The minivan’s place in the family vehicle scheme of things has largely been usurped by crossovers and SUVs, of which we bought almost half a million last year compared with fewer than 90,000 small vans, but that’s still a significant number and means many Canadians are still making a case for buying vehicles such as Honda’s Odyssey Touring.
The major crossover action is in the compact segment, which almost hit the 300,000 mark in 2011. But while these vehicles offer a number of pluses, passenger and cargo room aren’t among them compared to what vans and mid-size crossovers or SUVs can offer.
And many families obviously feel the need to carry up to eight people or have the option of transporting a shipping container-like load of stuff, which means a van or a larger crossover or SUV is what they’ll be shopping for.
It appears Honda customers are convincing themselves of the minivan’s benefits right in the company’s showrooms, from which it sold 4,366 of its mid-size Pilot crossovery-SUVs last year and 9,060 Odysseys. Why they chose the van might provide clues as to why those shopping other makes might want to opt for one over a crossover as well.
It’s doubtful style or the lack of it played a significant role in the choice, other than if you buy into the perceived wisdom that a vehicle like the Pilot has a higher “cool” factor than a minivan. They both look fine but, well, they are what they are. Nobody’s going to ooh-and-aah when you drive by in one. Although, to my eye, the Odyssey is the better-looking of the two.
Price might have been a factor with this pair of Hondas as the Odyssey starts at $29,990 and the Pilot at $34,920 (with two-wheel-drive). But moving up the model range, you climb the monetary scale rapidly, peaking in the luxuriously equipped Touring versions of each, with the van listing at $47,090 and the crossover at $48,520. Both offer a similar and fairly high level of equipment in base form, and more or less match at the top level.
Of course, the Odyssey and Toyota’s Sienna (which sold about a thousand more units last year) are priced at a premium compared to Chrysler’s offerings, which dominate the segment. Dodge’s Caravan is easily one of the best family-vehicle values in the marketplace with prices starting at less than $20,000.
In terms of size, the Odyssey is bigger than the Pilot, putting 5,152 mm between its bumpers versus 4,861 mm, but they both weight about 2,100 kilograms. It’s their shape that dictates their relative usefulness with the Pilot having a total interior volume of 4,324 litres and the Odyssey 4,817 litres.
Both can nominally seat eight, but third-row occupants in both won’t like the experience much, although those in the Odyssey can get in and out more easily and might not complain at quite as high a volume.
Not surprisingly, it’s in cargo capability that the van wins hands down, providing 1,087 litres behind the third-row seat, 2,636 litres behind the second row and, with all stowed, a total of 4,205 litres. The Pilot has 581 litres behind the third seat, 1,351 behind the centre seat and a total of 2,464 litres. The story is similar with other crossovers.
And, as is the case with all minivans, passengers and cargo can be boarded through wide sliding side doors and a large hatch at the rear versus swing-open doors and a smaller hatch with the Pilot. If you’re serious about practicality and versatility, the van is a clear winner.
Both vehicles are equipped with a 3.5-litre, single-overhead-cam V-6 that in the Odyssey is rated at 248 hp and 250 lb-ft of torque and, in the Pilot, at 250 hp and 253 lb-ft of torque. The Pilot comes with a five-speed automatic as does the Odyssey, but the Touring version of the latter gets a six-speed automatic.
Overall performance is similar, with no shortage of power in either. But the Odyssey delivers better fuel economy with ratings of 10.9 litres/100 km city and 7.1 highway versus 12.3 city/8.2 highway for the Pilot.
The Pilot does offer a couple of distinct advantages, the most obvious being its all-wheel-drive system, more than 50 mm of additional ground clearance and a suspension that allows it to be used to go places that would eviscerate the front-drive van. On the other hand, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the van outhandled the Pilot on the pavement. And with a set of winter tires it will get you through any weather you should be out in. Another Pilot plus is its tow rating of 2,041 kg, while the van can only manage 1,588 kg.
The Odyssey was given a comprehensive redesign for 2011, which means it’s fully up to date in terms of the latest features, but little changed for the 2012 model year.
The Touring edition, with almost $20,000 worth of additional equipment, most of it related to keeping you safe, pampering or amusing you in myriad ways (the mechanical specs, aside from the six-speed and 18-inch wheels, are the same) is a pleasant vehicle. And with its quiet leather-clad interior, comfortable ride and seats and stable highway behaviour, it more than lives up to its “Touring” designation.
After a week with the Odyssey, I can see why buyers might have chosen it over the Pilot. Both are big, heavy, cumbersome vehicles that, while not unpleasant to drive, certainly aren’t what you’d pick unless you felt you really needed the attributes they offer. Given a choice, I’d opt for the Odyssey.
2012 Honda Odyssey Touring
Base Price: $47,090; as tested, $48,730
Engine: 3.5-litre, SOHC, V-6
Horsepower/torque: 248 hp/250 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 10.9 city/ 7.1 highway; regular gas
Alternatives: Chrysler Town & Country/Dodge Grand Caravan, Kia Sedona, Nissan Quest, Toyota Sienna, Volkswagen Routan
Globe rating for the 2012 Honda OdysseyOur ratings guide
A massy feel that seems to absorb road shocks before they impinge on your posterior.
The recent redesign gave it an edgy new shape that hides its utilitarian attributes well.
Loads of features artfully arrayed and easily accessible, and loads of room.
Not very agile, but big and heavy and loaded with safety technology.
If you chose it over similar-sized SUVs, you’d consume less fuel.
(out of 10 / Not an average)
The numerical ratings are assigned by The Globe and Mail’s car reviewers on a scale out of ten. Each car is assigned a separate rating in five key categories - plus an overall satisfaction rating that is calculated separately, and is not an average of the five category ratings.
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