Minivans were originally intended to be purpose-built, uber-practical people carriers that could accommodate kids, cargo and all the accoutrements of family life.
They still do that, but somewhere along the line they grew up and became more refined and sophisticated – none more than the Honda Odyssey.
In 2014, it received minor updates and refinements that carry over into 2015. It now has a six-speed automatic transmission, a lane departure warning system, push-button start and blind-spot detection.
These features are common in the upper end of the industry, but the Odyssey Touring version also has its own in-car vacuum cleaner system. Located in the rear compartment is a built-in vacuum with a reach of about two metres.
Don't expect to suck up spilled liquids or anything coarser than sand or granola, but for the small stuff, it works well. A small canister can be removed and emptied after each session.
Like all self-respecting people-carriers, the Odyssey has decent safety credentials. The U.S.-based National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives it its top "five-star" rating and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives it a "top safety pick" for front-end offset collisions. For many buyers, this can be a deal-maker.
Where the Odyssey really shines is its driveability. Despite its sensible-shoes trappings, this is a lively, roadworthy, eight-passenger hauler that will keep up with all but the most powerful sports sedans. You won't find a better highway vehicle in this category. The 3.5-litre V-6 has been around for years and it's as good now as when it was introduced back in 1999. Plenty of reserve power, smooth in operation, well-behaved, with decent fuel economy. It develops 248 horsepower, which is not the highest in the minivan market, but nonetheless important if you carry a full load of passengers and cargo regularly. It feels livelier than the Dodge Grand Caravan, for example, which boasts 283 horsepower.
Although it lacks Chrysler's innovative Stow 'n Go seating, the Odyssey provides several seating combinations, and the middle-row seats can be re-arranged to accommodate three passengers. Convenience items include a rear passenger entertainment system, back-up camera, front beverage compartment, and connectivity with e-mail and texting capability.
And perhaps in an effort to compete with Dodge's top-selling Grand Caravan Canada Value package, the 2015 Odyssey is available in a bottom-of-the-range LX trim package, bringing the number of versions to six. At $29,990 to start, the Odyssey LX is priced well above the Grand Cavavan's $21,000 base sticker price, but for refinement and flat-out driver friendliness, it's money well-spent.
- Base price: $29,990; as tested $47,990
- Engine: 3.5 litre V-6
- Transmission: Six-speed automatic
- Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 10.9 city; 7.1 highway
- Alternatives: Toyota Sienna, Dodge Grand Caravan, Chrysler Town and Country
- Looks: It’s a box. Park it beside a Sienna and it’s hard to tell them apart.
- Interior: Excellent ergonomics/switchgear. Easy access everywhere. Still doesn’t have seats that disappear into the floor, though.
- Performance: Arguably the best handling/performing minivan on the market.
- Technology: Variable cylinder management and blind spot warning/lane departure, all good features. Oh, and a built-in vacuum cleaner.
- Cargo: There’s room for everyone.
Not the cheapest minivan on the market, but is perhaps the most driveable.
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