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Review: 2014 Honda Odyssey- Pricey but practical for the anti-SUV crowd

Week-long Odyssey test confirms minivans still best for both utility and comfort

The Toronto Star for Wheels.ca

It was once the go-to vehicle of choice for almost every family, but the minivan has long since been washed over by the relentless wave of SUVs and crossovers.

There?s only a handful of minivans still around, but they definitely deserve a second look. I?ve stuffed friends, family and cargo into just about every segment available, and I still think that nothing beats a minivan for utility.

They?re the easiest for accessing third-row seats, they have great headroom, and their low step-in height is ideal for very young or older passengers who might have difficulty climbing into something taller.

My chariot this time around was the Honda Odyssey, which undergoes a few changes for 2014, including power driver and front passenger seats on all models, tweaks to the front- and rear-end styling, and revised controls on the centre stack.

The Odyssey uses a 3.5-L V6 engine that?s equipped with cylinder deactivation. It?s a slick system that automatically switches between running on three, four, or all six cylinders, depending on how much power is needed.

New for 2014, all trim lines use a six-speed automatic transmission, replacing the five-speed that was used on all but the top-line Touring model in 2013.

Even though the Odyssey?s 248 horsepower is the least powerful in the segment, its 250 lb.-ft. of torque is mid-pack; the engine is quiet and has smooth acceleration.

The cylinder deactivation is seamless, and is pretty much detectable only when an ?Eco? indicator comes up in the instrument cluster. Thanks to that and the new transmission, the Odyssey now has the best fuel-efficiency figures of any van.

That said, although you?ll save at the pumps, the Odyssey is pricey. It starts at $31,864 for the base LX model, while my next-level-up SE was $33,864. The top-line Touring trim soars to $49,864 (and it?s the only model that includes the HondaVAC, an onboard vacuum cleaner that nabbed the lion?s share of press at all the auto shows last year).

Among the competition, Dodge?s Grand Caravan has the lowest starting price, at $27,995, while the Kia Sedona starts at $28,695, and the Toyota Sienna begins at $29,120. (The slow-selling Nissan Quest has been phased out, and is now available only by special order.)

Only the Chrysler Town & Country, a luxo-trimmed version of the Grand Caravan, starts off higher than the Odyssey at $41,795.

At the other end, only the all-wheel-drive Sienna in top-line trim, at $50,620, costs more than the Odyssey Touring.

For driving, I rate the Odyssey and Sienna at the top of the pack and, of those two, I prefer the Sienna?s engine performance and ride, but the Odyssey?s handling and steering feel are superior.

My SE came standard with rearview camera, power-operated front seats, and Bluetooth, among other items. But to get power-sliding side doors ? a very popular feature for families ? and heated front seats, I?d have to move up to an EX, which starts at $36,864. You get those on a Sienna LE for $33,365.

The Odyssey definitely has its charms. On a full day?s drive, the seats stayed very comfortable.

It?s easy to access the third row, and those rear chairs use Honda?s ?Magic Seat? design, first seen on the Fit, which makes them extremely easy to fold down when you need to haul cargo.

Also, the middle row?s centre seat slides forward, so those in the front seats can attend to a child sitting in it.

I like the removable front console box, which is set back from the centre stack. Unlike the Grand Caravan?s full console, the Odyssey gives you some flat floor space between the front seats, where you can drop a purse or pack and be able to reach it.

The stereo buttons are large and easy to use, but my SE tester?s manual climate control system used the same basic button setup as the automatic version on the higher trim levels. Since those systems are essentially ?set-and-forget,? the buttons were too small and fiddly when I wanted to make quick adjustments.

Although it is pricey, the Odyssey has a lot going for it: it?s roomy and comfortable, the seats are easy to fold, and the fuel efficiency is pretty impressive for something this big.

If you?re in the market for a people-mover, don?t automatically head to the SUVs. Minivans might not be trendy anymore, but they might just be exactly what you need.

The vehicle tested by freelance writer Jil McIntosh was provided by the manufacturer. Email: [email protected]

2014 Honda Odyssey

Price: $31,864 to $49,864, $33,864 as tested

Engine: 3.5-L V6

Power/torque: 248 hp/250 lb.-ft.

Fuel consumption L/100 km: 10.9 city, 7.1 hwy., 9.2 as tested

Competition: Chrysler Town & Country, Dodge Grand Caravan, Kia Sedona, Nissan Quest, Toyota Sienna

What?s best: Fuel economy, comfortable seats, practicality.

What?s worst: It?s expensive.

What?s interesting: The engine runs on 3, 4, or 6 cylinders.

  • Review: 2014 Honda Odyssey-  Pricey but practical for the anti-SUV crowd 2014 Honda Odyssey SE - photo by Jil McIntosh - for Wheels
  • Review: 2014 Honda Odyssey-  Pricey but practical for the anti-SUV crowd 2014 Honda Odyssey SE - photo by Jil McIntosh - for Wheels