The Honda Odyssey is the minivan to beat, if you consider design flair or driving pleasure. It is a bit long in the tooth, having last been redesigned for the 2011 model year, but it still ranks near the top of a small class.
Odyssey offers fuel economy that nearly matches that of a sedan. Honda’s 3.5-liter V6 engine develops 248 horsepower and 250 pound-feet of torque, mating with a 6-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel drive. The Toyota Sienna is the only minivan that offers all-wheel drive.
Odyssey has plenty of reserve power to provide brisk passing, even when carrying a full load. It blends ride comfort with responsive handling, though the ride is a tad firm.
Occupants can expect a surprisingly quiet and refined experience. Active noise cancellation and active engine mounts squelch excessive road noise, as well as any vibrations emanating from the fuel-saving cylinder deactivation system.
Odyssey’s seating layout is more reconfigurable than most. An available split second row lets outboard seats move toward the doors, yielding greater room for hips and shoulders. Second- and third-row seats can also be repositioned, to ease access to the back row or add space for second-row occupants. An Odyssey also offers greater flexibility in terms of positioning child safety seats.
Touring Elite models get the HondaLink infotainment suite, which uses a smartphone app to access Internet-based entertainment. Standard on Touring Elite and the new SE (Special Edition) is the helpful HondaVAC. Co-developed with Shop-Vac, it’s a vacuum cleaner that resides in the cargo area, and never needs to be charged or plugged in.
A clear standout in safety, Odyssey is among a handful of large vehicles that have earned top crash-test rating from both safety agencies: the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). NHTSA gives Odyssey a five-star overall rating, while IIHS names it a Top Safety Pick, including Good ratings in each of five tests that were conducted.
Each trim level has a standard rearview camera. All but the base LX get Honda’s LaneWatch camera, which puts an image of the blind spot into the right-hand mirror when you signal for a right turn or lane change. EX-L trims and above include lane-departure and forward-collision warnings. To get blind-spot monitoring, you have to pick the Touring Elite.
The 2016 Honda Odyssey LX ($29,275) includes air conditioning; power windows, locks, and mirrors; rearview camera; seven-speaker stereo with subwoofer; Bluetooth; eight-inch information screen; 2 GB of audio storage; and 17-inch steel wheels. Odyssey EX ($32,425) includes tri-zone climate control, heated mirrors, HomeLink, second-row sunshades, LaneWatch, conversation mirror, and 17-inch alloy wheels.
Odyssey SE ($33,375) gets the HondaVAC, satellite radio, and rear-seat DVD.
Odyssey EX-L ($35,925) adds heated leather-trimmed seats, a moonroof, and cooling box, plus active lane-departure and forward-collision warnings. EX-L w/RES ($37,525) adds a rear entertainment system. EX-L w/Navi ($37,925) adds navigation. Touring ($42,180) adds front/rear parking sensors, a driver-seat memory, foglamps, rear entertainment, and 18-inch wheels. Touring Elite ($44,750) adds blind-spot detection, a 650-watt surround-sound system with 12 speakers, HID headlights, and HondaVAC.
The Odyssey is visually more interesting than your run-of-the-mill minivan. Its unique profile, with an arched roofline, sets it apart from its rivals. Taken as a whole, with chrome carefully applied, the overall design balances one-box practicality against a certain sense of style.
Not only does the lightning bolt along the bodyside attract the eye, it helps improve outward views for rear passengers. Little windows ahead of the mirrors convey a mildly futuristic look, though they don’t do much for visibility. At the rear, the body appears markedly more sculpted and flared than is customary. An Odyssey is a little wider than usual, too. Add a bold grille and deeply sculpted hood, and the Odyssey becomes almost one-of-a-kind in the minivan arena.
Inside, the Odyssey appears more utilitarian, but it delivers the attributes that minivan shoppers seek: comfort, space, and versatility. The upright instrument panel has a familiar look, in a simple layout that uses large controls.
Seats are comfortable in each position, though those up front lack both back and lateral support. Still, they’re quite wide, which helps provide sufficient comfort for everyday use.
Second and third rows can slide fore and aft, though the middle row doesn’t fold into the floor. Second row seats also slide outward, actually changing available width. Adults of average height fit in the third row, at least for short trips, though seats feels somewhat low. Cushioning falls short of the front rows, too, though the folding mechanism works well..
With both rear rows folded, space is sufficient for two ten-foot 2×4 studs, or 4×8-foot plywood sheets. Up front in some models are a cooler box and a trash-bag ring. Interior materials are easy to wipe clean, too. All told, the interior is surprisingly quiet and refined.
Available rear-seat DVD entertainment includes a 16.2-inch screen that can be split in half to show separate presentations.
And the vacuum cleaner works well, we recommend it.
Delight isn’t a typical description of the minivan experience, but it applies to the Odyssey. In addition to nicely-tuned ride and handling behavior, Honda’s minivan responds briskly, able to reach 60 mph in about 8.8 seconds. That’s about par for a minivan, but Odyssey feels even swifter.
Drivers can savor a variety of carlike attributes, as the Odyssey inspires confidence at every step: steering, accelerating, braking, and lane-changing. Honda’s transmission smoothly delivers quick, decisive shifts when accelerating rapidly, though gear-changes can occasionally be balky when driving more leisurely. Only an L mode and an Overdrive-off button are provided; no paddle shifters.
Handling almost like a V6 Accord, the Odyssey can run through corners with controlled poise, but little harshness. Sensibly-tuned, isolated subframes help eliminate any secondary motions that could make for a queasy ride. Variable-displacement power steering is weighted well and provides a bit of feedback from the road.
Honda claims best-in-class fuel economy, EPA-rated at 19/28 mpg City/Highway. That’s significantly better than top competitors like the Dodge Caravan and Toyota Sienna.
The Honda Odyssey is among the most enjoyable of the minivans, though it is priced higher than the competition, and is not the newest design.
Driving impressions by The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.