The Minivan Once Again Proves Why It's The Best Vehicle Concept

Timothy Cain
by Timothy Cain

Ten days ago, we were reaching the final stages of a basement semi-renovation that would see GoodCarBadCar’s headquarters moved from the top floor of GCBC Towers to the basement. The new office would make room for a new miniature inhabitant upstairs, create easier outside access for the dog, and carve out greater work/life balance. Ikea is more than a year from opening in our locale, however, so it fell to Mrs. Cain and me to install new shelving. We needed lumber. Lots of it.

Naturally, this calls for a pickup truck. That’s how it works, right? That’s what the marketers tell us. That’s what many of us tell ourselves. That’s what society has led us to believe.

We took our Honda Odyssey instead.

Thus began a 1,000-mile nine-day span in which our long-term 2015 Honda Odyssey would once again prove that minivans make the most sense most of the time.

The trip to Kent — Atlantic Canada’s Irving-owned Home Depot competitor — was only the beginning. The third week of July would be filled by multiple 50-mile round trips between GCBC Towers in Eastern Passage around the Nova Scotia’s capital city of Halifax to Sackville. Then a three-province trip to Prince Edward Island on Thursday for a large family wedding required an airport pickup of some Brits and a test of the Odyssey’s load-lugging abilities. Friday’s drives included a second mid-wedding round trip from Summerside to western PEI because of canine responsibilities. Saturday would take us down unexplored red dirt roads — gasp — without all-wheel drive.

WOOD


Third row folded into the floor, second-row backrests down, second-row middle seat removed, the Odyssey — like its rivals — is cavernous. You may sometimes see an Odyssey parked beside a Pilot or a Sienna beside a Highlander and think, “Those cargo areas are comparable.”

No, they’re not. With the third rows down, the Odyssey offers twice the cargo capacity of the Pilot. Double the space. The Pilot’s space … again.

An eight-foot-long 2×4 fits inside the Odyssey without intruding into the space allotted to front passengers. Eight-foot-long 2x4s make modern crew cab pickup truck beds look tiny.

FUEL


There are nevertheless occasions when a 17-foot-long minivan feels excessive. Mrs. Cain was transporting one child back and forth across town last week with far more vehicle than she required.

But is it really so bad? At 26.1 mpg during those trips, our V6-engined Odyssey wasn’t far off the 27.4 mpg we recorded in a four-cylinder Accord Touring last fall.

Every 50-mile round trip cost only $0.31 extra (at $0.969/liter) in our Odyssey than it would have in that Accord, based on our as-tested mileage. Though our highway mileage rarely exceeds the EPA estimate by a significant margin and often falls short, a big V6 monobox can apparently over-achieve in an urban environment.

AIR


Reconfiguring an interior for periodic pickup-truck duty is convenient — but minivans exist to carry people and stuff. My pregnant wife’s pregnant cousin and her Northern Irish husband were flying in to attend another cousin’s wedding. They’re staying for a month. She’ll also be visiting her two pregnant sisters. Gifts, added to the standard luggage a couple needs to travel away from home for a month, are plentiful. Add to this the luggage of our own family and necessary space for a 70-pound dog and we might just be challenged in anything other than a van.

Crew cab pickup truck with a tonneau? That could work, but then the dog would need space inside the cabin, which isn’t always ideal. But with the third row flat, the Diono Radian RXT in the middle of the second row — yes, there are LATCH anchors in the Odyssey’s middle seat — there was plenty of room for a big dog and boatloads of luggage in the back, two pregnant ladies in the second row, and a school principal and me up front. Try that in your Volvo V60.

We have once again driven our long-term Honda Odyssey to Prince Edward Island. pic.twitter.com/MsJnYIa7wY

— GoodCarBadCar (@GoodCarBadCar) July 21, 2016

(IS)LAND


By Friday, we were 15 minutes away from a wedding reception that was scheduled to start in 10 minutes. Speed limits are low in PEI, never exceeding 56 miles per hour, but in my experience, adherence to those limits is not strictly enforced outside of the middle of the province.

I refuse to talk about the VTEC kicking in. I will, however, say that a Honda V6 is a remarkably smooth bit of kit above 3,500 rpm. The six-speed automatic that’s sometimes flustered in daily driving is on its best behavior when called upon to overtake fast-moving traffic on a rural two-lane. The handling that initially conveys a strong comfort-first sense ends up inspiring far more confidence traversing unanticipated, high-speed, mid-corner bumps that would send a shudder through a body-on-frame truck; another shudder through your soul.

We were still late to the reception, but I had fun trying. We had enjoyed the next day traveling down sandy roads more suitable for Ridgelines, pulling into potato fields for our kind of tourism, driving past a hilariously old FCA dealer, and heading out to Thunder Cove to watch an outrageous thunderstorm while perched on the side of a red cliff.

Ending the all-too-brief “vacation” was more tolerable because of the economics: our 2015 Honda Odyssey averaged 28 miles per gallon while in Prince Edward Island.

Some vehicles do some of these things. Many vehicles do one or two of these things better. But can anything other than a minivan do all the things a minivan can, at this price, with this level of efficiency?

No.

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. Follow on Twitter @goodcarbadcar and on Facebook.

Timothy Cain
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  • Brandloyalty Brandloyalty on Jul 27, 2016

    Were the mileage numbers in this article in US or Imperial mpg? Was the reported mileage done by calculation or taken from the dash readout? And besides l/100km, does the dash readout display in US and/or Imperial mpg?

  • Gaudette Gaudette on Jul 27, 2016

    As soon as I saw the opening photo I knew you were on PEI! Your observations are bang on.

  • Leonard Ostrander Plants don't unionize. People do, and yes, of course the workers should organize.
  • Jalop1991 Here's something EVangelists don't want to talk about, and why range is important: battery warranties, by industry standard, specify that nothing's wrong with the battery, and they won't replace it, as long as it is able to carry 70% or more of its specified capacity.So you need a lot of day 1 capacity so that down the road, when you're at 70% capacity with a "fully functioning, no problem" car, you're not stuck in used Nissan Leaf territory."Nothing to see here, move along."There's also the question of whether any factory battery warranty survives past the original new car owner. So it's prudent of any second owner to ask that question specifically, and absent any direct written warranty, assume that the second and subsequent owners own any battery problems that may arise.And given that the batteries are a HUGE expense, much more so than an ICE, such exposure is equally huge."Nothing to see here, move along."
  • Roger hopkins The car is in Poland??? It does look good tho...
  • Kwik_Shift_Pro4X The push for EV's is part of the increase in our premiums. Any damage near the battery pack and the car is a total loss.
  • Geozinger Up until recently this was on my short list of cars to replace my old car. However, it didn't pass the "knee test" with my wife as her bad knee makes it difficult for her to get in and out of a sedan. I saw a number of videos about the car and it seems like the real deal as a sporting sedan. In addition I like the low price, too, but it was bad luck/timing that we didn't get to pull the trigger on this one.
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