Reviews

2009 Honda Odyssey Touring

With all the talk of fuel economy these days, you might be fooled into thinking that 25 mpg on the EPA’s highway test is impressive for a mid-size car. I don’t think it is. 25 mpg is, however, an impressive result for a 4700-lb vehicle that can carry eight passengers in quiet comfort. When it comes to hauling people and stuff, the minivan was a better alternative twenty years ago, it was a better alternative to all of those big, ungainly SUVs people insisted on driving, and it’s still a better alternative today.

Among those minivans, the remains king. And if you think you’re too cool to drive a minivan, go ahead and try to sell your ill-handling, 12-mpg SUV now. You won’t look so cool crying on the dealership floor when the salesperson tells you it’s worth 10% of what you paid for it – or worse, that he won’t even consider taking it in on trade.

What makes the Odyssey so good?
Well, for starters, it drives more like a luxury sedan than a big van. It’s quiet and rides as smoothly as a limo. After driving an SUV, you simply won’t believe how much road feel the Odyssey has on-center. Because it’s front-wheel drive, the van does suffer from a bit of torque steer, but less than the Pilot SUV that’s based on the same chassis.

The smooth V-6
The Odyssey won’t outaccelerate a sports car, but its 3.5-liter V-6 generates 244 horsepower and never any vibrations. Journalists endlessly praise Nissan‘s VQ-series V-6, but every time I get into a Honda, I’m reminded that it is, in fact, Honda that makes the world’s best V-6 engines.

The top-of-the-line Limited and second-to-the-top EX-L models can run on either three or four cylinders in addition to all six. In three-cylinder mode, the V-6 runs on one bank of cylinders; in four-cylinder, it runs in an offset V-4 mode. Those modes create strange vibrations and sounds, so Honda uses active engine mounts and active noise cancellation (via a subwoofer in the passenger compartment) to eliminate them. The change boosts fuel economy from 16/23 mpg city/highway to 17/25 mpg, and both engines run on regular-grade gasoline. The base engine makes 240 lb-ft of torque; the Variable Cylinder Management engine makes 5 lb-ft more, thanks in part to a slightly higher compression ratio.

The price to pay
The Touring model’s $41,075 base price surprised me at first – that’s a lot of money for a vehicle whose interior will invariably be littered with kids’ toys, gum, and puppy hair. The Touring, however, comes fully loaded with every conceivable modern amenity – including a navigation system, back-up camera, Bluetooth connectivity, heated front seats, leather, a DVD rear entertainment system, stability control, and three power doors (dual side sliders and a power rear hatch). That last door, which was previously available only on the Touring model, is now available on the EX-L model for 2009. The EX-L also comes well-equipped, and is priced at a much more palatable $33,725. Budget-conscious shoppers can find brand-new Odysseys for as little as $26,925.

And while that entry-level model seats only seven, it still offers the biggest benefits of a minivan – the carlike driving experience and cargo versatility. My Limited test car was able to transport all of the boxes from a friend’s recent move to the recycling center – in one load. And when we were done, the leather seats flipped right back up, and the Odyssey turned back into a luxury cruiser that’s great to drive. And so I’ll keep asking: what about minivans makes them not cool? I just don’t get it.

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