In recent years, publications ranging from The New York Times to Businessweek have urged consumers to give minivans more respect. Alas, these pleas have fallen on deaf ears. So far this year, minivan sales are down 1.3 percent in a market that has seen a significant increase in overall volume.
However, don’t blame the Honda Odyssey for this downturn. Odyssey sales are actually up by nearly eight percent this year, and with some significant updates to the 2014 Odyssey, there’s every reason to expect this trend to continue.
It takes a sharp eye to spot the styling updates on the 2014 Odyssey. Honda claims the new Odyssey features a cleaner front and rear exterior styling, but be prepared to look carefully when verifying this claim.
The most significant changes Honda made to the 2014 Odyssey aren’t visible at all. These include an upgraded body structure, designed to offer increased crash protection to the Odyssey’s occupants.
These efforts have been successful. In crash test results released two weeks ago, the Odyssey became the first minivan to earn the “Top Safety Pick+” rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It did so by capturing the top score in the small overlap barrier crash test that the Institute began using to evaluate crash performance just over a year ago. An exceptionally difficult test, this small overlap crash has tripped up many vehicles, including several noted for getting high safety marks. Honda now has more “Top Safety Pick+” vehicles – six – than any other manufacturer.
In terms of daily driving, Honda has jettisoned last year’s five-speed automatic transmission in favor of a six-speed unit. This six-speed automatic was offered last year, but only in the top two trim levels of the Odyssey. Now all five Odyssey versions end up with this transmission, and enjoy a boost in EPA fuel economy ratings as a result. Other changes include the extension of Bluetooth connectivity to all trim levels along with the addition of an expanded view driver’s side mirror and rear backup camera.
Honda has also added its lane watch camera to the mid-level EX, EX-L and Touring models. This system displays an image on a central screen of what might be lurking in the driver’s right side blind spot whenever the right directional signal is activated. Top-of-the-line Touring Elite models drop this feature in favor of a true blind spot alert that functions on both sides of the vehicle. Base LX buyers do without either system.
All 2014 Odysseys use a 3.5-liter V-6, the aforementioned six-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel drive. Performance is healthy with 60 miles per hour arriving in 7.9 seconds. This V-6 features variable displacement technology. It can switch off two or three of its six cylinders in pursuit of better fuel economy when full power is not needed. The transitions are so smooth as to be undetectable were it not for an “Eco” light on the instrument panel.
The ride is smooth and handling is very good for the minivan field. Most people will think they are driving a passenger car, though the view in the rearview mirror showing two additional rows of comfortable seating or up to 148 cubic feet of cargo space will quickly return them to reality.
LX models seat seven; all others seat eight thanks to a jump seat that goes between the second-row bucket seats. While it neither looks nor sounds appealing, this jump seat is actually reasonably comfortable and comes with a full lap-and-shoulder harness for safety.
Car-like in its ride and handling and with interior capacity that puts most sport utility vehicles to shame, the 2014 Honda Odyssey has done everything possible to earn our respect. For families that put function first, the Odyssey makes great sense.
Don’t be put off by the size of the 2014 Honda Odyssey. It drives small. The driver’s seat gives a great view ahead, side visibility is good and all models have a backup camera.
Another surprise: All the seats are fit for adults, even those in the third row, though keep the six-footers in the first or second rows.
The third row seat folds easily into a well at the end of the vehicle. Raised, that well holds enough groceries to empty most folks’ checking accounts. Folded, it forms a flat load floor for lots of cargo. The second seats also fold, but for maximum cargo capacity they must be removed. That is beyond my capabilities. They weigh about 50 pounds according to my husband Jim and are awkward to move around.
The Touring Elite model that we had offers the first built-in vacuum cleaner in a minivan. All I can say is: Where has this been all these years? I didn’t get a chance to try it out, but Jim was very pleased with its operation. He used the Odyssey to haul some items that left a bit of a mess and the vacuum removed the evidence. The hose reaches from the left rear, where the vacuum takes up little space in the sidewall, all the way to the front cabin. We’re equal opportunity spouses when it comes to vehicle cleaning.
The Touring Elite also includes a wide-screen DVD player that can show two programs at once on a split screen, a surround sound audio system and navigation system. The automatic three-zone climate control enhances family tranquility on long trips.
Safety touches that parents might not think about include rear sliding doors that open all the way only when the windows in these doors are closed. This helps prevent injury to a child who pokes his or her head out an open window while the power door is in operation.
Fuel economy came to 22.4 miles per gallon. Not exactly what I might expect from a Civic Hybrid, but it’s a reasonable number considering the room, comfort and easy driving performance of the Odyssey.
Engine: 3.5 liter V-6
TORQUE (lb/ft): 250
STARTS AT $28,825
Next week: Jeep Compass
Jim MacPherson is the host of "The Car Doctor" show airing Sundays at noon on WTIC-AM. Paula MacPherson is his wife and new-car review partner. Send comments, questions, suggestions in care of Special Publications, Hartford Courant, 285 Broad St., Hartford, CT 06115, or email firstname.lastname@example.org