The Honda Odyssey is a nest on wheels. If there were a few hooks to hang pictures, then I?d move right in. It swallows up cargo and kids, pets, maybe your duck decoy collection and there?s still room for more.
I don?t need a van and don?t spend much time thinking about them, so to feel happy and at home in the Odyssey took me by surprise.
My test vehicle was the $47,090 2012 Odyssey Touring. It?s the top of the Odyssey lineup and spending a week enjoying all its features makes you believe you could live with nothing less.
The van?s only miscue is its dog-pound exterior styling. From the side it looks like it was caught in a can crusher, with the rear third of the vehicle taking a curious dip southward. It really is a few hammer blows away from being a station wagon. But with the dim-witted North American disdain of wagons, it can?t be allowed to go there. Others have praised Honda for trying something different. I think the design looks like someone punched the wrong button in Photoshop.
For almost every other Odyssey trait, it?s Happy Faces right across the board. The driving position is excellent, relaxing but with the proper set up. Some cars have weird angles, your arms are held aloft on the steering wheel like a scene from the Spanish Inquisition. The Odyssey ergonomics remove driver strain. The seats are well padded, and there?s enough shoulder room to accommodate a CFL linebacker.
The look and layout of the interior is simple and well thought-out. On the centre console, the important functions have big knobs. Honda has placed the climate controls at the top of the stack and has been criticized for it because they can be hard to reach for some. I didn?t find it a problem. The computer display screen is bright and clear. The Touring edition comes with a navigation system that has excellent voice recognition, and a multi-view rear camera for troublesome parking manoeuvres. Despite its size, I found the Odyssey easy to wiggle into tight spots. There?s clever storage in the doors and centre console, and a cool mirror overhead lets you spy on back-seat occupants. Honda calls it a conversation mirror.
Once you?re settled in like a goose on a nest, the Odyssey is a pleasure to drive. The 3.5-litre V6 produces 248 horsepower. I didn?t find it wanting for power, even making the long climb up the escarpment in my part of the 905. The Touring gets a six-speed automatic transmission, all others have five gears. The addition of the higher gear makes the Odyssey quiet on the highway, perhaps the acoustic windshield available only on the Touring helps, too. It?s also slightly more fuel efficient.
Best of all, the Odyssey feels tight, stable and fairly car-like to drive. There?s nothing doughy about its on-road performance. Only when I was on a tight, undulating country road was I reminded that it was a van. In those conditions, one remembers the pleasure of driving a BMW 1M, or similar blithe spirit. Country driving at night is a lovely Luminato experience thanks to the powerful high-intensity discharge lights (on Touring edition only). The cut-off is precise and the ditches at the side of the road are illuminated.
I saved up some hauling chores for my week with the Odyssey. With some shifting it easily accommodated two eight-foot long boxes for a trip across town. On another day I filled the cargo area with plants for the garden.
The third row seats, which have realistic proportions, fold flat into the floor, opening up imaginative cargo storage. In the second row the centre console can be removed (it?s heavy and you need to be strong) for flexible fitting of long items. The seats also slide forward and aft for passenger comfort, and move sideways for reconfiguring to seat three adults.
The interior mechanical things that can be so vexatious in some cars work smoothly in the Odyssey. Deploying seats into new positions is easily done with a tug on a strap, no muscle needed. The power sliding doors can be operated from the key fob, from a button near the steering wheel and from the second row of seats. The power tailgate, standard on the two top trim levels, is a welcome convenience.
Even the cheapest Odyssey at $29,990 comes well-equipped. The features of the Touring trim that I would miss are the six-speed auto, HID headlights and power tailgate. Families might be crestfallen without the slick rear entertainment DVD system that is standard on the Touring.
The Odyssey competes with the Toyota Sienna which also offers a four-cylinder, the Nissan Quest, and the tried-and-true Chrysler Town and Country.
Bottom line ? the Odyssey was epic enough to give minivans a second thought.
2012 Honda Odyssey Touring
PRICE (base/as tested): $29,990 /$47,090
POWER/TORQUE: 248 hp, 250 lb.-ft
FUEL CONSUMPTION: City 10.9 L/100km Hwy 7.1 L/100km
COMPETITION: Toyota Sienna, Kia Sedona, Chrysler Town and Country, Nissan Quest, Dodge Caravan
WHAT?S BEST: good driving position, tight handling, flexible people and cargo mover
WHAT?S WORST: homely exterior styling
WHAT?S INTERESTING: Some people think it is good looking.