When I reviewed the 2012 Honda Odyssey minivan, I said it was a real "mom magnet." Women with children kept checking it out. One reason was undoubtedly the jazzy angular side windows, which make it stand out from the competition. But it also looks as is very practical.
When I reviewed the 2013 Odyssey, I decided I couldn't call it a minivan anymore. It hadn't changed much, but I had realized how much most vans have grown since the original Chrysler minivans of the mid-1980s, which were based on the company's compact K-cars. Except for the Mazda5, which is still small, I'm calling them family vans now.
At first glance, the 2014 Odyssey hasn't changed much from last year, but moms, dads and families have two new reasons to check it out again. The first is the standard, built-in vacuum cleaner mounted in the driver's side wall of the rear cargo area. The hose is long enough to reach the front seat. The engine must be on to use it, but it has plenty of power to pick up small spills.
The other reason is the new optional dual display screen setup in the Odyssey that Honda is offering in many of its vehicles. They split the climate, entertainment and navigation functions, reducing the need for so many buttons on the dash. It's one of the better uses of technology in motor vehicles these days.
The exterior styling has been refreshed, but the changes are not immediately apparent. And the six-speed automatic transmission is now standard on all models, but we had that in last year's test Odyssey, too. The driving conditions were pretty much the same as last year, too, including occasional heavy rains. So much of what I said then still applies, to wit:
"All models are powered by just one engine, Hondas tried-and-true 3.5-liter V6, rated at 248 horsepower and 250 foot-pounds of torque. They all include the Variable Cylinder Management system that shuts down two or three of the cylinders when they're not needed, improving fuel economy. Five-speed models are rated at 18 miles per gallon city and 27 on the highway, while the six-speed automatic adds a single mile-per-gallon. Thats the best of any vehicle designed to carry eight passengers.
"All models also feature the most radical styling of any family van, including a jagged side window line that Honda refers to as a lightning bolt. Combined with the intentionally large sliding door tracks down each side, the effect is bold and eye catching. The beltline is also lower than most other vans, giving the Odyssey a low, wide look.
"On the road, our test Odyssey was remarkably smooth and stable. The long wheelbase helped soak up imperfections, giving a supple and controlled ride. During one lengthy early morning freeway drive in heavy rain, the Odyssey felt as stable and secure as any large SUV. The higher ride height offered excellent visibility and, even though AWD is not an option, the traction was excellent, despite having to drive through washed out sections of the freeway.
"But vans are really all about interior room and in this category, the Odyssey is practically in a class of its own. The inside is cavernous and can be configured to carry up to eight people or, with the seats folded down, full loads of lumber. Some reviewers have noted there is a large amount of hard plastic in the interior, but what do they expect? The Odyssey is designed to carry large families and children area messy, so the surfaces need to be easy to clean up. The fit and finish is first rate, though, which makes the materials look classier than you might expect.
"Honda uses its 3.5-liter V6 is a variety of vehicles. It is a solid workhorse that offers impressive acceleration in the Odyssey, especially considering its size. The six-speed transmission in our Touring Elite model shifted up and down through the gears smooth. Even freeway passing was relatively easy, which isn't something you could always say about minivans.
Special mention should be made of the front seats, which were deeply sculpted and very comfortable, even on long trips. They both included an inside arm that could be raised up to increase access to the generous center console storage bin."
Over the years, family vans have fallen out of favor and been replaced by SUVs and crossovers. That's a shame. Especially for families, vans have all kinds of advantages. The sliding side doors make them easier to get in and out of, they have more usable interior room, and they offer even better visibility.
Loaded up with every conceivable option, the Touring Elite version of the Odyssey cost just over $45,000. That may sound like a lot of money, but it's less than a lot of fully loaded car that aren't nearly family friendly.
And now, with its built-in vacuum, the Odyssey is an even more attractive package. It may be the family van that sucks, but that's not a criticism.
Facts and figures (all models)
Model tested: 2013 Odyssey Touring Elite.
Layout: Front engine, front-wheel-drive.
Style: Five-door van.
Engines: 3.5-liter V6 (248 hp, 250 lbs-ft).
Transmissions: Six-speed automatic.
EPA estimated city/highway/mileage: 18/27.
Price: Beginning at approximately $28,675 ($45,280 as tested).