The recent and ongoing mad rush to all things crossover and SUV seems to have had a further polarizing effect on the public opinion of minivans. Many buyers who stand to benefit greatly from inviting one into their lives dismiss them with not only almost no consideration whatsoever, but also with a white-hot disdain that’s typically directed toward more deserving atrocities such as “man buns.” But what cooler heads so appreciate about minivans in general, and the Honda Odyssey in particular, is its positively cavernous interior space for passengers and cargo. Sure, a minivan’s priorities toward practicality and cargo volume leads to less exterior style, but all three rows of seating are comfortable and spacious for adults, even those well over six-feet tall, which can’t be said of any SUV. Also, unlike most three-row SUVs, when the Odyssey’s third row carries passengers, there’s still plenty of luggage space behind it. (Note that its 38 cubic feet of cargo space in this configuration is more than double that of Honda’s similarly sized Pilot SUV.) If you’re looking for the best way to haul a family with small—or even large—children, as well as their varied paraphernalia, look no further.
Spend any amount of time in an Odyssey and it’s readily apparent that the team designing and engineering this minivan agonized over its details. The third-row seats fold simply and easily—and with light effort—into the cargo hold. Every knob and button has superb haptic feel. Storage abounds, as does layout flexibility; for example, the entire front center console can be quickly removed. Another thoughtful touch is that flipping down the rear-seat-entertainment screen doesn’t block the driver’s view out the rear glass. And the Odyssey’s massive passenger space and cargo hold is a boon for road trips, where it can travel 500 miles or more on a tank of fuel. We’re also fond of the Odyssey from the driver’s seat, from its clear forward sightlines to its dynamic cohesion that includes a surprising lack of body roll considering its size, mass, excellent ride quality, and relatively low cornering limits. The Pilot SUV actually feels more aloof.
All Odysseys are powered by Honda’s sonorous 248-hp 3.5-liter V-6, which endows it with more than adequate power and crisp off-the-line responsiveness. There’s really no trim level to avoid, as even the base LX model wearing steel wheels drives competently and has a backup camera and power front seats (eight-way on the driver’s side, four-way on the passenger’s). Every subsequent trim adds lumbar adjustability to the driver’s side, as well as the handy power-sliding doors, tri-zone automatic climate control, and push-button start. However, to get a power rear liftgate, a sunroof, or heated seats requires stepping up all the way to the leather-lined $36,950 EX-L. The Touring model adds standard navigation and a host of small upgrades. The Touring Elite, which we drove for this review, adds a higher-output audio system with HD radio, HID headlamps, and a larger 16.2-inch screen for the included rear entertainment system.
2016 is the last model year for this generation of Honda’s Odyssey minivan; a new version, based on the underpinnings from the latest Pilot SUV and Ridgeline mid-size pickup is coming early next year as a 2017 model, a few months later than we had anticipated. Because of this, some of the latest electronic features, such as cruise control with automated braking, lane-keeping assist, and even a heated steering wheel—all of which are available on the Pilot—aren’t available on the 2016 Odyssey, although they almost certainly will be on the redesigned model.
What We Don’t Like:
2016 Honda Odyssey
Although we like the Odyssey dynamically overall, we do have a few complaints, such as steering that gets overly light and lifeless at highway speeds and a too-soft brake pedal. The prompt throttle response we so appreciate from rest gets lazy above 50 mph, where eliciting a downshift requires a prodigious prod of the pedal. We wish the wind-rush noise at highway speeds was slightly less pronounced, and we noted mild shake from the engine when idling. The Odyssey’s dual-display-screen infotainment system is also showing its age, with its touchscreen’s sluggish responses and some odd controls. For example, the “mode” button on the steering wheel cycles through menus in the top infotainment screen—which is already counterintuitive since it’s so far away from what it controls—yet requires the user to transition to the center-console knob to complete a selection. But we’d still choose this older system over Honda’s latest infotainment setup, found in the Pilot, which ditches volume and tuning knobs and uses finicky touch-sensitive controls for shortcut keys instead of this Odyssey’s honest-to-goodness buttons. Somewhat surprisingly, our test van had a couple of ill-fitting interior trim pieces at the base of the A-pillar. And even our top-spec Touring Elite test car didn’t have any USB ports or 12-volt plugs in the second or third rows. While the second-row seats fold, they don’t fold into the floor like those in the new Chrysler Pacifica, so to load the Odyssey with, say, a sofa, the seats must be completely removed.
The only notable change for 2016 was the addition of a $34,400 SE model that sits between the EX and the leather-trimmed EX-L. It’s the third-lowest peg on the Odyssey’s now-six-model range—which spans from the $30,300 LX to the $45,775 Touring Elite—and incorporates two key features from higher trim levels: the rear-seat entertainment system with its 9.0-inch screen in the second row to mesmerize the kids, and the built-in Shop-Vac vacuum to clean up after them. If cloth seats aren’t a deal-breaker, this new SE trim seems like the sweet spot; the only other way to get the vacuum is on the top-of-the-line Touring Elite.
It’s possible to pay more for a similarly sized SUV with less space, but why? (That buyers were willing to pay more for SUVs is what led General Motors and Ford to drop their minivans.) Are those who instead opt for a three-row crossover such asthe Ford Explorer or the Chevrolet Traverse really fooling anyone or projecting a substantially more enviable image?
Verdict: The perfect vehicular choice for peripatetic families.
What’s New :
A superb tool for the family-hauling job.
What We Like :