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2015 Honda Odyssey Test Drive Review
The problem with minivans is that they look like minivans. Lacking the curves, bulges, ellipses, and sweeps that attract the eye and capture the imagination, minivans can’t sell on style, and style matters.
Although the 2015 Honda Odyssey has greater flair for design than other vehicles like it, this remains a tool primarily of the parenthood trade. It serves a function and satisfies a requirement, in the process making life as a mom or dad easier. Plus, the Odyssey is a safety rock star. But the moment that it makes sense to sell it, you will.
Look and Feel
I have a theory that centuries from now, as archaeologists dig up relics from this era, they will come across a Honda Odyssey and determine that it was the perfect device in which Homo sapiens of this millennium could transport their family units. But they will also be mystified as to why so many other family units instead employed alternate modes of conveyance.
For the answer to that question, they will need to turn to an anthropologist. The anthropologist will deduce, from the mountain of evidence left on crude little communication devices, that even though the minimus vanimus was the most efficiently packaged and utilitarian genus of automobile, the people of the 21st century simply could not accept the character traits ascribed by society to those who owned and drove them.
Take my situation as a case in point. I’m a suburb-dwelling mother of two. My kids are still pretty young, but almost certainly soccer-practice carpools and Bunco tourneys with my capri-pants-clad mom friends loom large in my future. If my husband had his way, we would have a minivan in our driveway right now. Instead, we have a crossover SUV, and one without a third row of seats.
For me, this preference for the almighty crossover is a matter of size. I simply don’t need an 8-passenger vehicle right now. While I appreciate having minivans as test vehicles, from behind the driver’s seat they feel empty and vast, much like a cavern, and I don’t enjoy driving them.
Still, for many families in my milieu, there’s simply no substitute for the convenience and functionality of a minivan, and these people recognize practicality and utility for what they are. Apparently, they’re also willing to spend major money dressing up their mommy- and daddy-mobiles.
As evidence, look no further than my test vehicle for this review, a 2015 Honda Odyssey Touring Elite wearing a window sticker of $45,480 (including the $880 destination charge). It was equipped with every possible feature you can imagine, and then some.
Another problem with minivans is that they look like minivans. They’re basically boxes on wheels, angled on one end, in order to provide maximum interior volume. Lacking the curves, bulges, ellipses, and sweeps that attract the eye and capture the imagination, minivans can’t sell on style, and style matters.
For a minivan, though, the latest version of the Honda Odyssey looks futuristic. You could never call one sexy or sleek without an accompanying tone of sarcasm. Neither can the Odyssey be called brawny, rugged, or adventurous, as SUVs often appear.
Don’t look for such traits within an Odyssey, either. Even when fully loaded, like my test vehicle, minivans can’t help but emphasize function over form. (Though I must admit that the Truffle-colored leather was quite nice.)
Thus, future anthropologists may conclude that those members of ancient civilizations who drove minivans had the stoutest of hearts among the tribe, as they were willing to brave the mockery of others in order to drive the best vehicle available for transporting their families. And with respect to people who selected the Odyssey, which provides a compelling cocktail of comfort, safety, features, and functionality, it might be further assumed that they were amongst the most intelligent members of the society.
No one buys a minivan because it’s going to be a blast to drive. Perhaps because the bar is set low when it comes to enjoyment, it's a pleasant surprise to discover that Honda imbues its Odyssey with relatively sharp driving dynamics.
Beneath the Odyssey’s angled hood, a strong, broad-shouldered 3.5-liter V6 engine makes 248 hp and 250 lb-ft of torque. That doesn’t sound like much for a 4,613-pound vehicle, especially one designed to carry so many people, yet the Odyssey Elite makes quick work of highway merges, and even when packed with passengers, it doesn’t run out of breath too early in the game. The engine proves refined, too, generating little in terms of noise within the cabin.
Power is delivered to the front wheels through a 6-speed automatic that takes a bit of coaxing to produce a downshift, but otherwise proves swift and speedy in terms of changing gears. Honda does not offer an all-wheel-drive option for the Odyssey. If you want a minivan with that feature, shop for a Toyota Sienna.
Official EPA fuel economy estimates peg the Odyssey at 22 mpg in combined driving, but I averaged just 19.3 despite spending plenty of time driving on the highway. Honda’s Variable Cylinder Management (VCM) technology is supposed to shut some engine cylinders off under certain conditions in order to conserve fuel, but perhaps that feature didn’t have much chance to engage while the van was in my care.
Around town, the Odyssey is agreeable, with light steering for working the wheel in parking lots. The suspension soaks up most bumps and ruts, producing a relatively serene ride. Unexpectedly, given the type of vehicle it is, the Odyssey can also hustle down a canyon road. This surprise-and-delight athleticism is common among Hondas, though, along with clear levels of communication between vehicle, road, and driver.
Surprise and dismay describe my reactions to the amount of creaking in the cabin when I drove the Odyssey over speed bumps. Having recently sampled both the new 2015 Kia Sedona and the reformulated 2015 Toyota Sienna, I found that the Odyssey exhibited more structural flex than its primary competitors. This perception, however, appears not to impact the Honda’s ability to protect its passengers, as evidenced in the Safety section below.
Form and Function
Minivans are triumphs of function over form, designed to carry people and things in the most efficient possible way. Here, the Odyssey excels.
Starting with the Honda’s ability to carry cargo, with all 3 rows of seats raised and in use, you’ll have 38.4 cubic feet of space behind the third-row seat. For context, that’s nearly the amount of space found behind the second-row seat in many midsize crossover SUVs.
Tuck the third-row seat into its storage well, and you’ve got 93.1 cubic feet of cargo space behind the second-row seats. That’s more space than a Chevy Suburban offers and greater capacity than midsize crossover SUVs typically can provide with all rear seats folded down.
Choose to unlatch the Odyssey’s second-row seats and store them in the garage, and this minivan supplies a maximum of 148.5 cubic feet of cargo capacity. That’s more than any full-size SUV can offer.
These numbers are impressive, and the space is functionally configured. That deep well behind the third-row seat easily accommodates a productive run to Target, and there are almost too many bins and holders to count, all there to keep your things organized and in place. On certain trim levels, Honda even supplies a refrigerated compartment to keep your drinks chilled. Outstanding.
Honda renders this utopia of utility in a range of durable, high-quality materials. The leather in my test vehicle was soft and supple. The dashboard and its controls exuded thoughtfulness and attention to detail. Still, the Odyssey, even in Touring Elite trim, neither looks nor feels as premium and upscale as the latest rendition of a top-end Toyota Sienna.
Comfort levels are high. An Odyssey’s driver will most likely be happy with the comfortable, heated seats and their wide range of adjustments, the terrific outward visibility, and all the space for stashing stuff in the huge center console.
The front passenger might bemoan the lack of a seat-height adjuster. Then again, that person will likely be too busy making goo-goo eyes at the new baby in the center section of the second-row seat, which slides up to 5 inches closer to the front seats for easier access, to even notice.
To say that second-row passengers will be content would be an understatement, given all the Touring Elite’s entertainment and comfort amenities, along with oodles of space. Three adults will be perfectly fine there.
Naturally, the third-row seat will be a bit tighter, but thanks to generosity demonstrated by people sitting in the second-row seats, and second-row seats designed to scoot up a bit, you’ll be shuttling a happy crew.
Honda stuffs the Odyssey full of the technology that modern families want. Well, mostly. The Touring Elite is equipped with a dual-screen infotainment system that has HondaLink first-generation connectivity and services. That means it supports Bluetooth calling and music streaming, text messaging and email capability, and a smartphone app that literally provides a world of entertainment choices.
What’s missing is the HondaLink Assist technology that’s a part of the next-generation version of the system. With HondaLink Assist, it’s easy to contact 9-1-1 and get help, a natural fit for a vehicle designed to carry families. Honda ought to find a way to install this technology in this minivan, and not just for the most expensive versions.
I also can’t say that I’m a huge fan of the Odyssey’s dual-screen approach to navigation, radio, and infotainment features. The top screen is not touch sensitive, while the bottom screen is. Graphics are inconsistent between the two, and I have trouble remembering which screen and set of controls operates what.
My children always love it when a test car has a rear entertainment system. The Odyssey Touring Elite contains one that you can use as a wide-screen or a split-screen display. The latter feature allows one kid to watch a movie while the other plays a video game by connecting a console to the HDMI and AV input jacks. This way, everyone gets along.
Unless you have more than two kids, that is. Then a war ensues. But that’s okay, because you can hit the front audio button while the kids don their headphones, crank up the Touring Elite’s 650-watt, 12-speaker, Surround Sound audio system, and drown out the shrieks of indignation. They’ll tire out. Eventually.
The Touring Elite also includes an onboard vacuum system with a 10-foot reach for on-the-go tidying up, a segment exclusive feature. It seems more than a little bit OCD to really want and use this hand vac on steroids, but I suppose it comes in handy for Cheerio disasters. What would be really cool is a wet vac for dispatching evidence of digestive upsets.
You love your family. You want to keep the people you love as safe as you possibly can. Driving a Honda Odyssey gives you the best possible odds when it comes to avoiding accidents and, in a case when a crash is unavoidable, minimizing injuries.
Depending on the trim level, the Odyssey features forward-collision warning (albeit not of the automatic-braking variety), lane-departure warning, and a multi-angle rear-view camera, all working together to avoid common collisions. The Touring Elite is the only Odyssey that offers a traditional blind-spot monitoring system, which replaces the moronic LaneWatch system that other Odysseys get. By replacing LaneWatch on the most expensive version of this minivan, it’s almost like Honda recognizes that LaneWatch is an inferior system.
If you do crash, know that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives the 2015 Odyssey a 5-star rating in all impact-related tests. The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) agrees that this is a safe vehicle, designating the Odyssey a Top Safety Pick in terms of the Odyssey’s ability to protect its passengers in a collision.
Beyond these ratings, it is worth highlighting a telling fact. The IIHS recently released data regarding driver death rates in various vehicles, the results of a sampling covering the past three years. None have died in a Honda Odyssey. Not one. The Odyssey is one of only 9 vehicles sold in America that can make that claim.
Those are odds you should bet on.
For all of its awesomeness, the Honda Odyssey has trouble making a strong value case for itself. In terms of quality, reliability, dependability, and costs associated with ownership, this minivan is relentlessly average according to owners who share their experiences with Consumer Reports and J.D. Power.
The Odyssey does, however, retain a good chunk of its original cost over time, which means two things. First, affordable leasing deals are usually available. Second, if you buy one, you’ll get a decent amount of money out of an Odyssey when you sell it.
And sell it you will, just as soon as your kids leave home to start a life of their own, for ownership of minimus vanimous is all about practicality, and not at all about expressing personality.
Liz Kim has worked within the world of cars for 15 years, at various points reviewing and writing about, or analyzing and marketing, everything automotive. It’s no wonder that she married a fellow automotive journalist. Liz can be found examining and assessing the latest vehicles when she’s not busy keeping the peace between, and the schedule for, her two young daughters.
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