2016 Honda Odyssey Touring Elite
If you want to know which minivan BMW owners turn to when they need more practicality than anything offered by the performance-oriented luxury brand, look no further than the Honda Odyssey. It’s not necessarily the most premium-like when it comes to interior refinements and features, but its ride and handling characteristics feel more Teutonic than traditional Japanese, and understated yet elegant styling looks good while not standing out too much in a crowd.
After all, nobody really wants to be seen while driving a minivan, do they? That may be common thought based upon the segment’s anti-status stigma, but it really comes down to one’s own personal struggle with ego. Thanks to a little therapy and a lot of self-help I couldn’t give a rat’s ass what anyone else thinks, so I’m perfectly comfortable behind the wheel of anything with two, three, four or even six wheels, let alone tracks. Hmmm… now we’re onto something, a go-anywhere minivan with tank-like tracks. As cool as a Unimog-van conversion sounds it’ll need to wait for a future story, because right now we need to talk practicalities.
Practical considerations are why we buy minivans, right? Yes, and no. If you’ve never driven one you may not realize how nice they are for running errands around town or heading out on a road trip. You get the raised ride height of a crossover SUV with even more car-like handling, while side and rear visibility can’t be beat. The driving position is upright, ideal for long stints at the wheel, while the wind noise and drumming effect older vans experienced at higher speeds are completely eradicated from today’s much quieter van segment.
Minivans are a much smaller slice of the automotive market pie than they used to be, with all but one of Detroit’s big three automakers having completely left the family van sector behind last decade for crossover SUVs, and the ill-conceived Volkswagen Routan, short-lived Hyundai Entourage, and oddball Nissan Quest more recently dead (ok, the Quest still lives, albeit a very quiet life of near retirement, and it’s really no threat to the Odyssey or any other serious minivan contender).
And just which vans are left? No minivan review would be complete without mentioning the Dodge Grand Caravan/Chrysler Town and Country twins that started the segment out back in the early ’80s, the former less expensive version accounting for 97,141 U.S. sales last year and the latter finding 93,848 buyers, the two combined accounting for 190,989 units down American roads, which represents a solid import thrashing. Toyota’s Sienna is actually number one with respect to individual model sales, with 137,497 sold last year, while the Odyssey is a close second with 127,736 deliveries. Far behind is Kia’s Sedona, which is arguably the best looking of the lot, struggling with just 36,755 sales whereas Nissan’s unorthodox Quest just barely stayed above water with 11,018 units sold. While Nissan has never been able to crack the minivan nut, Honda’s 127,736 Odyssey sales is very impressive, especially considering that many believe minivans are merely biding their time until they mercifully fade away, forever replaced by today’s “more popular” crossover SUVs.
In reality, when compared to their seven-passenger SUV siblings, most minivans fare pretty well on the sales charts, some even besting their CUV counterparts. The Odyssey came pretty close to the Pilot’s 136,212 sales, despite that model being entirely new last year, whereas the Sienna wasn’t far behind Toyota’s Highlander. Ditto for the Journey and either Dodge or Chrysler minivan, but the two combined whipped Dodge’s seven-passenger CUV. Only Kia’s Sorento and Nissan’s Pathfinder ran away with seven-passenger sales when compared to their respective minivans, but you’ve got to hand it to them for staying in the race. Why all these sales numbers? I just want to make sure you understand that the minivan is far from dead here in the U.S.
As noted earlier, the Odyssey drives well but it won’t blow away today’s Pilot buyer when it comes to cabin refinement and overall luxury. This is a utilitarian vehicle with hard plastics used for the dash and instrument panel, as well as the center stack that reaches way down to the floor, the lower console that’s a useful foldaway unit allowing handy pass-through when not in use, plus most of the door panels, but the door uppers are finished in a nice soft synthetic, not unlike the even softer padded secondary door inserts that curve downward into nicely stitched armrests. The multi-adjustable center armrests are padded and comfortable too, but they’re more like extensions of the seats that flip up and out of the way when not wanted.
Honda adds some other upscale details that give the Odyssey Touring Elite a semblance of luxury such as a leather steering wheel, some dark aluminum-like metallic trim across the steering wheel spokes and instrument panel, plus chromed inner door handles and some brightwork around the various knobs and buttons, but it’s the rest of this top-line model’s features that make the difference. It starts with leather upholstery done out in gray in my tester, a nice light and airy contrast to the dark Obsidian Blue Pearl exterior paint. The driver’s seat is wonderfully comfortable and large enough for just about any body type, while 10-way powered adjustability including powered lumbar support allows relief from back pain over a long journey, as do two-way heatable front cushions that despite skimping on temperature settings are piping hot when set to “HI”. Honda provides memory for the driver’s seat and side mirrors, the latter with reverse-tilt to aid parking, while the features list continues with front and rear parking sensors plus a multi-angle back-up monitor with guidelines, although Honda’s usual piece de résistance, its exclusive LaneWatch blindspot display system that lets you see the passenger’s side rearward view so you’ll never be without eyes in the back of your head again, is strangely omitted from this top-line model yet available with lesser trims. How weird is that?
The multi-view camera’s real-time footage gets housed within a large infotainment display atop the dash, the screen a fair distance away and nicely sheltered within a deep hooded pocket so that sunlight can’t get near. It also means that all other functions, such as navigation, need to be controlled by a rotating dial below a second infotainment screen mounted lower down on the center stack, and not via touchscreen like most others do it. I don’t mind this process as it keeps the display nice and clean from fingerprints and requires slightly less reach to actuate, but it limits the availability of new technologies such as pinch and swipe as well as proximity-sensing buttons that enlarge as your finger gets near; Honda will need to incorporate a touchpad controller like some premium brands are offering if it wants to keep this layout when updating their infotainment. These are the types of features showing up on the latest Apple CarPlay and Android Auto-enhanced infotainment systems, and in this respect the Odyssey’s system is starting to feel a bit dated. The secondary display is a touchscreen, mind you, but despite its large size and near total dedication to audio its graphics were dull and it was completely devoid of RDS (Radio Data System) for FM stations that normally offer real-time song and artist info.
I mentioned navigation a moment ago, a feature only available with the EX-L and standard with the Touring and this Touring Elite model. Honda was a leader in GPS navigation many years ago, but I have to say its system is experiencing similar aging problems to the audio interface. Its processor is slower than average, and its processes are less intuitive than others. For instance, when I first tried to input an address I looked for a way to do so from map view, but there didn’t seem to be a way. I searched and searched, clicking on links to no avail. Fortunately my cooler-headed partner, who was sitting in the passenger seat, asked if I’d pressed the “Menu” button. I asked why, being that it makes no sense to do that, but lo and behold within that interface I found a way to set up the guidance system and eventually leave home. Why there is no button to do so from the map view is still puzzling, as common sense dictates it should be there, but such was not the case. The address entered was familiar by name, but I couldn’t remember which part of the city it was located and therefore left finding it totally up to the nav. This proved to be a problem, as Honda’s navigation system drove us at least 30 minutes out of the way via an extremely slow and heavily trafficked route. Truly, this is close to the dumbest nav system I’ve ever experienced (a recent Porsche Cayenne GPS placed us in the middle of a large river 20 miles away while parking six floors under a downtown high rise, so it wins this year’s electronic Einstein award), and nearly caused us to miss our meeting. Rather than skirting around the city via arterial routes (and there are plenty of fast paced roads to choose from), it drove us completely downtown before making a 90-degree right angle and heading out of town again. I experienced a similar albeit less time consuming runaround with another Honda model more recently tested, so it appears its nav system issues are systemic, not specific to the vehicle tested.
Rather than focus too much more on electronics, obviously not the Odyssey’s forte, I’d rather talk about an attribute this van has been respected for since inception, performance. I wouldn’t say the latest Odyssey offers enthusiast drivers as much of a gain in driving dynamics than the second-generation van did when compared to its peers, because all have improved their drivability over the last 15 to 20 years, but the Odyssey is still a step ahead when it comes to handling, its ability to straighten and flatten a twisting and undulating two-laner always surprising. As tested this is a 4,607-lb vehicle, hardly a mini-van by any stretch of the imagination, but it handles like a young, lithe athlete instead of the portly, aging family hauler it resembles. Its ride won’t make you forget your Grand Caravan or Town & Country, both more compliant over rough patches, and its 3.5-liter V6 isn’t as spirited as Chryco’s 3.6 Pentastar (while Chrysler’s new Pacifica will bring yet more power to the mix), but 248 horsepower and 250 lb-ft of torque is more than enough output to get the big van moving quickly while its six-speed automatic is smooth and quick shifting enough to satisfy all but the most ardent family “haulers”, although oddly it doesn’t offer a manual mode, a feature most of the others include as standard.
Of course if you drive it like you stole it your fuel bill will be stratospheric, but piloted more moderately it delivers the best economy in the class with an EPA rating of 19 mpg city, 28 highway and 22 combined. Also important, it’s no less thrifty than the similarly equipped 2016 Honda Pilot Touring Elite, with its much more advanced engine, transmission and eco features, albeit that model features standard AWD.
The Odyssey is also a lot roomier than the Pilot or any crossover utility, especially in its third row where a couple of medium-to-large adults or three kids can sit quite comfortably side-by-side. Speaking of comfort, there’s also a folding armrest in the middle and third-row side sunshades as well, exclusive to the two Touring models, while the second-row seats are even more accommodating, my tester filled with a wide three-person bench for a maximum of eight possible occupants. The middle seatback folds forward exposing a useful center console complete with an open storage bin and three cupholders, or alternatively it can be removed to provide a center walkway between captain’s chair-style seats to either side. Those outboard seats slide back and forth and tumble forward for easy access to the rear, although removing them for loading large cargo is not recommended unless you’re particularly strong or enjoy a good relationship with an effective chiropractor. If you manage to lift them out and find a safe, dry place to store them the Odyssey is technically capable of 148.5 cubic feet of cargo behind its first row of seats, although most will probably just leave the second row in place and make do with the 93.1 cubic feet left over, and as long as we’re talking numbers there’s a total of 29.9 cubic feet available behind the rearmost seats.
Provided there’s nothing stowed in that deep well at the very back, the 60/40-split third row drops into the floor for a totally flat loading area, but the second row leaves much to be desired in a van segment that offers more utile alternatives. I believe this shortcoming is what keeps the Odyssey and all imported challengers from really making headway against the Chryco duo. The Grand Caravan and Town & Country offer second-row seats that fold completely away beneath the floor just like those in back, creating an instantly flat loading area that’s unparalleled in the industry. Early versions of these seats weren’t as comfortable as regular middle row seats and therefore were easy to fault, but the domestic vans have since been improved upon and therefore ergonomics are no longer a problem. Of course, there’s no middle passenger option reducing seating to seven, but sales will show that this isn’t an issue with the majority of buyers. Honda is certainly no stranger to innovative seating systems, such as those offered in its Fit subcompact hatchback and new HR-V subcompact SUV, so we know they can do better, but so far they’ve missed the mark with a critically important minivan feature.
What’s more, the Sedona is the only minivan offering a rear panoramic-style sunroof, the Sienna no longer featuring a similar option, but the new Pacifica will boast an even larger tri-pane panoramic roof that should brighten up the lives of rear occupants. As it is the Odyssey can only be had with a regular front sunroof, although the rear widescreen entertainment system included in my tester would probably stop any complaining in its tracks. It’s only available in top-line Touring Elite trim, the Touring, EX-L and SE models getting a less impressive 9.0-inch screen instead of this model’s 16.2-inch display, the feature also incorporating a remote, two wireless headsets with personal surround sound, RCA video inputs, dual headphone jacks and a 115-volt household-style power outlet.
Other Touring Elite features not yet mentioned include attractive machine-finished 18-inch alloys with black painted pockets wrapped in 235/60 rubber, fog lamps (oddly only Touring trims include fogs), wiper-linked auto on/off HID headlamps with auto-leveling, turn signals within the side mirror housings (also strangely missing from lower trims), a center reflector tailgate garnish (instead of chrome), proximity-sensing access with pushbutton ignition, ambient footwell lighting, an acoustic windshield, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, tri-zone auto HVAC with humidity control and air-filtration, a cool box for chilling beverages, the dual-screen infotainment system mentioned earlier with email and text message functionality, a 650-watt audio system with 12 speakers and an amp plus 5.1 surround, satellite and HD radio, Bluetooth streaming audio, an HDMI jack and more, while the features list continues with second-row sunshades, powered side sliding doors, a powered liftgate, the class-exclusive (until next model year’s Pacifica) HondaVAC in-car vacuum system, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, forward collision warning, and a great deal more for $44,875 plus freight and dealer fees, which is a very similar price to other top-line minivans. The base Odyssey can be purchased for just over $29k, incidentally.
With those optional front crash prevention upgrades just mentioned the 2016 Odyssey is an IIHS Top Safety Pick winner, but that said it didn’t earn the best possible Top Safety Pick + award. Then again the only other winner of a TSP was the Sedona, none of the other vans even mentioned, whereas all Odyssey trims were awarded five stars from the NHTSA.
As for reliability the Odyssey placed second behind the Sienna in J.D. Power’s 2015 Vehicle Dependability Study that includes vehicles after three years of use (and these were the only two to win an award, because none of the others performed above the segment average), whereas Honda was the fifth best performing brand overall and second amongst mainstream volume brands. The Odyssey didn’t fare as well when it came to J.D. Power’s 2015 Initial Quality Study, with the Nissan Quest, Chrysler Town & Country and Kia Sedona placing first through third amongst minivans, whereas Honda was above average when compared to all automotive brands, yet that number was merely 14th out of 33. Then again it placed seventh when compared to mainstream volume brands, but it was beaten by Kia, Hyundai, Chevrolet, Toyota, Ford, and Ram. A third-party analytical firm that holds even more weight with the majority of consumers is Consumer Reports, however, and it placed Honda 10th overall and fifth amongst mainstream volume brands in their 2016 report card on reliability, the brands beating it being Subaru, Mazda, Toyota and Kia; overall a much better than average showing by Honda and the Odyssey.
In the end, while you can expect better than average reliability, the Odyssey is right about average when it comes to features, functionality and value for money, a bit below average with respect to electronic interfaces and navigation capability, but above average for driving dynamics and fuel efficiency, although as I noted before all of today’s vans perform quite well and their individual fuel economy ratings don’t lag far behind Honda’s. Like with everything, it comes down to personal priorities and individual taste. If you’re trading in your 5 Series wagon for something more practical the Odyssey should be high on your shopping list, but if you’re merely moving up in size from a mid-priced crossover SUV and load hauling functionality is high on your agenda, you should shop around before deciding.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press; Photo credits: Trevor Hofmann and Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press; Copyright: American Auto Press.