spend more on a comparable SUV. While the Odyssey doesn’t have all-wheel drive, an impromptu March snowstorm didn’t faze its front-wheel drive – winter tires are your best friend here. Simply put, get a sport utility if you want to look like you know what you’re doing. Get the Odyssey if you actually do know what you’re doing.