Thinking back on the - literally - hundreds of cars I’ve test driven over the years, the one model that seems to come up frequently…..the one I’ve spent the most time in and driven the most often….is, of all things, the Honda Odyssey.
Not because I’ve sought it out or had it on a long-term basis, but because I’ve used it the most when it comes to road trips and long distance driving. It may be a mini-van and primarily designed to schlepp people and cargo around, but it’s also one of the best highway vehicles you could ask for.
For one thing, since it was re-designed, in 1999, it’s been powered by a free-revving, silent-running, and relatively thrifty V6 that has always been among the most powerful in its class. Honda has used this engine throughout its line-up and, in one form or another, it’s been found in the Pilot, Ridgeline, and assorted Acura models.
For 2016, it displaces 3.5 litres and develops 248 horsepower, with 250 foot-pounds of torque. During extended highway driving, where reserve power is paramount, this is more than enough and can push this 2000-plus kilogram people carrier surprisingly well. More to the point, perhaps, it delivers a highway fuel economy of 8.5 L/100 km. This number, while obviously not in the same class as a hybrid or compact sedan, is competitive. Chrysler’s popular Grand Caravan, by way of comparison, delivers 9.4 L/100 km.
But more than any other mini-van, the Odyssey is so damn driveable. It just feels right behind the wheel, with excellent peripheral visibility, linear performance, and arguably the best handling characteristics in this corner of the market. Mini-vans aren’t supposed to handle particularly well and cornering ability has never been high on the list of must-haves for either designers or buyers, but the Odyssey will handle mountain passes and twisty back-roads with ease. Over the years, it has surprised me - and other motorists - time and again.
Interior space is also another high point. With the seats out, there’s over 4000 litres of room back there….more than enough to carry any kind of cargo you can throw at it. You’re not going to load this one up with lumber or cinder blocks, but things like - oh - couches, armchairs, small freezers, bicycles, large dogs and underage soccer teams can fit with ease. Officially, the Odyssey seats eight.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t have centre-row seats that disappear into the floor, as is the case with the aforementioned Grand Caravan. Honda has decided to stay with the usual arrangement, where you un-clip the seats and physically lift them out, for maximum storage use. This is a shortcoming in the Odyssey’s design, and, given its cost, it really should have a less cumbersome way to remove the centre seats.
Which leads me to the Odyssey’s price tag. The base LX starts at just under $31,000….this is on the high end of mini-vans, and a full zoot Touring model, which is what I drove this time around, will set you back almost fifty large ($48,890), before extras.
Mind you, that will get you a mini-van with no less than three separate switches for the power side doors, a full leather interior, navi system with voice commands, a multi-view rearview camera, audio touch screen, and safety features such as lane departure warning, three-zone heating/ventilation, and all the other modcons one would expect to find in an up-market vehicle. Do you require these things? That’s between you and your pocket-book, but I would suggest that the base LX version, which has all the stuff you actually need, is adequate. For example, power side doors can be a pain in the ass, and I, for one, do not want or appreciate tilt-down power side mirrors that automatically give you a worm’s-eye view of the curb when you back up.
But I’m still a fan. Maybe because I’ve spent many pleasurable hours in various Odysseys over the years and have grown to appreciate its refinement and above-average performance. It may be a tad overpriced, but getting behind the wheel of one is always a pleasure and I still look forward to driving it.
AT A GLANCE
Engine: 3.5 litre V6
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Drive: Front-wheel drive
Horsepower: 248 hp @ 5700 rpm
Torque: 250 ft. lb. @ 4800 rpm
Price Range: $30,790 - $48,890
Fuel Economy: 12.3 L /100 km (city) & 8.5 (hwy.) Regular fuel.
Alternatives: Dodge Grand Caravan, Chrysler Pacifica, Toyota Sienna, Kia Sedona.