LEXINGTON, KY – I’d always looked upon minivans as the automotive equivalent of Crocs – sensible, durable and comfortable – but I sure as hell wouldn’t want to be seen in them. After spending four days and more than 2,000 kilometres in a 2019 Honda Odyssey, I’ll grudgingly admit that there could be exceptions.
Did I mention that this thing is loaded?
When my riding pals and I decided to travel to Lexington, Kentucky, for the annual three-day equestrian show, we knew we’d probably be coming back with a lot more than we’d taken down. Aside from the spectacle of dancing, jumping horses, there were several hundred acres of the latest riding gear and apparel on display. Choosing the right vehicle can be a make-or-break proposition in a successful road trip, and a decision that required much forethought. Enter the Honda Odyssey. A veritable rolling living room, the Odyssey boasts a cavernous cargo hold, smooth driving dynamics, and for penny-pinching horse-owners the most attractive feature of all: parsimonious fuel consumption.
The Odyssey is best viewed from the front, where the headlight geometry and sharply executed familial Honda grille give it a clean and modern appearance. Its rear end is wide and square, embellished with a chrome strip that ties the taillamp together, and topped with a jaunty little spoiler.
From the side – well, let’s face it, the minivan’s basic box-on-wheels shape doesn’t really lend itself to expressive design. There are strategically placed character lines that help break up the vast expanse of sheet metal, but there’s no way to disguise its sheer bulk. A strange dip in the beltline adds little visual interest and only serves to make its rump look droopy. We certainly wouldn’t be turning any heads passing through the iron gates of the Kentucky Horse Park.
Since the target demographic for this vehicle is typically a growing family, safety features rank high on the must-have list. Touring is the top-spec, loaded trim level across Honda’s vehicle lineup, and as such our “5-star Top Safety Pick” Odyssey Touring was chock-full of active safety and driver assist features. Anyone who’s driven on the interminable stretch of interstate from Michigan across Ohio would understand why we liked Honda’s suite of active driver assist systems. Adaptive cruise control coupled with lane-keeping assist helped relieve the monotony of rush-hour traffic’s stop-and-go braking, and a “multi-degree view” back-up camera was a blessing when backing this fat-bottomed girl into a tight parking space.
Much hilarity ensued over the CabinWatch rear passenger monitor. While the intent is to let parents keep an eye on back-seat progeny, it’s great for catching someone breaking into the junk food stash – and the CabinTalk PA lets you call them out on it.
By nature, minivans are inherently uncool, sacrificing character for all-important utility. Like opting for Merrells over Jimmy Choos – it doesn’t take long to embrace the ease of living with something expressly designed for your convenience. My long-time riding buddy and I, both writers and photographers, carry a lot of paraphernalia that need ready access. The voluminous centre console easily swallowed notebooks, wallets, and my digital camera, with plenty of space in front of it for cell phones, toll bills, and the ever-present bag of Haribo gummy bears.
The Odyssey can carry up to eight passengers, and everyone gets a USB charge port. Need to charge your laptop? No problem, there’s an AC outlet, 12-volt plugs for other accessories – and a wireless smartphone charging pad. There’s shelf space beside the driver for a bag, and there are more cubby spaces than an Ikea wall unit. There are fifteen cup holders – enough to open a hipster cafe.
The reclining centre-row captain’s seats are mounted on rails and can easily be slid forward to access the third row, and independently to accommodate varying legroom needs – or provide staggered space between warring passengers. Speaking of which, parents (or travelling partners) can find blessed relief from engaging their passengers with the rear entertainment system and its separate headphones. Silence isn’t always golden, sometimes it’s upholstered in beige leather.
Wherever humans go, refuse follows, and it’s surprising how much detritus gathered in the Odyssey’s nooks and crannies. While it sounds terribly unfair to say this van sucks, it’s factually correct as the Odyssey boasts an actual on-board vacuum system. Muffin crumbs, rocket wrappers, errant Advil capsules, and the inevitable results of tramping around large animals not known for discreet bathroom habits – all dispatched with minimum effort.
Loading roller bags, knapsacks, and camera bags is made less awkward by a rear hatch door that’s automatically activated by waving a foot under the bumper. The 929 litre trunk has an easily accessed low load floor, and it expands to a cavernous 2,452 litres of flat cargo space with the third row dropped. The temptation to fill that empty space proved irresistible – with stops at Detroit’s Eastern Market and Blick’s for art supplies, Lexington for its truly astonishing variety of second-hand stores, and the inevitable bounty of walking the trade-show free-sample gauntlet. But we still had room for any killer deals on marked-down saddles or expensive boots.
User Friendliness: 8/10
It’s a minivan, not a high-tech Italian sports car, meant to be used by sleep-deprived parents and weary travellers. Thus, most of the controls and infotainment functions are ergonomically friendly and straightforward. If figuring out how to operate the one-touch sliding doors proves difficult – there’s a button on the key fob for that. Seat adjustments are simple, just pinch and pull the handles to slide forward the second row, and the third row drops flat with one pull of the strap.
Conversely, the infotainment system looks a bit dated in comparison to some competitors, and requires a bit of user familiarity – and having to use the touchscreen to control air temperature is a bit of an annoyance. The push-button gear selector system, located just below the centre stack, frees up a lot of console space but takes a while to get used to.
Did I mention that this thing is loaded? In addition to adaptive cruise control with lane-keeping assist, there’s also collision-mitigation braking – duly appreciated when a clapped-out Sunfire towing a camper trailer suddenly started fishtailing all over the interstate ahead of us. There’s no sinking feeling halfway through the day that you forgot to lock the doors – at this trim level the Odyssey has a simple “Walk Away Auto Lock”.
Once we got over the initial disappointment of not travelling in a swanky German crossover, we realized that the Odyssey was akin to staying in the comfort of one’s own home instead of a tiny, spartan, boutique hotel room. Heated and cooled seats? Check. Heated steering wheel? Check. Remote start, automatic power doors, 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot and comfy, leather seats? Check, check, and check. Luxuriate in the simple pleasure of having plenty of leg, head, and elbow room instead of arriving at your destination cramped and grumpy.
Driving Feel: 8/10
Admitting this could make me a pariah in my sports car club, but I actually enjoyed driving this vehicle. Like the elephant ballerinas in Disney’s Fantasia, this big girl is surprisingly light on her feet. Handling is very good; while the suspension is obviously tuned for comfort, there’s very little body roll and no upsetting wallow in the corners. Steering is light and accurate, and visibility is excellent thanks to the vast window space.
All Odysseys are powered by a 3.5L V6 putting out 280 hp – which doesn’t sound like much when you consider that it weighs 2,086 kg. Paddle shifters are a big help in accessing the power band when a quick spurt is needed for merging or passing manoeuvres. Power delivery is a bit more silken in the Touring trims, which get a 10-speed transmission instead of the standard nine-speed.
Fuel Economy: 8/10
Like most obsessions, horse ownership is ridiculously expensive – shoving bales of cash in one end, only to be shovelled out the other. By nature, most of us can pinch a penny until it squeals and we were therefore delighted to find that the 17-ft-long Odyssey didn’t consume much more than a four-door sedan. Officially rated at a combined 10.6 L/100 km, our van managed to achieve an overall 9.3 L/100 km over more than 2,000 kilometres of mostly highway driving. This was largely due to the V6’s active cylinder management, which deactivates up to three cylinders under light load (such as highway cruising) and the automatic stop-start system which prevented wasteful idling.
A vehicle like this is an invaluable purpose-built tool designed for comfort and practicality. It achieves those admirably, but if you want the frills you’ve got to pay for them. While the base Odyssey starts at $35,490, at that price you don’t even get power sliding doors or blind-spot monitoring. Our fully loaded Touring trim rang in at a rather hefty $50,890. Opting for a mid-range EX-L RES model at just over $40,000 gets you a raft of safety tech, but you’ve got to move up to the $45,190 EX-L Navi to get adaptive cruise control or onboard navigation. Frugal buyers could forgo the extra frills, and use their smartphones to connect with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.
The stereotypical minivan customer is the busy family, the soccer mom or hockey dad with a horde of hyperactive kids and all the paraphernalia that entails. But, as we discovered, such a vehicle is extraordinarily useful for anyone who appreciates travelling with plenty of room for themselves and their gear. The Honda Odyssey delivers on all counts.
|Peak Horsepower||280 hp @ 6,000 rpm|
|Peak Torque||262 lb-ft @ 4,700 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||12.6/8.4/10.7 L/100 km city/hwy/comb|
|Cargo Space||929 / 2,452 / 3,973 L behind 3rd/2nd/1st row|
|Model Tested||2019 Honda Odyssey Touring|
|Price as Tested||$52,785|