With the minivan segment whittled down to just a handful of players in Canada, Honda’s Odyssey has carved out a comfortable niche as a refined choice with better-than-average driving dynamics, properly comfortable second- and third row seats, and some unique family-friendly features.
The 2020 Honda Odyssey remains essentially unchanged from 2019, with the exception of a switch to a 10-speed automatic transmission throughout the lineup (lower trim levels previously had a nine-speed).
The fifth-generation Odyssey was introduced for the 2018 model year, and it didn’t mess much with the previous generation’s formula at all. The zigzag beltline still anchors the overall style, and a casual onlooker may not recognize that the current Odyssey is, in fact, entirely new. Overall, there’s no hiding the box-like shape of a proper minivan, but the Odyssey remains one of the best-looking boxes out there.
If you measure practicality strictly in terms of the ability to carry a bunch of people and gear in superb comfort, the Odyssey scores a solid nine or 10. On an early spring day just before the world turned upside down due the COVID-19 pandemic, four of us loaded my test van with an enormous stack of golf clubs, skiing gear, and sailing bags for our 23rd annual golf/ski/sail day. The adjustable seating and capacious cargo area meant the Odyssey was able to swallow everything with ease (even my wife’s outrageously long old-school skis), and the smooth ride and comfortable middle-row captain’s chairs received glowing praise from our friends.
If you measure practicality in terms of ultimate flexibility however, the Odyssey loses points to the Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Pacifica with their available stowable seating. While the seats aren’t as comfortable as the Odyssey’s well-padded perches, they do allow you to quickly and easily convert the Grand Caravan or Pacifica into a cargo van capable of hauling sheets of plywood. While the Honda’s third row tucks neatly into the floor, the middle-row seats need to be physically removed to maximize its utility. The process is simple enough, but it does give you an appreciation for just how heavy a comfortable seat is.
On the flip side, the Odyssey’s middle seats do have a nifty and unique ability to slide sideways, so you can configure them to allow easy walk-through access to the third row, or easy stowage of long skinny items like 2x4s or skis. The centre seat in the second row is also easily removed – and it’s far lighter than the two outboard chairs.
User Friendliness: 8/10
Where it counts, the Odyssey is every bit as user-friendly as a family conveyance should be. The third-row seats stow and deploy in the blink of an eye with almost no effort. A power tailgate and sliding doors make loading cargo and passengers alike a breeze, the second-row seats are easy enough to tilt forward, and there’s even a built-in vacuum cleaner in all but the lowest trim levels, allowing easy clean-up of cracker crumbs and other random messes.
There are a few quirks, however. The push-button shifter takes a little getting used to if you aren’t familiar with it (although it does free up a bunch of console space); the infotainment system has a volume knob but no tuner knob, so changing stations has to be done through the touchscreen interface; and while there are a multitude of options for opening the rear sliding doors, all the possible buttons and levers left my middle-row passengers amusingly confused and unable to exit (hint: whichever button or lever you use, you first need to unlock the door).
Even in base trim, the Honda Odyssey is a well-appointed family-hauler. All Odysseys get dual-zone climate control (tri-zone in higher trim levels), power locks with proximity entry, push-button start, heated power-adjustable front seats, one-touch power windows in the front (higher trims get one-touch all around), a multi-angle rearview camera, a seven-speaker stereo system, and a bevy of connectivity features (Bluetooth, built-in Wi-Fi, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity). There’s also about 15 beverage holders and at least a handful of various charging ports. All but the base trim get a power sunroof, integrated second-row sunshades, a built-in vacuum, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and a host of other features.
My tester’s Touring trim added features including a rich-sounding upgraded 11-speaker audio system with satellite radio, heated and ventilated front seats, satellite navigation, ambient lighting, wireless phone charging, a rear entertainment system with a neat trip-mapping app for the kids to follow along on the journey, integrated third-row sunshades, and the list goes on.
Perhaps the most interesting and unique feature in the Touring trim is the CabinWatch rear-seat monitor, which displays an adjustable view of the rear passenger compartment onto the infotainment screen. Intended to allow easy monitoring of wee tykes, the Cash Cab viewpoint also provides great entertainment when chatting with rear-seat passengers – and it can amplify voices to better reach those in the third row.
The Odyssey scores high on the comfort meter, especially in my tester’s Touring trim, with its perforated leather upholstery (lower trims get cloth), heated and cooled front seats, sunroof, and other creature comforts. The second-row captain’s chairs might not stow away, but they’re some of the best in the business for actually sitting in, and the third row offers decent room and comfort, too. Overall, space and comfort are the reasons families choose a minivan, and the Odyssey delivers on both counts.
Power for the Odyssey is from a 3.5L V6, working through a 10-speed automatic transmission. It’s a smooth, quiet powertrain, and with 280 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque on tap that make the Odyssey surprisingly quick. It’ll sprint from zero to 100 km/h in about seven seconds flat and has plenty of reserve power for highway passing, even with four adults aboard. Paddle shifters allow you to take control of the action if you so desire.
Fuel Economy: 7/10
Official fuel consumption ratings for the Honda Odyssey are 12.2/8.5/10.6 L/100 km city/highway/combined. My real-world consumption was somewhat higher than this, and over the course of the week I averaged 13.5 L/100 km with a 50/50 mix of city and highway driving. I did manage to match the city number over the course of one 13-km trip across town, but it required a light touch on the throttle (there’s an Eco mode that helps in this regard, although it does make the van feel rather sluggish off the line).
Driving Feel: 8/10
Minivans aren’t generally renowned for their driving dynamics, and indeed it’s probably not something that’s high on most buyers’ wish lists. But for those drivers who need a minivan yet don’t want to give up entirely on driving enjoyment, the Odyssey’s impressively well-sorted chassis offers up handling and seat-of-the-pants feel that’s on par with most large crossovers – and, indeed, better than a great many of them. It does this without sacrificing ride quality, either. It’s perhaps not quite as plush as the Chrysler Pacifica, but it’s composed and forgiving, and the cabin is exceptionally quiet.
The Odyssey doesn’t skimp on safety gear, with across-the-range forward collision warning, collision-mitigation braking system, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, automatic high-beams, adaptive cruise control, and road-departure mitigation. All of this is backstopped by a solid structure that scores well in crash tests, earning the Odyssey a Top Safety Pick rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
Optional safety equipment on the Touring trim includes a blind-spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert (lower trims get Honda’s LaneWatch blind spot display). As with previous Hondas I’ve driven, I found active safety warnings a little oversensitive for cut-and-thrust city driving (especially the blind spot warning system), but taken as a whole the various systems make driving the Odyssey not just safer, but easier and more relaxing, too.
Starting at $38,230 (before freight and taxes) for the base LX trim, and with my fully loaded Touring trim tester topping out at $52,390, the Odyssey is priced a bit higher than the competition. It rewards with a touch more refinement and better driving dynamics than most, and represents solid value. (For comparison, Toyota’s Sienna ranges from $35,750 to $51,865; Kia’s Sedona from $31,995 to $41,695; Chrysler’s Pacifica from $34,045 to $49,095; and Dodge’s Grand Caravan from $32,595 to $47,595.)
In today’s minivan segment, each of the available offerings has their own advantages. The Pacifica and Grand Caravan offer superior flexibility thanks to their Stow-and-Go seating, the Sienna stands out as the only minivan available with all-wheel drive, and the Sedona offers what’s perhaps the best bang for the buck. Where the Odyssey stands out is its overall refinement, unique family-friendly features and superior driving dynamics. If this sounds appealing to you, you’ll want to put it on your list of contenders.
|Peak Horsepower||280 hp @ 6,000 rpm|
|Peak Torque||262 lb-ft @ 4,700 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||12.2 / 8.5 /10.6 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb)|
|Cargo Space||929 / 2,526 / 4,103 L behind 3rd/2nd/1st row|
|Model Tested||2020 Honda Odyssey Touring|
|Price as Tested||$54,305|