The 2014 Honda Odyssey Touring Elite is the Nimitz-class flagship of the suburbs. Many suggest it’s the only van for enthusiasts, if there can be such a thing. It must be true, there’s even a lightning bolt zapping down the side view and all.
Is the Odyssey the way for you to buy in without selling out?
On the suburban battlefield, the Odyssey demands respect. Honda will tell you it’s the best-selling single nameplate, though that’s likely to end soon. Combine the Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country numbers and the total nearly doubles what the Odyssey shifts. Chrysler is going to consolidate its two vans into a single model, and even if the new Town & Country takes a bit of a sales haircut, there’s plenty of headroom. The Odyssey is likely to lose its single-model sales leadership.
Let’s avoid getting confused with the facts, though. Everyone loves the Odyssey. Motor Trend even went so far as to say it “doesn’t drive much different than our 2013 Honda Accord Sport.” Choose an Odyssey and you’ll even get validation from people who see automobiles as little more than white goods. It’ll wind up in a conversation that also includes front-loading high-efficiency washing machines, refrigerators with snack drawers, and radiant heat in the bathroom.
I expected more supple responses given the way the Odyssey has been talked up. Instead it’s choppy. The Odyssey does handle well, so if you want to slalom, go right ahead. For family-hauling, the Toyota Sienna does a better job being compliant without floating. There is that 3.5 liter, 248 hp V6; a lively engine once you get it revving. Power lags the competition, but only a little, and 250 lb-ft of torque is right in the fight. The six-speed automatic transmission is newly standard across all Odyssey models, and it stays out of the way. The snarl of the V6 is great and the Variable Cylinder Management drops back to four or three cylinders when all six aren’t needed. Thanks to careful tuning and active engine mounts, the VCM system is virtually undetectable.
While I’m not reminded of an Accord, the Odyssey definitely drives like a Honda. The power boost of the rack and pinion steering is too light for my tastes, but probably just right for the buyers. It’s a little numb, too. The brake pedal is solid, easy to modulate, and clamps down on big four-wheel discs. That’s good, because there’s more than 4,000 pounds to stop. The suspension that can be harsh lets you corner with confidence hard enough to rip that ice cream cone right out of little Suzy’s hand and splatter it on the side window. Body roll is well-checked.
You just can’t beat a van for actual usefulness. Two powered sliding doors and a powered rear hatch open up a world of possibilities with ease. Load heights are low and the third row seat can be disappeared into the floor. With the seats stowed, the surface is lumpier than the the Chryslers, and you have to heave the second-row seats out to get the maximum cargo space. Because of its seating arrangement, the Odyssey has longer front seat travel. That’s important because it lets you find a comfortable driving position.
The seating design is flexible, giving you the option of three-across in the second row, or a “wide mode” with a console in between. All three rows are comfortable, though the first and second rows are where it’s at. Pop the second row seats out, stow the third row, which is easy, and 4×8 sheets of material will fit. Who needs a pickup?
The Touring Elite is the most comfortable Odyssey there is. It had better be, because it costs luxury car money. There is no inexpensive Odyssey. The base-model Odyssey LX starts at $28,825. You can step through EX, EX-L, and Touring before you get to the Touring Elite trim level and its $44,450 MSRP. The result of that spending is basically every feature that’s optional on lesser Odyssey trims is standard for the Touring Elite.
That’s all of the things. More climate zones than your house (3), rear DVD system with remote and headphones, even a friggin’ central vacuum. The equipment list reads like a rental property, for crying out loud. Features like a cool box in the center console, power doors and hatch, parking sensors, rear-view camera, and navigation are what other moms and dads will chat you up about at soccer. They’re all fine, and they create profit for Honda. Half of the extra features are more distraction, the other half make the Odyssey easier to use. The hard ones are the controls for the infotainment, a partner in maintaining the peace when there are miles to cover with restless natives aboard.
The electronic support for drivers looks comprehensive on paper. It’s like Honda figured two screens are obviously better than just the single displays the competition offers, and my Odyssey also included blind-spot monitoring and a forward collision warning system. It’s confusing to know where to look for which controls, and some features require the control knob while others are driven via touchscreen. When using the audio screen there’s no tactile feedback, the layout is cramped, and it’s hard to stab the right spot when traveling at speed. It’d still be a bad idea even if the screen were responsive, which it isn’t.
Using Chrysler’s UConnect will make an Odyssey driver fall to their knees, weeping. At least Honda’s attention to detail tries to redeem the Odyssey. The interior materials are good, and even pieces you’d expect to feel flimsy, like the little change cup that folds out of the left side of the dashboard, are solid. While I hated the electronics, I thought the basics of the Odyssey provide firm footing to stand up to the abuse a family will deliver.
Minivans are do-it-all family vehicles, there’s no denying that. There’s only so much styling you can apply to a box on wheels, though the Odyssey does its best with a kink in the side view and crisply-creased surfaces. The Odyssey is most chic van to be seen disgorging your family, and the van scene has really changed since the turn of the century. Honda and Toyota have upped their van games and Chrysler has been the only domestic manufacturer willing to try and keep up.
Still, the Odyssey wouldn’t be my pick. It’s expensive. The electronics and secondary controls are infuriating. When you’re making the ultimate family-vehicle play, it’s going to take some abuse. The Odyssey may be the diamond of the field, but from the 2015 Kia Sedona, to the Chrysler vans, to even the Nissan Quest, there’s a lot of cubic zirconia options that are going to cost less, wear well, and be easier to use.