Perfect for a family Odyssey

Two weeks on the road in a 2010 Honda Odyssey minivan has reaffirmed my opinion that there will always be a demand for this quintessential family-hauler. We drove a top-of-the-line Touring model on a classic road trip around B.C and Alberta.

The minivan lately has lost its long-held position as the preferred choice of transportation for families. Although practical, its boxy look and the “soccer mom” image is a turn off for some consumers, who are seduced by the sexier look of the crossovers.

But given the choice for a road trip, a minivan is still the choice for me.

The reasoning is simple — more cargo room. A minivan like the Odyssey can swallow coolers, tents, sleeping bags, luggage and even pets with ease.

Find an antique rocking chair? Just fold the unused third row seats into the low floor and rearrange the luggage and it’s done. The Odyssey can hold up to eight and still have 1,934 litres of cargo capacity. Take out the second row seats and one can pack it with up to 4,173 litres. The luggage area does not come with a cargo cover so bring along a blanket if you want keep items out of sight.

Carrying adults? Even the third-row seats have decent head and legroom for adults. The second-row seating can best be described as luxurious. The seat folds 40/20/40. The seat bottom on the middle section can be removed, transforming the area into a tray for drinks and stuff. The two outboard seats come with dual armrests and can be reclined.

Children? Fire up the rear entertainment system consisting of a nine-inch screen, wireless headphones and remote control.

But even this setup is hardly cutting edge anymore. Some minivans now have two screens — one for the second and another for the third-row seat occupants. These can display individual inputs — a video game on one and a DVD movie on another for example.

While everybody is enjoying themselves in the back, Mom and Dad can relax up front. Whoever is driving will certainly be impressed with Honda’s 3.5-litre V-6 and the 244 horsepower it produces. While all five trim models of the Odyssey have the V-6, the EX-L and Touring are equipped with a cylinder deactivation program that allows the engine to run just on three or four cylinders under light loads.

Don’t bother trying to guess when this happens. The process is seamless and an “ECO” light on the dash is a driver’s only clue that the system is in operation. Fuel economy rises as a result. Highway mileage for the regular V-6 is 8.5 litres/100 km. That drops to 7.8 with the cylinder-deactivated engine.

The transmission is a five-speed automatic with a shifter mounted high on the dash. This arrangement frees up the area between the seats so that it is easy for whoever’s not driving to get to the back in a jiffy.

Despite its boxy body, this is one minivan that doesn’t drive like a minivan. The Odyssey manages to retain a passenger-car feel when the roads aren’t perfectly straight. The downside is that the power steering is a bit too sensitive on the highway. Sneeze and you may find yourself in the next lane.

There is more wind noise than I would have liked, a consequence of its size and shape. The ride is compliant, but some road noise makes it into the cabin despite the best efforts of its active noise cancellation technology.

I can overlook the noise because the Odyssey is still the benchmark when it comes to quality cabin materials. Its overall fit and finish is still a cut above its competition. With the standard leather seating, the cabin takes on a luxurious feel. Besides, the inevitable spills are easier to clean on leather.

Cupholders, cubby-holes and places for storage abound. The driver has seven cupholders within easy reach. A full-size cooler can fit behind either front seat if the occupants don’t have overly-long legs.

Sliding side doors makes getting in and out of the back an easy proposition for the rear passengers. The second-row seats fold and slide to provide good access to the third-row seats.

A satellite radio and navigation system with back-up camera are the two features that have a profound impact on long-distance touring. The former allows one to listen to one’s favourite genre of music hour after hour. The latter makes finding one’s way to — or around — a new town a lot easier than any paper map. Be aware that the system is not infallible, as my wife and I found out a few times. The large nine-inch touch-screen and program, however, were easy to master.

Apart from the practical advantages of minivans over a crossovers, they are also budget-friendly. The base price of an Odyssey is $31,690. The base for Honda’s own crossover, the Crosstour (see page E9), is $34,900.

While not sexy or stylish, the minivan genre is not likely to go away — to the delight of drivers who don’t mind paying less for more.


Type: Minivan, front engine, front-wheel-drive

Engine: 3.5-litre V-6, gnerating 244 h.p. at 5,700 r.p.m., 245 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,900 r.p.m.; cylinder deactivation program

Transmission: Five-speed automatic

Dimensions (mm): Length, 5,132; width, 1,958; height, 1,778; wheelbase, 3,000

Curb weight (kg): 2,107

Price (base/as tested): $49,690/ $51,280 (includes $1,590 freight and PDI)

Tires: 235/60 R17 Michelins on alloy wheels

Fuel economy (L/100km): 12.4 city/ 7.8 highway; regular gas

Warranty: Three-years/60,000 km limited, three-years/unlimited km roadside assistance, five-years/100,000 km powertrain