Expert Reviews

Road Trip: 2015 Honda Odyssey to the Indy 500

Sometimes car names make no sense, sometimes car names work perfectly. I reckon if that Greek bloke had had one of these he wouldn’t have spent 10 years trying to get home. Of course, if he hadn’t taunted that one-eyed fella with the powerful friends he probably would have been home earlier too.

I reckon if that Greek bloke had had one of these he wouldn’t have spent 10 years trying to get home.

“Odyssey,” therefore, fits perfectly.

And so I chose my wagon. Of the three minivans in our office that week, this is the one I most wanted to take down to the Indianapolis 500 for a glamping (glamour camping) weekend with my family. Why did we have three minivans? For an upcoming minivan shootout – but that’s another story. The reasons I wanted to take this specific tank were many.

First, it’s a Honda. Honda has a strong affiliation with IndyCar racing and was the sole engine supplier for a long time. These days Chevy is in on the action too, but Honda’s ties to the sport are strong, so taking a Honda seemed like the smart plan.

Second, it has a cool box. A small box in the base of the centre stack that gets super-cold air pumped into it and keeps drinks and things cool. Pro tip though – the cool box is only on when the car is on and the button is on. No, you can’t store cheese strings in it for three days. Luckily, I knew that beforehand and remembered to remove them.

Third, it has a removable centre console in the first row, so if we were on the road and we wanted to get in the back to attend to some sort of emergency with my daughter, we could walk through to the back and deal with it before I even stopped. Of course, this is illegal and unsafe and we didn’t do it, but if we had needed to, we could have.

There’s also a removable second-row middle seat, but we left Maddie in that one. She had a better view of the road, better view of the DVD screen and was in a safer position within the car. Win, win, win.

Fourth, it has a DVD screen, and we have a four-year old. Yes I know, when you were kids you entertained yourself on road trips by kicking your parents’ seat backs, picking your nose/ears and eating it, and playing Punch-Buggy-Pinch-Mini. Myself? I used to read books and then projectile vomit. The DVD seemed like a better solution.

Fifth, there is plenty of USB power and a 115V household power outlet in the third row, so either I or my wife could work on our computers as we drove if needed. 10 hours of unproductive time is really too much for both of us in this hell-for-leather rat race of a world we live in.

Sixth, it has a vacuum cleaner on board. A vacuum cleaner?! And, as I discovered on the trip, it really is powerful enough to be useful. It reaches every orifice in the car and using it is a breeze.

Cargo space was an issue too. We needed a lot: luggage for three, a spare air mattress, some bedding, and miscellaneous other camping junk. Luckily, if it was an airplane the Odyssey would be a C-130 Hercules.

The big tailgate opens (slowly) to reveal a cavernous cargo hold, deep, tall and wide. Want more? Pull the funky straps and the third-row seats magically fold to form a flattish load floor of spectacular dimensions. You can even fold the second-row seats in for more cargo space, but I find it hard to imagine anyone needing that.

We were strapped in and ready for a 10-hour drive to Indianapolis, leaving Thursday at around 9 am. The sun shone the entire way, and a few short breaks were enough to keep me satisfied.

The novelty of power-sliding doors kept Maddie entertained at each and every stop, and the Odyssey was quiet, smooth and comfortable even on road-kill strewn Michigan highways.

I had underestimated the seats in the Odyssey at first. They are simple looking and flat, and I questioned their ability to maintain comfort over a long distance. And yet I don’t even remember moving around in my seat to get comfortable, instead feeling supported and free to move the entire journey. Sirius XM helped pass the time on the highways of the USA once the farmland of Ohio and Indiana became mundane. Text to Voice meant I could even access my text messages without handling my phone out on the road, which I was grateful for.

Steering in the Odyssey is vague and light in the first 10 degrees either side of centre on the wheel, which forced me to keep a tight rein lest the telltale lane-departure beeping evoke a disapproving “tut tut” from Steph in the passenger seat. On the way down it wasn’t a large issue, the way home changed that.

The final stretch was fretful for me. I never like being anywhere late and I was worried that our hosts at the glamping ground would be gone before we arrived. As it turns out, they’re there until the wee hours and I needn’t have worried. Even with a last minute push to reach the Indianapolis Motor Speedway credential office “on time” (it didn’t close until four hours later) we averaged 9.9 L/100 km for the entire trip down. In a car of this size, I call that a win.

“Glamping” is an increasingly popular 'enhanced' camping experience. You rock up at your destination to find a little MASH-style tent village, each tent depending on your choice of package comes with either a queen-size bed (a proper bed with a real mattress) or four cots. They also have a table and chairs and a pad lock for security. There’s a lounge area with fireplaces and grills for glampers to use, plus free ice and access to a glampers-only toilet and shower. Most importantly, you’re able to camp and park in the infield of the speedway, which makes your access to the track-side event areas, the paddock and the track itself far easier.

Sleeping in a campground is relegated to the deaf, or those who brought ear plugs with them. We were the latter. The tents were allegedly waterproof but that was never tested. No matter, we’d bought the Odyssey as a backup. If it got too noisy, too wet or too cold our whole family could have slept in the van, Steph and Maddie on the air mattress in the back me on the reclined passenger seat or across the second row seats. It’s nice to have options.

Waking up at sunrise and strolling outside to take in the iconic Pagoda at Indy, or looking out over the grand prix course and down towards turn four, I couldn’t help but feel the impact of the place. In motorsport there are sacred places. This is one of them.

We were on hand for Carb Day, watching the final IndyCar practice session before the race and the Indy Lights race. Because this is America, it’s called the Freedom 100. We spent the race in famous Stand E, looking down the front straight, overlooking turn one and with a view right out past the exit of turn 2. The race was intense, with an intriguing cat and mouse battle up front that was cut short by a nasty late-race crash in turn four. Everyone was okay, but the race finished under yellow, Jack Harvey the winner.

The day before the 500 is a traditional event at Lucas Oil Raceway – just a 15-minute drive from IMS. It’s usually an evening event, but this time was a day-time deal. Having grown up around the oldest speedway in Australia I thought I knew what I was in for, but that was a dirt short track. This is tarmac and the cars are fast. They’re also extremely loud and extremely close. We arrived just as the first race started, so I dropped my wife and daughter at the gate (thank you power sliding doors) and went off to park. The Odyssey’s back-up camera and parking sensors once again proved their value.

It was a hot day, up over 28 degrees Celsius, so before we left Lucas Oil I turned the air-con on to get the car to a livable temperature – I was impressed by how quickly it cooled down.

Race day for the Indianapolis 500 went by in a blur of track food, souvenir stands, kids’ area shenanigans and pre-race ceremonies. As my daughter and I posted up in the North Vista grandstand, smack bang between turns three and four, I no longer envied my wife’s seat in the media centre. These days I don’t cover racing, and sometimes I miss it. But the atmosphere of turn three and four, the proximity to the track and the sheer noise of the race and the fans was spectacular.

Three hours of some of the most intense racing I’ve seen in years followed. Will Power, Scott Dixon, Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya were in a four-way battle for the lead the entire distance. Tony Kanaan was in the hunt too, but following a late-race round of pit stops TK crashed directly in front of our seats.

The final laps were thrilling, Maddie and I both cheering for Aussie Power while the rest cheered for Montoya. In the end the Colombian had the better of Power, and it was a deserved win. After falling to nearly last due to another driver’s error we watched him lap after lap fire into the third turn, wrestling the car down below the white line to make up precious ground. The track announcer said Montoya had “refused to lose”. He was right. This was a historic second win for JPM in only his third start, 15 years after his first win in his first start. We’d seen history, my family and I.

But we needed to be back for Monday morning – and so I was tasked with driving us home immediately after the race finished. It was 4:30 pm before we were properly on the road, with stops for dinner, fuel and for me to get coffee and a brief spell we were looking like a late, late arrival home.

Driving through the night can tell you more about a car than driving in the day. Driving 10 hours through the night, with some rain and side winds thrown in, can tell you even more.

At our first fuel stop as the sun set close to the Indiana/Ohio border, everyone was in good spirits. A quick run on the grass with my daughter to let her “get her wiggles out” boosted my mood and fuelled me more than the giant can of Diet Coke, which tasted of America and carcinogen.

We all climbed in, tired legs grateful for the low step-in and easy access, and I reached out to place my hand on my wife’s thigh. Turns out there is such a thing as too much space in a cabin. I moaned that she was too far away. She laughed at me.

As we pulled out onto the highway my daughter sighed in the back seat, snuggling down into her pillow to sleep – finally – with a book still open on her lap.

Nightfall brought new challenges.

The steering that is so loose on centre became an issue once the side winds picked up. A busy steering wheel is taxing on the mind more so than the body, but is taxing nonetheless. It was the first and only time on the trip I wished for something else to drive. Some people think only driving enthusiasts want firm, direct steering – but steering that is overly light and vague makes for a lack of confidence, a car that is harder to drive and a road trip that is less enjoyable. It’s the one thing I hope Honda can address before the next edition comes out. Well, that and the interior colour. Death-bed grey is not my favourite colour scheme.

The HID headlights blazed through the darkness, filling the road ahead with a warm glow for me to chase as the miles rolled by underneath me. The engine revved at a steady 2,500 rpm and the cruise control was set to three miles over the speed limit. My daughter moved a little in her seat, wife dozed in and out beside me and I felt like a king as I passed slower traffic.

Maybe this car’s namesake should have taken his family with him? What evil songstress could draw you to your death with your family by your side?

“Eww… Cher!” My wife turned the radio off. Odysseus would have been home in time for supper.

As we passed into Michigan and headed up to Detroit I felt a calm wash over me. The USA is a very different place to Canada. I always feel a sense of relief when I cross that middle seam in the Ambassador Bridge. That feeling was magnified this time. The border meant a moment’s rest, time to regroup, and it also marked the turn for home. We were in the final laps.

It was here that rain first began to fall. All of a sudden I realized how dirty the windshield had become. The etymologists’ dream that had collected proved immune to the wiper fluid, and my vision was hampered by the mass grave on the other side of the glass. I had to stop, as much to clean the windshield as to get a top off of fuel to get the car home and a top off of caffeine to get my family there too. One more stretch, one more sprint to the finish.

We pulled into the driveway of our downtown Toronto condo building at 2:30 am. A raccoon – where the hell did a raccoon come from? – was foraging in the small patch of grass out front. I opened the doors silently with a press of the button. The gaping maw in the side of our chariot allowed Steph to scoop our sleeping four-year-old into her arms, and as I steered the big Honda back into her berth in the bowels of our building, carry her into our home.

Pricing: 2015 Honda Odyssey Touring
Base Price (base trim): $27,850
Base Price (Touring): $48,410
Options: None
A/C Tax: $100
Freight and PDI: $1,695
Price as Tested: $50,205

3 years/60,000 km; 5 years/100,000 km powertrain; 5 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 3 years/unlimited distance roadside assistance

Dodge Journey
Dodge Grand Caravan
Kia Sedona
Toyota Sienna