I've never driven a vehicle with a built-in vacuum cleaner before.
My wife couldn't believe it. 'Why can't you keep the house as clean as you keep that van?' she asked, when I whisked wayward crumbs from the seats for the second time that day.
The vacuum is something of a luxury in the 2014 Honda Odyssey. You have to buy the top-of-the-line Touring edition to get it, which costs $48,050 and also includes a 650W 12-speaker sound system and a 16.2-inch twin DVD display screen for the back passengers. If you don't want those things, anyone can buy a similar Shop-Vac for a couple of hundred dollars, although it won't store away so conveniently.
But if there's any vehicle that needs a vacuum, it's the family minivan. Storage cubbyholes everywhere get sprinkled with cookie debris, seats are wedged with snack detritus, and carpets are covered with mud from soccer cleats. A couple of kids can make a minivan very dirty, very quickly.
Not the Odyssey we drove to Montreal, though. I used any excuse to unhook the hose from behind its cover in the rear cargo area and start cleaning. I even showed it to the valet at our hotel. He looked impressed. My wife did not.
'Men and their toys,' she sighed.
The latest generation of Odyssey is a lot more than the vacuum cleaner, of course, and more of the features previously only available at the top of the line are now standard at all trim levels.
The excellent six-speed automatic transmission now powers even the base $29,990 LX edition, and every Odyssey offers cylinder deactivation to improve fuel consumption. If you?re cruising and don?t need instant power, it will run on just three of its six cylinders to use less gas.
The 3.5-L engine itself is unchanged, but the new transmission helps provide an official fuel consumption of 10.9 L/100 km in the city, and 7.1 on the highway. Its official combined rating is 9.2, which is an improvement of half-a-litre over the old five-speed.
During our 1,000 km with the van, I used an average of 11.1 L/100 km, most of which was either cruising on the highway or gliding around the cobbled streets of Old Montreal.
The Odyssey does glide very well. Put your kids in the back and they'll scarcely notice you?re moving.
In the Touring edition, there?s every electronic convenience available to distract passengers from the tedium of actual travel: conventional and satellite radio, Aha music through a tethered smartphone, CDs and DVDs of course, a Blueray player for movies and even computer games on the drop-down screen through separate HDMI connections to their consoles.
Be wary, however, before all this gadgetry seduces you. My teenage boys just listened to music saved on their phones and were quite content.
They were quite comfortable, too. All minivans are generous with headroom and the Odyssey is spacious enough for the whole family to stretch out and still have room in the back for luggage. All but the base LX comes with seating for eight, and unlike SUVs, the third row is as comfortable as the second.
The back row folds snugly and easily into the floor, if preferred, so the rear becomes flat like a station wagon behind the second row of seats. This is how we travelled, with all our luggage handy in the back, and then some. A large artist's canvas, four by five feet, sat unharmed on the top of everything ' just try that in a sedan or SUV.
The second row of seats will fold forward to create more cargo room if needed. They can even be removed completely, but you will need somewhere to put them. Only Chrysler has Stow ?n? Go, which folds both rows of seats flat beneath the floor.
The Odyssey used to have a lazy-susan storage carousel under the floor in the centre, but that?s now a place to keep the spare tire. It makes sense, freeing up storage space that?s easier to access in the back.
The middle seat in the second row ' available on all but the base model ? removes for improved access to the rear, but it doubles as a little table with cupholders when it's folded down, so we left it in place.
My kids didn't give their safety a second's thought, but this Odyssey is even more protective than before. The front is re-engineered and reinforced to better distribute the force of a head-on collision. Fortunately, we did not test this.
I did discover the comfort of the drive, which was serene and quiet and smooth. The Toyota Sienna may have optional reclining airplane seats in the middle row and a second sunroof, but the Odyssey has a ride that just floats over bumps and ripples in the road.
It also has Active Noise Cancelling through the 12 speakers to muffle any road and wind noise, and even an optional acoustically-quiet windshield.
The Touring version comes with blind-spot detection warning lights, which flash from the mirrors if there?s another vehicle hidden as it drives in the lane alongside, as well as HID self-levelling headlights, 18-inch wheels and a memory driver?s seat. It's intended to be as safe as it is comfortable, and as easy to drive as it is reliable.
All of this adds up, so the Odyssey is not cheap. Even the base model is $10,000 more than a reasonably equipped Dodge Grand Caravan, but seven different trim levels let you choose just what you want for your van.
If you want the vacuum cleaner, be prepared to spend top dollar. It has its benefit, though: you're guaranteed always to have the cleanest vehicle in town. Wayward crumbs don't stand a chance.
The vehicle tested by freelance writer Mark Richardson was provided by the manufacturer. Email: email@example.com.
2014 HONDA ODYSSEY
$29,990 to $48,050
248 hp/250 lb.-ft.
Fuel Consumption L/100 km:
10.9 city, 7.1 hwy.
Toyota Sienna, Dodge Grand Caravan, Kia Sedona, Nissan Quest
Very safe, very comfortable, very clean.
Expensive, only one sunroof, second-row seats don?t fold away completely.
The Odyssey is built in Lincoln, Alabama.