Minivans command a deep respect around the Automobile Magazine office. We see through the stigma and shrug off the soccer-mom jokes because a minivan does what so many imposters can't. A minivan moves people and cargo better than anything else, without the pretenses and compromises of a three-row crossover. No minivan earns our admiration as readily as the Honda Odyssey. The long-standing best of the bunch, the Odyssey held onto its crown against stiff competition when Honda released a redesigned model in late 2010. We were so impressed with the clever packaging and competent dynamics that we rewarded it with an All-Star award (later bestowing a second All-Star for 2012) and ordered one for a Four Seasons test.
Our initial attraction would prove to be true love. Despite the fact that just three of our staffers fit the profile of the typical family-minded minivan driver, spending 36,630 miles with an Odyssey confirmed that we all have a serious soft spot for the auto industry's pack mule. Recent college grads, newlyweds, and childless boomers all marveled at what the Odyssey is capable of. It's the right tool for the job -- whatever the job might be. We schlepped to work, road-tripped with the family, camped at a music festival, and hauled just about everything you can imagine in our Odyssey. It was this never-ending stream of adventures and feats that led one staff member to call our Honda "the Swiss Army Knife of vehicles" and another to declare that "the Odyssey comes very close to being the one vehicle that can do it all." We know this because in twelve months with the Odyssey, we came very close to doing it all.
The action started just three days after the Honda arrived in Ann Arbor, when it was enlisted for a camping trip to Alabama's Barber Motorsports Park. A fully loaded Touring Elite model, our Odyssey was the perfect companion for long highway slogs, equipped as it was with leather seats, navigation, a rear-seat entertainment system, three-zone automatic climate control, second- and third-row sunshades, power sliding doors, and a power tailgate. However, we were quickly reminded that some of the Odyssey's best features are the simplest ones: Honda's third-row "Magic Seat" still sets the standard for versatility and ease of use. It folds into a well behind the seats with the pull of a single strap, creating a flat load floor. With the third row stowed and one of the second-row seats removed, our campers slipped two bikes into the Odyssey along with sleeping bags, duffels, a large cooler, and a tent.
For the Honda's second camping outing, road test editor Christopher Nelson didn't even bother to pack a tent, opting to sleep in the Odyssey instead. He channeled the spirit of an earlier decade when he substituted a beanbag chair and a swath of pink shag carpet for the second- and third-row seats, but it fit the bill for a two-day music festival headlined by Eminem, Muse, and the Black Keys. Between sets, the Odyssey's twelve speakers blared satellite radio and the 115-volt household outlet fueled a lava lamp. The laid-back vibe wasn't just the artificial product of the pink carpet, though. The Honda soothed passengers for the entire drive to and from Kansas Speedway. "The Odyssey makes any long trip an absolute pleasure," gushed Nelson. "A smooth ride, comfortable seats, and ample interior space all make the Odyssey a road-trip king."
Senior web editor Phil Floraday supported that statement when he prefaced a drive from Detroit to Chicago with a five-hour flight from Los Angeles. "I only stopped at home for a minute to change out my bags and once for a restroom break in 300-plus miles of nighttime driving," he logged. "I wasn't the least bit sore, a credit to the Odyssey's perfect driving position and supportive seats."
Closer to home, we repeatedly called on our minivan to act as a cargo van. We moved four-by-eight-foot sheets of concrete backer board and plywood, an entry door, a trio of German shepherds, a 47-inch TV, and a full-size couch. The Odyssey doesn't just master the big stuff, either. It offers plenty of cubbies and pockets for small items, too. Each front door has the standard map pocket along the bottom plus a spot for a water bottle, and a smaller bin under the armrest is perfect for storing sunglasses, a wallet, and a cell phone. The lower center stack hides a chilled "cool box" for drinks, and the removable console between the seats has four cupholders, a massive storage bin, and a pop-up plastic ring that can hold a trash bag, about which art director and family man Matt Tierney said, "The awesomeness of this minor detail cannot be overstated. The slippery slope to a filthy family van starts with the first lollipop stick thrown on the floor."
He would know. Tierney is a father of two, the owner of a 2003 Odyssey, and our Honda's most traveled driver, with trips to northern Michigan, eastern Pennsylvania, and Disney World. That last excursion was the Odyssey's longest, covering 2552 miles -- eleven DVDs' worth of driving -- for the ultimate trial by fire. The Honda passed easily. "The DVD system is unsurpassed for ease of use," Tierney enthused. "It is totally intuitive and fully controllable from the front passenger seat -- which is key. Far too many systems require repeated reference to the owners' manual or depend on actions from the rear-seat occupants. That doesn't work with young kids in car seats."
Tierney's wife, Rachel, was smitten as well: "From the little things like cupholders and storage cubbies everywhere to the ease and logic of using the navigation and entertainment systems, everything works perfectly. The blind-spot alert system is something I want in my next car, and the mileage was fantastic." While our Odyssey topped 25 mpg several times during its stay, we averaged 22 mpg for the year, matching the EPA's combined city/highway estimate. Touring and Touring Elite models come with a six-speed automatic that provides a 1-mpg bump in both city and highway ratings compared with the five-speed automatic that is standard on lesser versions. Despite the upgrade on our test car, the six-speed proved to be the source of our strongest complaint. "You can feel five discrete steps when the Odyssey shifts instead of one well-timed, barely perceptible, fluid gearchange," noted senior editor Jason Cammisa. Shifts are particularly harsh in cold weather before the gearbox has warmed up, and the abruptness is more pronounced during part-throttle motoring than at full acceleration.
Other than that niggle, the Odyssey's composed driving manner is the differentiator that sets it apart from its competition. The 248-hp V-6 balances power delivery and fuel economy very well. Honda's Variable Cylinder Management allows the engine to run on just three or four cylinders when cruising, but it's also smooth and well-mannered running to the top of the tachometer. Cammisa again: "The V-6 pulls so hard and sounds so nice that I'll forgive that it's probably a touch too vocal for a minivan. And even if the transmission's upshifts are clumsy, they're very quick."
While the Odyssey boasts ride quality that's considerate of all eight passengers, the handling is also competent enough to keep up with an enthusiastic driver. The vehicle is stable and predictable in turns. Multiple editors even heaped praise on the Honda's steering. Although the power assist is a bit overboosted, piloting the Odyssey is a minivan revelation. "The steering feel is so good that you have to remind yourself that you're lugging around a van that weighs 4559 pounds," wrote Nelson.
Our Odyssey survived its Four Seasons accelerated-durability test without a mechanical fault, although toward the end of its stay there were enough complaints about interior rattles to warrant a trip to the dealer, who found and tightened a loose roof rack, after which the complaints ceased. Cosmetically, the interior's quality materials and tasteful design held up remarkably well, especially in light of the abuse we heaped on it. Sticky-fingered kids, slobbering dogs, and DIY devotees left hardly a scratch. The button-heavy center stack appears daunting, but the controls are learned quickly and become intuitive. The navigation system is typical Honda; we were happy to overlook the dated graphics for the clear and instinctive menus. We were less forgiving of the Bluetooth system, which sporadically disconnected paired phones, sometimes during a conversation. And for our Touring Elite's $44,613 sticker price, some editors expected even more technology, asking for adaptive cruise control, power-folding mirrors, and passive entry. "Sliding a key into the ignition doesn't bother me," explained copy editor and father of two Rusty Blackwell. "But when you're on the go with kids, it's nice to just grab the door handle and have it unlock."
Those few concerns in the logbook were dwarfed by pages of praise and admiration for a car that was always eager for a big trip. The Honda Odyssey's easy-to-use technology, ingenious packaging, and polished driving demeanor make it the ultimate tool for drivers who need to cover miles with people and gear in tow. After a year with an Odyssey, we have as much respect as ever for the minivan.
|OUR TEST RESULTS|
|0–60 mph||8.1 sec|
|0–100 mph||21.6 sec|
|1/4–mile||16.3 sec @ 88 mph|
|30–70 mph passing||8.6 sec|
|Peak acceleration||0.49 g|
|Speed in gears||1) 38; 2) 61; 3) 86; 4) 120; 5) ---; 6) --- mph|
|Cornering L/R||0.74/0.73 g|
|70–0 mph braking||187 ft|
|Peak braking||0.95 g|
|SCHEDULED MAINTENANCE||8706 mi: $66.40|
|17,017 mi: $100.41|
|25,366 mi: $230.17|
|32,228 mi: $138.41|
|RECALLS||32,228 mi: Battery-management-system software update|
|OUT-OF-POCKET||22,398 mi: Purchase, mount, and balance four Bridgestone Blizzak DM-V1 tires, $758.98|
|24,355 mi: Purchase WeatherTech FloorLiner kit, $239.90|
|36,023 mi: Remount and balance Michelin Primacy MXV4 tires, $115.58|
|EPA city/hwy/combined||19/28/22 mpg|
|COST PER MILE||(Fuel, service, tires) $0.20 ($0.45 including depreciation)|