We’re old enough to remember when the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager were the best minivans on the market; a time when the Japanese and Koreans had yet to make their first minivan. Among the early 1980s minivans, the Caravan is the sole survivor. But more than 30 years after Chrysler Corp.’s introduction of this brilliantly conceived people and cargo hauler, the market remains strong, and one of the best examples of modern minivan design is Honda’s Odyssey.
The Odyssey debuted 20 years ago and quickly became a family favorite. Over the years, the sport-utility vehicle has supplanted many a minivan in suburban driveways, but in almost every functional aspect, minivans like the Odyssey are a better choice. They’re roomier, ride more smoothly, accommodate more passengers, deliver better fuel economy and carry more cargo. Yes, there may be a day or two during the winter when a front-wheel-drive minivan can’t run with the Land Rovers and Tahoes, but the rest of the time, the only issue is image: Do you really want to be seen driving around in a minivan?
The Odyssey solves that problem better than most (the exception being the consistently edgy Nissan Quest): Its designers worked hard to give it a stylish look and personality. Our jet-black 2015 Odyssey looked sharp with its sloping roof and crisp chrome window frames. Most other minivans we noticed during our week-long test drive, including earlier Odysseys, looked dowdy by comparison.
The Odyssey LX is priced at $28,975, thousands more than the base-model Grand Caravan, Quest and Kia Sedona, as well as the smaller Mazda5. (The popular Toyota Sienna is priced just a few hundred dollars below the base Odyssey.) All Odysseys come with the same 3.5-liter, 248-horsepower V-6 engine and 6-speed automatic transmission. Our loaded Odyssey, in Touring Elite trim, had a sticker price of $45,430.
The Odyssey has a great many strengths and one or two weaknesses. It handles and accelerates quite briskly for a minivan, and its transmission responds well to hilly terrain and passing situations – unlike the 283-horsepower Grand Caravan, which has an annoying tendency to downshift unexpectedly. Seating is roomy throughout. The third-row seat folds easily into a well in the back, and removing the second-row seats is a one-man job. Families that switch frequently between people-moving and cargo hauling might prefer competing models such as the Quest and Caravan, which can be transformed into box vans without taking out seats. People who live in places like New England might also choose the Sienna with all-wheel drive, which isn’t available on the Odyssey.
Other strengths include decent fuel economy, considering the Odyssey weighs more than two tons – 19 mpg city, 28 highway – excellent crash-test scores and Honda reliability.
Weaknesses were few; we could do without the obtrusive left foot rest, and felt the audio controls were more confusing and less versatile than we would have liked.
Steven Macoy ([email protected]) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6, 248 horsepower, 250 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: shiftable 6-speed automatic
Weight: 4,613 lb.
Suspension: MacPherson strut front, double-wishbone rear
Wheels: 18×7-in. alloy
Tires: 235/60R18 102T all-season
Max. towing capacity: 3,500 lb.
Seating capacity: 8
Luggage capacity: 38.4 cu. ft.
Maximum cargo capacity: 148.5 cu. ft.
Fuel capacity: 21 gal.
Fuel economy: 19 mpg city, 28 mpg highway
Fuel type: regular unleaded gasoline