2014 Honda Odyssey Touring Elite
As good as minivans get.No Comments
The Touring Elite trim level is the penthouse, so optioned out that the only actual option you can buy is remote start.
I was not part of a minivan family as a child. I was one of two progeny, and without carpools or extracurricular sports (the ones with oodles of equipment, at least), there was no need for anything beyond a standard compact sedan. I used to love riding in friends' parent's minivans, though. Something about having all that room in the back, coupled with the satisfaction of slamming shut a sliding door, made it an overall enjoyable experience.
Now, I'm much closer to child-bearing age, which means that I'm more likely to be buying a minivan than sitting in the back of one. So I had to leave my nostalgia at the door when the 2014 Honda Odyssey Touring Elite showed up at the office. How would this minivan fare for suburban daily driving? How versatile are the rear seats? Is there anything to keep the kids distracted on a long drive? These weren't the questions I had when I was 8.
Minivans are so packed with equipment nowadays that they're basically rolling houses. The Touring Elite trim level is the penthouse, so optioned out that the only actual option you can buy is remote start. That's not true; you can also buy a tent. Our tester came with front-collision warning, blind-spot monitoring, a 12-speaker premium sound system, rear-seat entertainment, parking sensors on all corners, and power-activated everything. All those pieces come with a price, though; even though the base Odyssey starts under $30,000, the Touring Elite starts at $44,450. That's a princely sum for your average nuclear family.
(One thing that's surprisingly absent is Honda's LaneWatch system, which adds a camera to the passenger side mirror. I think the Odyssey could use it, rather than the Civic Coupe and the Crosstour.)
For that price, though, you receive what is likely the best-packaged minivan on the market. A minivan needs to be durable, far more than your average passenger car does. Children will be climbing from the passenger seat to the third row, and crumbs will work their way into all manner of crevices on road trips both long and short. That's why I appreciate the Odyssey's use of hard plastics in all the right spots. It's not the most premium material for its price, but it's durable and easy to clean. If you're like the average Honda owner, wherein the period of ownership can be measured on the geologic time scale, durability counts. And the Odyssey is chock full of it.
Speaking of things that are incredibly old, let's talk about how the transmission feels. It must have been manufactured by a peanut-butter company, because it's skippy like none other. Shifting is by no means seamless, although the Odyssey is always ready to pass when the opportunity presents itself. Most of that is due to the 250 lb-ft of torque on tap. However, I think it's about time we put this drivetrain combination out to pasture in favor of something newer and more efficient -- perhaps something from Acura's stable of eight-and-nine-speed transmissions.
Steering isn't much better. It's very lively in its communication from ground to hand; the wheel shimmies over train tracks and jagged bumps. While that might be a trait desired in, say, a sports car, it's a little much in a minivan. Overall, the ride isn't as smooth as a crossover, but once you get it onto smooth pavement, it's easy to recline the seat and engage in some leisurely cruising free of discomfort. It feels much smaller than it actually is, as well; in my notes, I said that it drove like a slightly-larger Accord.
The infotainment, as on every other optioned-out Honda and Acura we've tested, is fine. Unlike most Acura models, which offload the climate controls to the lower touchscreen, the Odyssey keeps the HVAC system's traditional switchgear, cutting down on complication - again, good for a driver that's policing both the car and several children.
The rear two rows of seats are fantastically versatile. The second row has controls for reclining and fore-aft adjustment, and all three seats are removable in just a few short seconds. The third row folds neatly into a small well at the rear of the trunk, again taking only a second or two to do so. When it's up, though, the rearmost seats provide ample legroom for kids (and adults that aren't professional basketball players). And with both rear rows in place, there's still enough trunk space for suitcases. Or soccer bags. Whatever kids need to lug around these days.
Clearly, it's not a car I'd recommend to everybody. Honestly, I wouldn't recommend it to anybody with fewer than three children, because a sedan (or, heaven forbid, a crossover) can accomplish the same tasks with smaller physical and carbon footprints. But if you've got a big family, and you need something that will last you from grade school until college, this is the car to get.
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Drivetrain Layout: Front-engine, front-wheel drive
Power Output: 248 hp / 250 lb-ft
Fuel Economy (mpg): 19 city / 28 highway
Base Price: $44,450
As Tested: $45,280 (incl. $830 destination)
Optional Features: Remote start, and a tent for some reason.