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2016 Honda Odyssey Test Drive Review
The 2016 Honda Odyssey is the gold standard in family haulers. It might not have been the first minivan, but its comfort, features, and flexibility put it at the top of the heap.
Sure, it’s not the stylish sports car you wanted back in the day, but it does the job of ferrying the family and all their stuff with loads of features to keep everyone happy. It also has impressive safety ratings, something that matters more than ever when the vehicle you’re driving is packed full of kids.
Look and Feel
The Odyssey benefitted from an update a few years ago that took its ho-hum minivan styling and gave it a little bit of an edge. Smooth, rounded edges were replaced with more sculpting, lots of angles, a bolder grille, and what they call a lightning-bolt beltline. Look at it from the side and wait a second—you’ll see it. This adds appeal and helps lift the humble minivan from the design doldrums. Just because you’re hauling the kids doesn’t mean you have to be boring.
This year Honda introduces a new trim, the Special Edition (SE), which adds select premium features to a lower, more-affordable trim level. This includes rear-seat entertainment, a 115-volt power outlet, SiriusXM radio, and the HondaVac vacuum cleaner, which will help keep the carpet from becoming nothing more than a collection of stale Cheerios and lost chicken nuggets.
Power comes from a 3.5-liter V6 engine with 248 hp and 250 lb-ft of torque paired to a 6-speed automatic transmission. It delivers fuel economy of 19 mpg city/28 highway/22 combined, making it affordable to drive on long road trips.
There are no fewer than six trim levels, starting with the base LX at $29,275 and moving all the way up to the Touring Elite at $44,750. That’s on the high side for a minivan, but it’s the best-equipped of the lot, and there’s plenty offered in the lower trim levels to make the Odyssey a great value.
The base LX is the only trim that offers seating for 7 rather than 8, but it still includes a mix of useful features. Vehicle stability assist with traction control, antilock brakes, daytime running lights, and a rear-view camera are all standard. You also get remote entry, projector-beam halogen headlights, a tilt and telescopic steering column, and even power front seats that are 8-way adjustable for the driver and 4-way adjustable for the passenger. The One-Motion 60/40 split third-row Magic Seat is also standard in every trim, and even the base infotainment system includes an 8-inch high-resolution screen, Bluetooth hands-free control, and a 7-speaker, 240-watt audio system with AM/FM/CD and MP3.
Move up to the EX and the Odyssey becomes an 8-passenger minivan with a second-row center seat that doubles as a cupholder. The driver’s seat gets the addition of lumbar support, and the infotainment system adds an audio touchscreen and a more powerful 270-watt audio system. Another key feature that becomes standard at this level is Honda LaneWatch, which shows an image of the area to the right of the car on the touchscreen any time the right-hand turn signal is activated. Power sliding doors, auto on/off headlights, and push-button start also become standard on the EX. The new SE trim adds only the 115-volt outlet, rear entertainment system, HondaVac, and SiriusXM radio.
The EX-L sees the addition of safety features, including forward-collision warning and lane-departure warning, and convenience features like a one-touch moonroof and power tailgate. It also has heated leather front seats and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, and the center stack includes a cool box for keeping drinks and snacks chilled. The HondaVac disappears on the EX-L, and the rear entertainment system becomes an option, as does navigation, but you can’t get both of those features together unless you move up to the Touring.
The Touring adds fog lights, an acoustic windshield, integrated turn-signal indicators, ambient footwell lighting, and both that rear entertainment system and navigation. Finally, sitting at the top of the Odyssey range is the Touring Elite. This is the only trim that includes a blind-spot information system and high-intensity discharge headlights with auto on/off, HD Radio, a 650-watt audio system with 12 speakers, and a wider screen with split-screen capability for the entertainment system. It also marks the return of the HondaVac that is otherwise available only on the SE.
Minivans aren’t known for speed and handling, so let’s get that right out of the way. This isn’t a sports car, but it does drive more like a sedan than you’d expect. Its 248-hp 3.5-liter V6 engine with 250 lb-ft of torque is responsive and moves the minivan along nicely. Shifts are smooth and add to the Odyssey’s comfortable ride.
Handling in a minivan can be awkward, almost truck-like, but not with the Odyssey. It falls somewhere between an SUV like the Pilot and a sedan like the Accord, leaning more toward a sedan. It corners well without feeling too tall and remains composed and stable. Braking is also solid with no fade.
Driving the Odyssey is comfortable and easy, with enough power to easily merge into highway traffic and acceleration that delivers just enough punch when you really need to move. Road noise is minimal, even in wet weather, but wind noise is more noticeable. It’s still not enough to impinge on what is otherwise a very pleasant driving experience.
Fuel economy ratings of 19 mpg city/28 highway/22 combined make this a winner at the pump. They make the Odyssey a great choice for that family road trip or for criss-crossing town to after-school activities. Your only option is front-wheel drive (FWD), so those in snowier climes don’t get the option of all-wheel drive (AWD).
Form and Function
You buy a minivan because you need lots of passenger room along with the flexibility to carry cargo. You also need the ability to quickly reconfigure the seating to accommodate any combination of the above. The Odyssey does this with a comfortable, spacious interior and features to keep the whole family happy.
Moving up to higher trims also improves the interior. You’ll have to opt for at least the EX-L to get leather seats, which is a $6,000 jump in price over the base trim. Leather seats are much easier to clean spills from than the fabric seats in our SE, which may prove frustrating for those who don’t want to spend that kind of cash.
Front seats are not luxurious, but they are comfortable and supportive. They’re well-suited to everyday driving with a range of adjustability that makes it easy to find a comfortable position allowing a clear view for drivers of any size. One drawback is that the seats are very soft. Again, this is great for day-to-day travel, but more support would be welcome for longer road trips.
All but the base trim offer seating for 8 with a center seat in the second row that flips down to reveal cupholders. It’s also the perfect seat for infants, since it can slide forward, putting it within easy reach of those in the front seats. The second row has a wide mode that moves the two outer seats 1.5 inches away from the centerline to give a little more space for passengers to spread out.
Third-row seating is easy to access with second-row seats that slide forward and out of the way. Once back there, an easy feat even for adults, there’s ample leg room, and two adults can sit comfortably. Three is a stretch, unless they’re kids who get along really well.
When it’s about cargo and not people, the third-row Magic Seat splits 60/40 and folds flat into the floor of the minivan. There are 38.4 cubic feet of space behind the third row, 93.1 cubic feet behind the second row, and 148.5 cubic feet behind the first row. There are also cubbies and cupholders everywhere, so there’s plenty of room to hold drinks and stash your stuff, whether it’s something small to put in the glovebox or larger items like a purse that could easily fit in the center armrest compartment.
Folding the seats takes only seconds to do, so you won’t be standing out in the cold or rain fighting to get the seats into the right configuration. They pop back up just as easily. There is no power option to flip and fold the seats, no matter the trim level. Add a 3,500-pound towing capacity, and there’s more than enough to haul whatever you need for that weekend project.
Controls are well arranged with everything in easy reach of the driver. The one thing we found annoying was the positioning of the shift lever. It’s on the center of the dashboard just to the right of the steering wheel, and it’s far too easy to smack it with your knuckles when you move your hand to use the infotainment system. This is a small issue, but one that proved annoying during our test drive.
The Odyssey also has a built-in vacuum available in the SE and Touring Elite trims. This makes keeping the car clean easy, whether it’s sucking up messes from the kids or keeping the cargo area clean. The hose is nice and long, so it can stretch all the way up to the second row and even get underneath the front seats.
The infotainment system in the Honda Odyssey is a 7-speaker system with a subwoofer, AM/FM/CD, and either 240, 246, or 270 watts, depending on the trim level selected. The Touring Elite is the only trim with something truly different, offering a 650-watt system with 12 speakers and a 5.1 Surround Sound theater mode. The sound quality is good and easily fills the cavernous space with music.
Standard in every trim is an 8-inch high-resolution information display, Bluetooth HandsFreeLink and streaming audio, Pandora, a USB audio interface, and MP3 capability. HondaLink with Aha, audio touchscreen, SiriusXM radio, HD Radio, and navigation with voice recognition are available in higher trims. The 7-inch audio touchscreen, not available in the base LX, makes the audio system easier to use and lets the front passenger take control so the driver can simply drive.
A rear entertainment system should help keep the kids entertained in all but the two lowest trims. Those who opt for the Touring Elite will once again get the best option, with a wider 16.2-inch split-screen and a pair of wireless headphones so you won’t have to listen to whatever the kids are watching. That it’s available only on the higher trims is a drawback, especially for the split-screen system.
Safety is important in any car, but in a minivan that’s often full of kids, it’s absolutely crucial. The Odyssey has plenty of standard and available safety features to set your mind at ease, and it has excellent safety ratings.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the 2016 Odyssey its highest rating of Good in every category, which makes it a 2016 Top Safety Pick. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration crash tests were just as impressive. The Odyssey received 5 stars in frontal and side crash tests and 4 stars in the rollover test for an overall 5-star rating.
There are multiple airbags, active front head restraints, vehicle stability control, antilock brakes, brake assist, electronic brakeforce distribution, a tire pressure monitoring system, and a rear-view camera for every trim. Forward collision warning, lane-departure warning, and a blind-spot information system are available on select trims.
There’s also Honda LaneWatch on all but the base LX. It shows an image of the terrain to the right of the car whenever the right turn signal is used and makes it much easier to avoid clipping a tight corner. Additionally, there are five LATCH connections for securing car seats.
The only missing pieces are some of the more modern safety features found in recently updated cars. The Odyssey has forward-collision warnings, but no autonomous braking. The lack of this kind of safety feature is what kept the Odyssey from earning a Top Safety Pick Plus rating from the IIHS.
The handling and stability of the Odyssey will leave drivers feeling in control at all times. There’s no sense that it’s top-heavy or wants to tip over on sharp corners. Combined with solid, linear braking and excellent visibility, the Odyssey inspires a very confident drive.
If there’s a spot where the Odyssey shows some chinks in its armor, this is the one. Although it starts at just under $30,000, the best options in terms of both safety and convenience are reserved for the top Touring Elite trim, which starts at $44,750. It’s not a matter of adding those features as options, either—you simply cannot get them unless you spring for the top trim.
The SE is an attempt to fix this problem, but the vacuum and rear-seat entertainment disappear as soon as you move up from the SE, making it impossible to combine the features you want at a more affordable price.
On the plus side, the Odyssey’s fuel economy makes it economical at the pump and ensures you won’t have a panic attack when gas prices start creeping up like they always do. EPA estimates of 19 mpg city/28 highway/22 combined were borne out by our real-world results of 24 mpg in driving that leaned slightly toward highway travel.
Honda has a great reputation for reliability and resale value, and the company offers a comprehensive warranty. The Odyssey includes a 3-year/36,000-mile limited warranty with 24-by-7 roadside assistance over the same period and a 5-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty.
Nicole Wakelin's passion for cars started on the day she went for a ride in a bright red Ferrari as a teenager. She writes reviews and covers everything cars for CarGurus, The Boston Globe, BestRide, AAA, Autobytel, and numerous other outlets.
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