It’s not often that we have a minivan here on fleet at DoubleClutch.ca, but for every awe-inspiring weekend toy we drive, there has to be a weekday commuter to make the rounds. If you’re an enthusiast with a few kids, you might just find yourself in this market. If I had a boat-load of kids and required something with usable third row seating and enough space to comfortable haul all the paraphernalia that would accompany said kids, where would I look? Having recently spent a solid 5 hours in the third-row of an Acura MDX packed to capacity with luggage, I can tell you that the third row in most full-size SUVs is not exactly ideal for adults. That leaves the minivan segment, and despite the apparent decline the segment has seen over the last decade, all the key players still soldier on and have made some impressive improvement.
Based strictly on styling alone, the Honda Odyssey would likely be at the top of my list for consideration, simply because its exterior seems to be the most removed from the horrid square box minivans of the past. Happily, a dark blue 2014 Honda Odyssey Touring, crammed with every option available, was my tester for the week. Despite its size and tall roofline the Odyssey does look quite fluid; nice 18” alloys with charcoal inserts and projector beam xenon headlamps help to give the Odyssey a more modern and edgy appearance.
When it comes to minivans though, it’s all about what’s inside, and the folks at Honda have clearly put a lot of thought into the interior in the Odyssey. Frankly, I cannot think of one thing I would change about the layout of the interior; I tried every seat in the van and found them all to be exceptionally comfortable, and all finished in equally soft high-quality leather. Every inch of useable space has been maximized to provide the most space for passengers and things, because that’s what really matters in the minivan. Even after driving the Odyssey for days I was still finding new storage bins and convenient little touches that would really help to make the busy lives of parents easier.
My favorite area of the Odyssey is the rear trunk area; the floor is sunken down, which is genius as it helps keep grocery bags and other items standing upright rather than spilling out all over. Additionally, this allows the third row seats to actually flip backwards and fold up right into the recessed area, providing a perfectly flat surface for loading larger cargo. Best of all, Honda has included their new “HondaVac”, a built in vacuum right in the side panel of the trunk, just pull the hose out and push a button to start vacuuming – the wife will never know you used the van to haul home dirty car parts for your latest project!
At a touch under $47,000, the perfectly practical interior in my tester was complimented with most of the comfort features you’d expect at that price point; dual power sliding doors, power moonroof, a great 650-watt stereo, back up camera, voice activated navigation and Honda’s state-of-the-art ultra wide 16.2 inch rear DVD system with wireless headsets – the ultimate way to keep the noise levels down on a roadtrip. However, at this price point, and at the top of the range, I couldn’t help but feel that the Odyssey Touring was missing a couple features that are becoming more and more accessible in common family vehicles, such as a panoramic roof, a heated steering wheel and even some heated rear seats would be appreciated by many cold children on the way to school in the mornings. I am also not a huge fan of the dual-screen infotainment system that Honda has been using across most of their line; it’s just too cumbersome to control and even using the buttons results in notable lag when switching screens. I do however really like the way it’s able to read text messages and respond using a list of preset messages.
If you don’t care about missing out on a couple features, the Odyssey Touring is about as good as it gets from a practically standpoint. But, as an enthusiast, the way it drives is still important, even if it is just a utilitarian minivan. Fortunately, the Odyssey comes with the trusted Honda 3.5L i-VTEC v6, delivering 248 horsepower. The 3.5 is a great choice and it makes light work of getting the big beast moving at a good clip. The 6-speed automatic is also no slouch and does a great job capitalizing on the v6’s power, the odyssey is capable of surprisingly quick acceleration, making highway passing a breeze. It also cruises along on the highway in a very relaxed manner with a comfortable soft ride, while Honda’s Active Noise Cancellation system does a great job keeping the cabin quiet. Leaving the highway is where the Odyssey begins to show its minivan colors; the steering is exceptionally vague, but worse is the actual steering response and input ratios. For example, to make a typical right hand turn in most vehicles you’d expect to turn the steering wheel somewhere between a 1/4 and a 1/2 of a turn, but in the odyssey, you’d be making close to 3/4 of a complete rotation of the wheel, this absolutely takes some getting used to. Body roll is also notable, even on the mildest of bends, which goes a long way to suck fun out of the driving experience.
At the end of the day, if you’re an enthusiast and you need something like this, clearly you’re going to have to make some sacrifices on the driving experience, but I’d remind you that the true joy of any vehicle comes from what it does for you. A sports car can be an escape, it can stir your soul; but for those times when you truly need to be practical a minivan built to handle the demands of a busy family can be just the right thing.
2014 Honda Odyssey Touring