New & Used Honda Odyssey: In Depth
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The Honda Odyssey is a large minivan, an apparent oxymoron, but it’s one of the best competitors in its class. It competes with other minivans like the Nissan Quest, Toyota Sienna, Dodge Grand Caravan, and the Chrysler Town & Country, as well as a few other alternatives like the Ford Explorer and the Chevrolet Traverse.
As with many Hondas, the Odyssey can be rewarding to drive, especially by the standards of the group, where buyers value number of cupholders and video screens over road feel and cornering ability. Families value its low running costs and strong resale value, and it's a well-regarded vehicle among a group of minivans whose overall sales have been stagnant for years.
For 2014, Honda added a new Touring Elite model at the top of the Odyssey range, whose current generation arrived as a 2011 model. The new top trim level layers on more luxury features and offers a first-ever option: a built-in vacuum cleaner that lets harried parents clean up after careless kids who spill their dry cereal or tiny Lego bricks all over the floor. Relatively few Odysseys seem likely to be sold with the built-in vacuum, but it underscores the point that Honda's minivan has been designed from the ground up with family needs in mind.
Today's Odyssey bears little semblance to the one that first emerged in Japan in 1994, launched a year later in the U.S. As Honda's first minivan, it had a cool initial reception here in the States. It was smaller than domestic minivans, and didn't have sliding side doors like those on the Caravan and Town & Country. Still, Honda’s reputation for reliability and strong resale values enabled the Odyssey to become a household nameplate within its first couple of years of sale.
The first generation Odyssey shared its platform with the top-selling Honda Accord sedan. It was manufactured in Japan and was only available with a four-cylinder engine. Customers did, however, have the choice between seven- or six-seater capability, the latter using two removable second-row captain's chairs in lieu of the regular bench.
The Odyssey’s other major draw card was its competitive pricing, although an inflow of cheaper models has seen this advantage eroded significantly. It's completely gone now, and the highly featured Odyssey is one of the more expensive minivans for sale in the U.S., with a starting price in the high $20,000s.
Honda then moved production of the Odyssey to North America, sized the van up significantly, and replaced the four-cylinder engine of the previous model with a new 3.5-liter V-6. Coming onto the market as a 1999 model, this bigger Odyssey was praised for its strong power, excellent handling and twin sliding doors.
Honda was onto a winning formula so for the third generation of the minivan, which was first launched as a 2005 model, changes were kept to a minimum. The Honda Odyssey featured a 244-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 with optional cylinder deactivation technology. The most efficient model returned an EPA-rated fuel economy of 17 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway.
Honda added a little more design panache to the latest generation of the Odyssey, along with improved seating plus new connectivity and entertainment features. The most noteworthy detail of the new design is a 'lightning-bolt' beltline--a small drop of the window line just behind the sliding door--which adds a little more window space in back. Power was pretty much carried over, with a 247-hp version of the 3.5-liter V-6, but a new six-speed automatic was phased in for part of the lineup, boosting some models' gas mileage to 19 mpg city, 28 highway. Variable cylinder management and active noise cancellation makes these vans among the most efficient and refined picks in the real world, too, plus the Odyssey has earned both IIHS Top Safety Pick status and top five-star ratings from the federal government.
The lack of some features on all but the highest-priced models has been a problem with the Odyssey in the past. It's better for the 2013 model year, since a rearview camera and Bluetooth are now standard equipment. The Odyssey can also be had with a stunning wide-screen entertainment system, HID headlamps, a blind-spot warning system, and a great 650-watt sound system.