A minivan will never grace my garage. I state this despite the fact that we have children, despite the fact that we frequently entertain guests from out of town, despite the fact that we regularly need to carry large items home or to donation centers, and despite the fact that they are typically easier to park, to load, and to drive than most SUVs. A minivan will never grace my garage, because my wife flatly refuses to own one.
Even a minivan as appealing as the 2015 Honda Odyssey.
Seriously, if not for my line of work, which parks a minivan or a pickup truck in our driveway with a fair degree of regularity, the love of my life’s inability to overcome whatever “image” issues she has with a minivan would cause me to rip the few remaining strands of hair out of my head.
Minivan ownership does not consign anyone to a life of bored domesticity. Your life is what you make of it. It’s not like choosing an SUV over a minivan magically masks parenthood and suburban living and makes its driver appear more adventurous and outdoorsy. Not anymore, anyway, because three-row crossover SUVs are nothing more than minivans with inconvenient hinged doors, less interior space, and lower gas mileage ratings.
If you want to make other people think you’re something you’re not, get a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited or a Nissan Xterra PRO-4X or a Toyota 4Runner Trail. That will work, because those are authentic off-roaders. Otherwise, accept that your current life-stage demands the utility, the practicality, and the sensibility of a minivan such as the Honda Odyssey, and remember that self-confidence is sometimes the sexiest trait of all.
Styling and Design
For this review, Honda supplied an Odyssey Touring Elite, the top-of-the-line version painted Smoky Topaz Metallic (brown) with Truffle (brown) leather seats. It wore a price tag of $45,480, right in line with other family-sized vehicles with a full load of equipment.
As far as minivans go, the angular Odyssey shows a sense of style – with a single exception. When viewed in profile, the jarring side-window treatment and exposed side-door tracks make the Odyssey look like two completely different vehicles that have been welded together.
This Honda would look all kinds of better if the side glass didn’t have that kink right behind the sliding doors, and if Honda had found a way to hide the side door tracks for a cleaner appearance. Chrysler, Dodge, and Toyota have found a way to disguise the sliding side doors, and Toyota even offers a genuinely sporty SE version of its Sienna minivan. If it matters, Kia wins the “minivan appearance” contest with its new-for-2015 Sedona, as it is easily the best-looking minivan on sale today.
Inside the Cabin
The Odyssey also gives up the trophy to the new Korean in terms of convenience, with its second-row seats that never need to be removed from the van in order to maximize cargo space. Sure, the Sedona gives up some maximum space in exchange for this convenience, but the Kia’s collapsing design sure beats unlatching and lifting heavy seats out of a Honda Odyssey*.
Most people are not necessarily concerned with maximizing a minivan’s cargo volume. What matters is the amount of space behind the second- and third-row seats. In an Odyssey, the trunk well accommodates 38.4 cu.-ft. of luggage, nearly as much as midsize crossover SUVs provide behind their second-row seats.
Stow the third-row seat in the trunk well – a challenge if you carry lots of stuff in your van on a regular basis – and this Honda swallows 93.1 cu.-ft. That’s more than midsize crossovers can carry with all rear seats folded down and nearly matches the maximum cargo volume of a Chevy Tahoe. Yet, with the Odyssey (and other minivans) you’ve still got room for up to five passengers at the same time.
As far as comfort is concerned, you’ll want someone else to drive the Odyssey, especially if you’re a taller person. The driver’s seat itself is quite comfortable (even if the Touring Elite doesn’t offer expected ventilation), but limited seat-track travel made me feel folded up and crammed in behind the Odyssey’s tilt/telescopic steering wheel. In my opinion, the Toyota Sienna is more comfortable.
That the front passenger’s seat does not offer height adjustment, even in the loaded Touring Elite, doesn’t soften my wife’s stance on minivan ownership. Also, while both front seats have inboard height-adjustable armrests, if you move them for some reason – say, to buckle a seatbelt – they don’t return to their previous locations.
With the front seats moved all the way back in their tracks, there is plenty of room for second-row occupants, and three adults can easily sit abreast in this location. With the second-row seats moved all the way back in their tracks, enough space remains to accommodate third-row occupants. Better yet, the second-row seats can be moved forward to help improve third-row comfort levels. If you’re planning to attach child safety seats, it is simple and easy to use the Odyssey’s five different Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) attachment points.
All rear outboard seating positions feature soft, supportive cushions, and my test van included manual side-window shades. Triple-zone climate control allows passengers to adjust the system to their own comfort levels, and the Touring Elite includes a widescreen rear entertainment system featuring a two-prong 115-volt power outlet, video game input jacks, and an HDMI port.
Cleaning the van is more difficult than it needs to be, as the floor mats for the second and third rows are single-piece affairs that stretch across the vehicle. They are not easy to remove without getting sand, rocks, and pebbles on the underlying carpeting. (Then again, that’s what the Odyssey Elite’s HondaVac onboard vacuum system is for, isn’t it?)
In any case, parents will want to note that the Odyssey’s floor doesn’t have exposed seat tracks that can trap crumbs, small toys, and other detritus of daily family life. Also note that the Odyssey’s Truffle leather color hides dirt really well, a benefit in any family vehicle.
Aside from the Odyssey’s dual-screen infotainment system setup, Honda employs straightforward controls in terms of design, labeling, location, and operation. In fact, the simplicity associated with the minivan’s traditional switchgear makes using the dual-screen infotainment technology all the more frustrating.
While pairing to the Odyssey’s Bluetooth connection is fairly easy, the learning curve with the dual-screen infotainment system is a steep one, even after tailoring it to specific preferences (and there are many options). The system is equipped with a lower screen that is touch sensitive and an upper screen that requires the use of a control knob surrounded by primary function buttons. The challenge to the driver is to first remember which screen does what and then recall how it works.
Aside from Honda’s flawed approach to modern infotainment technology and the lack of seat-track travel provided to taller drivers, the Honda Odyssey’s interior is a study in comfort, practicality, and functionality. From the available Cool Box beverage cooler to the useful spaces located all around the cabin and designed for stashing stuff, the Odyssey is clearly designed for the rigors of daily family life.
* I asked my brother-in-law – an Odyssey owner since 2008 – how many times he has actually needed to take the second-row seats out of his van. The answer: twice in seven years. With those seats removed, the 2015 Odyssey can carry 148.5 cu.-ft. of cargo, substantially more than any full-size SUV.
Technology and Innovation
In addition to my complaints about how the Odyssey’s dual-screen infotainment system works, the navigation system’s real-time traffic display could use improvement.
On one sunny and warm Sunday afternoon, the map did not show traffic conditions on Pacific Coast Highway near Santa Monica. This is not a freeway, but some automakers provide a display of traffic tie-ups on this busy stretch of road. Had the Odyssey offered this level of detail we could have saved a significant chunk of time spent sitting in weekend traffic. Thankfully, the kids didn’t mind the delay thanks to the Touring Elite’s wide-screen rear-seat entertainment system, which is easy to use.
A reversing camera is standard for every 2015 Odyssey, and it supplies a broad, expansive, somewhat distorted view of what’s behind the van. As is true of many reversing camera systems, low-light conditions compromise resolution, and that’s why, after dark, I had a close encounter of the bumper-bashing kind in a crowded parking lot when a fellow motorist across the aisle was reversing at the same time we were.
Upgrade to the popular Odyssey EX model, and Honda installs LaneWatch technology, which uses a camera to show what’s along the right side of the van on the dashboard’s touchscreen display. My Touring Elite model had a traditional blind-spot warning system that worked for both sides of the van, supplying both visual and audible warnings. This solution is so much better than LaneWatch. Please, Honda, use this blind-spot information system instead of LaneWatch.
Get yourself an Odyssey EX-L, and Honda provides forward collision warning and lane departure warning systems. The forward collision warning system is eager to issue braking directives, and it sometimes sounds false alarms, but I’d rather have this and not need it than need it and not have it. The lane departure warning system proved accurate during my testing, and it gets your attention without aggravating you. You can shut this system off by pushing a button on the dashboard, and it stays off the next time you start the Odyssey.
If the Odyssey’s available safety features can’t prevent an accident, rest assured that the Odyssey has done its best to protect you and your family. This model gets a 5-star crash-test rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and a “Top Safety Pick” rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). That latter accolade also applies to the Kia Sedona and Toyota Sienna, in case you’re wondering.
Under the Hood
When you buy a Honda Odyssey, you get a 3.5-liter V-6 engine, a six-speed automatic transmission, and front-wheel drive. If you need all-wheel drive, you can get a Toyota Sienna or you can switch to a crossover SUV.
The Odyssey’s V-6 cranks out 248 horsepower and 250 lb.-ft. of torque, adequate for a vehicle that can weigh as much as 4,613 pounds before you invite up to seven passengers to join you for the journey. Honda also says the Odyssey can tow up to 3,500 lbs.
Variable Cylinder Management (VCM) technology is standard, shutting off two or three of the V-6 engine’s cylinders under certain driving conditions in order to maximize fuel economy. According to the EPA, the Odyssey should return 22 mpg in combined driving, but during my week with the van, one spent carrying little more than my wife, my four-year-old, and my six-year-old, I averaged 19.8 mpg.
On the Road
In practice, the Odyssey’s horsepower and torque ratings are in line with the mission of moving a minivan, and the 3.5-liter V-6 sounds good when revved while proving refined and fairly well isolated from the cabin. When the VCM system activates, the driver barely detects it, and then only when he or she is paying specific attention to determining when it cycles on or off.
Coaxing the six-speed automatic to drop down a gear, either to pass slower traffic or maintain speed on a mountain grade, takes more effort than expected, reflective of Honda’s desire to maximize fuel economy. However, once the transmission kicks down, the Odyssey has no trouble maintaining and gathering velocity.
Coming down the other side of a mountain grade on a balmy SoCal evening and with my family aboard, the Odyssey’s four-wheel-disc brakes heated to the point that they began vibrating despite the fact that the 12.6-inch front discs are ventilated in order to better dissipate heat. Around town I found the Odyssey’s brakes responsive, easy to modulate, and able to bring the van to a smooth and clean stop. However, because I believe that a vehicle designed to convey up to eight people or as much as 148.5 cu.-ft. of cargo should be able to withstand an 800-foot descent in moderate traffic, I think the Odyssey requires even more robust brakes.
Due to what I would describe as on-center wobble and occasional oscillation, I think Honda also needs to revise the tuning for the Odyssey’s electric steering. Most of the time, these traits were not an issue, the steering feeling secure and responsive if somewhat light and slow. That’s why, when they did reveal themselves, it was so obvious and irritating.
Athletic as far as minivans go, the Odyssey can cover a curvy back road with greater velocity than one might expect. You can’t push the van too hard, of course, but within reason it is agile and somewhat entertaining to drive. In other words, there’s no reason for an Odyssey owner to be the person holding up traffic.
Like any Honda, the Odyssey feels firmly connected to the road, communicating bumps, holes, and pavement texture to the driver. There is no wallow or excess ride motions, and body roll is nicely managed. Depending on the surface, though, the volume of communication is louder than many people would likely prefer.
At the beginning of this review, I shared that my wife will never own a minivan. She’s not the only person with this point of view. Many people of both genders view a minivan as some kind of life-draining force, a psychic vampire that robs men of their strength and women of their vitality, ultimately landing people of both genders into ego-rebuilding therapy.
I kid, of course. Not everyone thinks a minivan is emasculating or defeminizing, and you can count me as a fan of the minivan. One reason for this is because I don’t really care what other people think about what I’m driving – after all, I’m a dude who owns a Miata. The other reason is that I appreciate and advocate for products and processes that genuinely make my life easier, and minivans do that in multiple ways.
As far as the Odyssey goes, there is nothing to get excited about, especially compared to the Kia Sedona and the Toyota Sienna. Compared to other minivans, the Sedona is genuinely stylish and comes with a warranty that lasts for as long as I’d be likely to own one. Meanwhile, even though it is to a small degree, Toyota appeals to the driving enthusiast in me with the Sienna SE.
The Final Verdict
When you shop for a minivan, you are buying a tool, one designed to make life with children as easy as it can be. As such tools go, the 2015 Honda Odyssey is a good one. It is safe. It is roomy. It is practical. It delivers value. And it isn’t a complete bore to drive.
It is also one of the best minivans you can buy. This is a change from last year, when the Odyssey was the best minivan you could buy. Kia and Toyota have seriously upped their games with the latest iterations of the Sedona and Sienna, and I believe I’d rather have either one of those models instead of an Odyssey.
|Kirk Bell:||Recommend.||It’s the best handling of the minivans, and it benefits from Honda reliability.|
|Aaron Gold:||Recommend.||Hard not to recommend the Odyssey. That said, I’d probably buy a Toyota Sienna.|
|Bob Gritzinger:||Have not driven.|
|Michael Harley:||Recommend.||Safe, reliable, functional – as expected of a Honda.|
|Ron Sessions:||Recommend.||Dodge invented the segment, but the Odyssey is the standard by which all other minivans are measured.|
[Photos ©2015 Honda Motor Company / Chris Wardlaw / AutoWeb]