Written by James Hamel
Overview (Final Score after 8 Categories: A-)
There is a very good reason why you see so many Honda Odyssey minivans tooling about in suburbia amidst the ever increasing numbers of family crossovers and SUVs. Because while the minivan segment has shrunk since its sales zenith in 2000, buyers of the Honda Odyssey know that this is the only vehicle on the road that can fit their unique family needs. And it also manages, somehow, to be fun to drive which is not something that can be said of the toaster oven on wheels also known as the Nissan Quest.
Our 2014 Honda Odyssey tester was a top of the line Touring Elite model which maxed out at $45,000 but do be aware that apparently that's how consumers prefer to buy these vans from this Japanese automaker. According to Sage Marie at Honda, the average transaction price for most Odyssey buyers is around $38,000 and base LX trim versions start at around $29,000. So clearly these Honda minivan shoppers know they want a van that does pretty much everything but drive itself. But more on that later.
Sure, Chrysler may have a larger percentage of the sales market but that's only when you combine sales of the Dodge, Chrysler and re-badged VW versions of its minivan. Also, Chrysler relies much more on rental fleets to boost sales than Honda which mainly sells Odyssey vans to private buyers. No matter, Honda is in the minivan business not for pure sales volume but because people like to buy these reliable family transport modules fully loaded with goodies. And for 2014 Honda has gone a step and a half beyond what's expected and introduced a built in car vacuum cleaner called the "HondaVac" which may be the most cleverly designed new car feature we have ever seen. At the very least we can say that while it may suck up dirt quite well, the new "HondaVac" definitely doesn't suck.
What We Loved about about the 2014 Honda Odyssey
What We Didn't Love about the 2014 Honda Odyssey
- Surprisingly quick, nimble, agile and fun to drive for such a large vehicle
- The new HondaVac in car vacuum is a brilliant piece of engineering and useful
- Interior Comfort and Flexibility
- Prices can get pretty steep once you start loading on the options
- Telling your friends you love driving a minivan
- Some interior plastics could feel more premium given price of Touring Elite model
Exterior View (8 out of 10)
When the latest Odyssey was first unveiled a few years back, its exterior design was quite controversial but we think over time the design has aged quite well. We happen to like the unique "mark of Zeus" that goes along each side of the van culminating in that zig zag point of interest right at the sliding side doors. The tail lamps are handsome and from the front the Odyssey looks handsome and classy. Lord knows it looks better than the toaster on wheels 2014 Nissan Quest. Minivans already have a dorky reputation among the masses, so why buy one that seems purpose built to make you look like a dork? The Odyssey definitely doesn't do that.
Interior Comfort, Quality and Overall Ease of Use (10 out of 10)
The interior of the 2014 Honda Odyssey is not only a perfectly engineered chariot for up to eight passengers to ride comfortably, it is also insanely easy to reconfigure the rows of seats to maximize cargo volume or to mix and match how much seating and how much storage space you need. Truly, the minivan is the most versatile car on the road no matter what you may think it lacks in "cool" factor. But wait, is Honda making a play for "ooh's" and "aah's" from minivan passengers by integrating a new feature we never thought we'd see in a mass produced vehicle.
Yes, we speak of course of the new built in "Honda-Vac" which we put to the test with a group of pre-teens (and a confused dog) who we allowed inside the test vehicle to engage in a full on popcorn throwing war. Maybe we underestimated how much popcorn we made or the destructive power of children but after it was all over we were a bit fearful it would require a $100 detailing at a car wash to pick up all the debris. But no, the "Honda-Vac" has a supremely powerful rate of suction so nothing will escape it and the hose stretches far enough to reach every corner and crevice a piece of popcorn might hide.
And lastly, the holding bin inside the "Honda-Vac" where all the popcorn went surprised us for being large enough to not need many trips to a trash can. And when not in use, the "Honda-Vac hose, motor, removable bin and attachments all disappear behind a door located right at the left rear of the interior if you are looking inside from the power hatch out back. We never would have thought a minivan needed a built in vacuum cleaner but now we kind of wish every car did. But then, that might put car washes out of business.
Technology (10 out of 10)
Our only complaint is that one time the Odyssey's navigation system got us lost in Irvine, California but for anyone who has been to that planned community you could easily understand why since it was clearly set up to make people not know where they are going. It's like the Bermuda Triangle of planned communities and consider this the reason why the otherwise infallible navigation system could not figure out where to go in Irvine. Maybe it's because there is a law in Irvine all buildings must look identical and be no more than 6 months old.
Otherwise, no automaker makes a Bluetooth system that syncs quicker to your smartphone than Honda, the interface for the navigation system is as simple as can be, the rear DVD entertainment system is easy enough for kids to be able to understand how to switch movies and the power sliding doors/rear hatch always responded in a timely manner and stopped if an object got in their way. The 650-watt 12-speaker audio system that is standard on Touring Elite models also pleased the inner audiophile in us as it should any parent who chooses to rock out to their old Bon Jovi CD on their way to pick the kids up from Karate. And if the kids should call you via the hands free Bluetooth on your way just tell them you are "half way there" and "oh, oh," aren't we all just "livin' on a prayer?"
Fuel Economy (8 out of 10)
The 2014 Honda Odyssey Touring Elite is powered by the well proven and rev-happy corporate 3.5 liter V6 rated at 248 horsepower/250 lb. feet of torque all fed happily to the tires through a smooth 6-speed automatic. EPA fuel economy readings are 19 city and 28 highway with a sizable 21 gallon fuel tank that only requests you use regular unleaded. We averaged a rather amazing 24 miles per gallon over a weeklong stay with us especially considering the fact that more often than not the Odyssey encourages the driver to behave in a manner unbecoming a minivan owner. So, no, we didn't stick to the slow lane the whole week. Or ever, really.
Predicted Reliability and Initial Quality Ratings (10 out of 10)
According to research site TrueDelta.com, the 2014 Honda Odyssey averaged a very low 18 repair visits per 100 vehicles sold as opposed to 26 for the Nissan Quest and nearly 40 for the Chrysler minivans. Only the Toyota Sienna had fewer return trips for a repair (which could be anything from repairing a rattle to a warning light illuminating to a transmission repair) so long as it wasn't one sold with all-wheel drive. Apparently the all-wheel drive system available in the Sienna has caused some reliability hiccups for that minivan. Overall, the Odyssey lives up to Honda's reputation for excellent reliability.
Safety (10 out of 10)
As for any vehicle so purpose built to carry around people's families, the 2014 Honda Odyssey is undeniably a very safe car. We take the word of the IIHS (Insurance Institute of Highway Safety) which gave this family room on wheels a full "Top Safety Pick Plus" rating which means it scored a top "Good" rating in a front offset, rear, side, roof rollover strength and the notoriously difficult small overlap front crash tests it performs. The last test is meant to recreate the impact of a vehicle into a fixed object like a lightpole or tree at 40 miles per hour. This type of accident is estimated to cause a quarter of the automotive related deaths each year in the United States.
Performance (8 out of 10)
For anyone who has ever driven any other minivan in their life, the performance and handling characteristics of the 2014 Honda Odyssey will blow your mind. Thanks to communicative steering and little body roll around corners, the van which is rather huge seemingly shrinks around the driver. The steering is never artificially stiff to mimic faux-sportiness either making low speed, crowded parking lot maneuvers a snap. Also, when cruising at freeway speeds the ride irons out most irregularities with only slight wind noise around the side mirrors audible. But not if you turn up the 12-speaker audio system, however.
The 3.5 liter 248 horsepower/250 lb. feet of torque V6 engine produces plenty of power low in the rev range so you can easily chirp the front tires away from stop lights and freeway passing power is plentiful. As the revs rise, the familiar Honda VTEC symphonic roar is audible enough to encourage spirited driving but not annoy the rest of the family. Simply put, the Odyssey may not be a replacement for your old sports car but it is the most fun you can have while driving any minivan sold anywhere at any time. Period.
Pricing and Value for Money (8 out of 10)
As the "Honda-Vac" feature only comes with top of the line trim Touring Elite models like the one tested here, you could say that this Japanese automaker charges $44,450 for a vacuum cleaner and then tosses in a minivan along with it for free. But that sort of sarcasm would be beside the point, no matter how much fun we have with it. We do admit that we think the "Honda-Vac" is a worthy enough feature that it should be made available in lower trims of this minivan, even if it does jack up the price of, perhaps, the $32,000 EX model which is very well equipped and suitable for many family needs.
But if you love bells and whistles then there is no other choice to make then going the whole hog with the Touring Elite model which features (big breath!) leather seating, heated front seats, rear seat DVD entertainment system with an ultra-wide view screen, sporty looking (yes sporty!) 18-inch alloy wheels, three zone climate control, Bluetooth, power sliding doors on both sides, a power rear hatch, the "Honda-Vac," a 650-watt 12-speaker surround sound audio system with subwoofer, in-dash navigation, Blind spot assist, HD radio, Sirius/XM, USB/i-Pod integration, a cool-box at the base of the dash that is air conditioned for storing cold snacks we assume, power front seats, a third row magic seats that literally vanishes into the floor, push button start, a lane departure warning system, a frontal collision warning system, a back-up camera with multiple angles and a partridge in a pear tree.
It doesn't sound so expensive now, does it?
The Final Numbers and the Competition (71 points out of 80)
There is a reason why so many people buy the Honda Odyssey as opposed to other competing models. It is more engaging and fun to drive than the Toyota Sienna which is a perfectly beige choice if that's what you like. It really is the strongest competition with the Odyssey thanks to strong reliability, a strong powertrain and agreeable styling. But drive one back to back with an Odyssey and the Toyota has less body control around corners and obviously seems calibrated for comfort over driver fun.
Yes, we said fun in reference to driving a minivan which is nothing anyone would say after piloting the Nissan Quest which not only has seemingly been shot up with Novocain everywhere resulting is molasses slow response times to all driving inputs but this toaster oven on wheels has the gall to show up to the minivan game without one single unique, clever design element or gadget. Next!
Then there is the ubiquitous Chrysler and Dodge minivans which boast lots of clever features like Stow N' Go second row seats and great in-van infotainment as well as a recently improved interior but is let down by disappointing quality rankings by owners. They also drive, well, a bit too much like minivans and their engines are getting up there in age and aren't the most efficient or powerful. In short, if you must we suggest haggle hard for a good deal.
Otherwise, our pick of the litter in the minivan market is the 2014 Honda Odyssey. No question.