Honda Odyssey — Cleaning up

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

The automotive hit of the week was a vacuum cleaner. It was used to sweep up debris left from a plant-buying trip and picking up granola scattered about by a five-year old. All this cleaning was courtesy of the 2014 Honda Odyssey minivan and its newest feature, an in-vehicle vacuum cleaner.

"Why didn't someone think of this before?" we thought. Is it just a gimmick to help sell the top Touring Elite trim where it is included as standard equipment? Perhaps. But we saved a trip or two to the $1 vacuum machine at the car wash — so maybe it is practical.

The vacuum is just one of several features added to the 2014 Odyssey to keep it at the forefront in the minivan segment. A host of new safety features and a new transmission highlight the Odyssey’s equipment upgrades starting at $29,655 including destination charge. Honda says the 2014 base price is just $150 more than 2013.

A six-speed automatic transmission is now standard across the lineup — which still consists of LX, EX, EX-L, Touring, and Touring Elite trim levels — meaning all Odysseys are now rated for 19 mpg city and 28 mpg highway. The six-speed previously came only on Touring and Touring Elite models, leaving the rest of the lineup with one fewer forward speeds and lower 18/27 mpg ratings. Safety-wise, Honda’s LaneWatch blind-spot tech, which uses a camera to display the passenger-side blind spot in the dashboard screen, as well as Forward Collision Warning and Lane Departure Warning systems are now available.

While gaining entry into the minivan segment comes at a rather hefty price for a family, there is still nothing in the industry to eclipse its passenger and cargo-hauling utility. No sport utility on the planet can match the minivan’s stretch-out room for two rows of passengers with decent third-row space for two or three more.  Its car-like driving characteristics and its incredible entry and exit accessibility through sliding rear doors has made the minivan the unrivaled champion of family transportation.

We found the Odyssey's performance spot-on whether loaded to the gills with passengers and cargo or with just one occupant onboard. The 3.5-liter V-6 mated to a six-speed automatic across the lineup makes 248 horsepower and 250 pound-feet of torque. Performance measured in 0-to-60 time is in the higher ranges of seven seconds. Odyssey also has a useable towing capacity of 3,500 pounds.

We were impressed with the overall driving dynamics of the 2014 Odyssey. The transmission produced quick, smooth shifts; the suspension offered both a comfortable ride and crisp handling, particularly for a large vehicle. Odyssey also has a remarkable 36.7-foot turning radius — like a compact sedan — and the steering was quick and responsive.

The interior is luxury-car quiet due partly to active-noise canceling technology, which eliminated much of the usual road noise. On one of our longer test drives we shut down the very good 650-watt audio system simply to enjoy the luxury of one of the quietist interiors available for less than 50 grand.

Honda has insured that the Odyssey’s interior accommodations are first class. One feature new to the minivan segment is what Honda calls the “wide mode,” which allows passengers to move the two outboard second-row seats a few inches sideways. This not only offers more comfortable accommodations for bigger people, but aids in strapping in three-acro
ss child seats.

Other features depending on model include a 16-inch widescreen high-definition entertainment system for second and third row passengers that can play two movies — or games — at the same time; a removable center console with a flip-up trash bag holder; and a “cool box” beverage cooler built into the bottom of the dashboard’s center section. Honda’s navigation system, rear backup camera and blind spot warning system are among the best in the industry; all available on our tes
t vehicle.

Honda has made the rearview camera standard equipment. The top three trim levels — including EX-L that may be the best seller — get Honda's new Lane Watch blind spot camera system. The top two trims also get a conventional blind spot camera, which we think should be standard equipment on all vehicles. Other safety equipment includes a full complement of airbags including front side-impact airbags and full-cabin side curtain airbags.

Our top-of-the-line Touring Elite model came at the advertised price of $45,280. Options are not needed on that model. Everything Honda has to offer comes with the package.

The new Odyssey is, indeed, much more than a unique in-vehicle vacuum cleaner. But it's a neat bonus.

Base price: $29,655; as driven, $45,280
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6
Horsepower: 248 @ 5,700 rpm
Torque: 250 foot-pounds @ 4,800 rpm
Drive: front wheel
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Seating: 2/2/3
Wheelbase: 118.1 inches
Length: 202.9 inches
Curb weight: 4,613 pounds
Turning circle: 36.7 feet
Luggage capacity: 38.4 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 148.5 cubic feet
Towing capacity: 3,500 pounds
Fuel capacity: 21 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 28 highway, 19 city
0-60: 7.9 seconds (Edmunds)
Also consider: Toyota Sienna, Nissan Quest, Chrysler Town & Country

The Good
• Long list of family-friendly features
• Quiet, comfortable cabin
• Agile handling

The Bad
• Pricer than much of the competition

The Ugly
• Vacuum comes standard only in top trim level