2014 Honda Odyssey Touring Elite: Homer hits the road?

2014 Honda Odyssey

Honda’s 2014 Odyssey offers ‘mini’ as a delete option. Photo by Honda

To be sure, I wasn’t there. But if fading memory serves, Odysseus did his ten years of outbound wandering (see The Odyssey) solo, with little more than what we now call a messenger bag for support. That the folks at Honda would tag their minivan ‘Odyssey’ speaks far more to marketing hype than historical accuracy. And in its current guise, with a ‘Touring Elite’ subhead and $45K window sticker, today’s Odyssey is as far removed from Homer’s tale – or Odysseus’ travels – as Lewis Black is from Shari Lewis.

At the beginning American Honda had the best of intentions. Building small, minimalistic examples of personal transportation (like its step-through Cub), the Japanese motorcycle maker introduced an entire generation to the freedom available via two wheels and a modicum of power. The Odyssey tag was first applied – almost forty years ago – to a single-seat offroader. With 248cc of single cylinder, and weighing just 600 pounds, this early ATV may have actually predated the ‘ATV’ designation, and did a huge amount to get people off roads and onto trails. Odysseus, we think, would have rather liked it…but only with a ten-year extended warranty.

Honda Odyssey Vac

Don’t cry over spilt popcorn…the Odyssey vac sucks.

Today’s Odyssey boasts a 3.5 liter V6, carries up to eight, and propels them via 248 horsepower driving through a 6-speed automatic. Its EPA estimate of 19 City/28 Highway is certainly respectable, but little better than 3-row SUVs propelled by V6 powertrains of comparable displacement. (Of course, no SUV – to date – comes with anything similar to the Odyssey’s built-in vacuum…see above.) And the Odyssey is BIG, boasting an overall length of 203 inches on a wheelbase of 118 inches, a width of 79 inches, and a curb weight – in Touring Elite trim – of 4,600 pounds. For comparison, a Euro-spec Ford Galaxy with which we toured portions of Germany last summer has an overall length (182.7 inches) twenty inches shorter, a wheelbase of but 111.6 inches, a width of 71.2 inches (almost 8 inches less!) and a curb weight of 3,800 pounds. And it still seated six in spacious comfort.

It’s been over fifteen years, but there’s more than nostalgia propelling my affection for Honda’s first Odyssey minivan, a product of American Honda in the late ‘90s. With no need for hauling eight, its dimensions were far closer to that of the Galaxy, while its 4-cylinder (only) motivation was aligned with the contemporary Accord. With easy step-in, great visibility and reasonable agility, the Odyssey worked well for both young families and empty nesters. And while available in both base LX and upmarket EX editions, the outlay for today’s Odyssey could – back in the day – have easily bought two.

1998 Honda Odyssey

Honda’s first Odyssey (1998 shown) came closer to providing import footprint, and meeting import expectations.

So, while Americans are getting larger, and there remains the perceived need to buy a vehicle for any occasion (see large pickup sales) even if ‘any occasion’ comes but a few times a year, we think there’s a very real need to scale back today’s minivan to its ‘minimal’ roots, with – perhaps – the ’84 Chrysler Town & Country serving as the baseline.  And the Chrysler’s dimensional similarities to the aforementioned Galaxy are almost scary, with a wheelbase of 112 inches, overall length of 176 inches and a width of just under 70 inches. This, to be sure, is for the 2-row available at launch; the ‘Grand’ variant would have sat on a longer wheelbase, and enjoyed a longer overall length. And it doesn’t matter, for even that is substantially more modest than the dimensional footprint carried/suffered by the current Odyssey and its spiritual sibling, Toyota’s Sienna.

I’d propose someone joining the good folks at Mazda, whose Mazda5 – a ‘mini’ minivan – serves as the outlier within the minivan segment. For a group of manufacturers capable of slicing and dicing the crossover segment more ways than there are paint choices, we think at least a few OEMs could reestablish the minivan as, well, a minivan. Ford’s Transit Connect is a good start; they simply ask us to not call it a minivan. And the next-gen Ford Galaxy – were it made available in the States – would be a revelation.

Of course, if the Trojans had won we’d have smaller families. And the market would correct itself…