Mountain Wheels: Honda’s best-selling Odyssey minivan loads on the amenities
After a deliriously exciting week in America, let’s take things down a notch with my impressions of that most Xanax-like category of automobiles, the minivan. Large, indistinct, made for domestic school bus-styled duty, the minivan has never gotten much respect — except among the millions of parents who rely on them to handle their hordes, with slightly less-than-SUV critical mass.
So is it greatly uncool of me to say I found value and even minor pleasure in a new, front-wheel drive Honda Odyssey, a minivan featuring a built-in vacuum cleaner and laterally sliding second-row seats for the school-aged “stop touching me” members of your family?
Well, yes and no. While SUVs certainly knocked the minivan from the position it once held in the late 1980s and early ’90s as the family vehicle of choice, the Japanese brands have continued to refine and improve their minivan offerings.
The 2021 Elite model of the Odyssey, priced at $49,335 fully loaded and lovingly assembled in Alabama, appears as a largely pleasant example of what the minivan can be, nearly 40 years since Chrysler invented the category. (A base Odyssey LX, by comparison, starts at $31,790.)
The Chrysler mention is apt — they’re about the only domestic still in the game, and we’ll be testing out the new all-wheel drive version of the Pacifica in a few weeks — because folks have largely turned to imports to fulfill their Costco-styled kid-hauling needs.
Honda’s Odyssey has topped the American minivan sales charts for a decade, and in terms of easy-to-access, lower-to-the-ground but still absolutely cavernous, amenity-laden family motoring, this updated mass-transit machine is pretty swell.
I tested the vehicle’s raw motoring capabilities several weeks back with a jaunt over a slushy and icy Vail Pass to hit Beaver Creek (unlike the Toyota Sienna and the new Pacifica, Odyssey does not yet offer an AWD option) and cruised along like nobody’s business. Even with average all-season tires, the Odyssey’s width and mass seemed to give it extra bad-weather grounding, and I had no issues whatsoever.
Raw power might occasionally seem a tad lacking, especially as you roar over those passes, but the 280-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 is mostly up to the task, getting me nearly 30 mpg at spots. I drove the 4,603-pound Elite model unladen, using the ample interior as a portable ski locker, but a full-loaded Odyssey might be a somewhat different story. My suggestion is to work hard to keep the momentum going when reaching the top of the tunnels, otherwise it takes a lot of pedal input to get Odyssey rolling again.
Yes, it’s not a sports car, but it’s also not a high-riding SUV, so you do get a somewhat more pleasant, connected-to-the-earth feeling, with good visibility and, electronically, the new CabinWatch system so you can literally keep an eye on your passengers, even back in the third row. You also can make ominous and amplified announcements to your team, like you are the captain of a 737. I can see the value in this. The CabinWatch also will vividly remind you if you have left goods or human passengers behind as you turn off the ignition.
In place of raw performance, Odyssey ups its game with a laundry list of family-friendly electronic amenities and a very adaptable array of passenger/cargo configurations.
The Magic Slide seats in the second row are two side-to-side sliding full-sized seats that can indeed be squeezed together or separated for violent sibling rivalries or also left spread out to anchor a third child seat in the middle.
The different configurations also make it somewhat easier to get to the third row, where the flop-and-fold, 60-40 rear seats also fold entirely into rear cargo bins — or leave some usefully deep, beer keg-sized cargo spaces when set in place. New grocery bag hooks on those third-row seats are also a good touch. All totaled, there’s 155.7 cubic feet of cargo volume behind the first row, maybe if you yank out the heavy second-row seating. That is indeed boxcar-styled volume.
The Elite level adds perforated leather seating up front and in the second row, plus a metallic-look dash trim and some classy two-tone, 19-inch alloy wheels.
I would spend some time reconfiguring the apps on the smallish touchscreen for easier access while driving. Attempting to change a Sirius XM radio station required four button-pokes during my drives, and that absorbed way too much attention from the road.
Are there, like, 300 electrical and USB outlets throughout the cabin? Yes, or so it seems, plus a full 115-volt plug up front.
Andy Stonehouse’s column “Mountain Wheels” publishes Saturdays in the Summit Daily News. Stonehouse has worked as an editor and writer in Colorado since 1998, focusing on automotive coverage since 2004. He lives in Greeley. Contact him at email@example.com.
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