2016 Honda Odyssey SE review: On the road to Ithaka at a friendlier price

2016 Honda Odyssey SE

2016 Honda Odyssey SE

True, the Honda Odyssey may not have been the ship sailed by Odysseus on his, well, odyssey of legend and verse, but it has transported many families on journeys of family tale and story. No doubt. It arrived on the automotive in market in 1998, when it would seat only six or seven depending on configuration, and was powered by a nothing more than a four cylinder engine.

My, it has grown, The 2016 Honda Odyssey seats seven or eight—admittedly a squeeze for the latter—and now comes with a 3.5-liter V-6. But the purpose remains the same, to move families, or families and friends, in one large friendly box.

Honda has done what it can to keep the exterior of the box from looking too plain by adding a zig and a zag to the lower window sill, though keeping the front within the horizontal-bar grille Honda theme, though the rear could anyvan.

2016 Honda Odyssey SE interior

The 2016 Honda Odyssey has two multi-information displays. (click to enlarge)

The interior is largely unremarkable, though it has a feeling of spaciousness. Part of that, perhaps, comes from the floor that’s flat as a sheet of plywood from front to rear. The center console is mounted on the flat floor, as the second row seating. Honda invented the third-row seat that folds into the floor, a concept that’s been adopted by every vehicle maker out there for vehicles with three rows of seats. The folding technique varies, no doubt for patent rights, but Honda’s system is one of the best, nicely counterbalanced to make it easy to go up or down.

The second row is another matter. While the seat folds and tips for access to the third row, the second must be removed to use all of that glorious flatness of floor. And that’s not a chore for the little lady—or because we’re not sexist, the little man—to do easily. On the other hand, the second and third row seatbacks fold forward to make a flat surface, but then there’s less height between the seatbacks and the roof. Compared to the “magic seats” of the Honda CR-V and HR-V, the seating of the Honda Odyssey comes up short. For passenger to packaging, the Stow ’n Go system of the Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country are still tops.

2016 Honda Odyssey SE cargo

Honda invented the third row that folds into the floor, here in the 2016 Honda Odyssey SE. (click to enlarge)

The interior of the 2016 Honda Odyssey is best described as functional. There’s nothing fancy for the sake of fancy, with a simple two-dial instrument panel. The high point, design and functionally, is the dual multi-information/control screens. We didn’t find them particularly intuitive and the new owner had best plan for time with an expert or a deep dive into the owner’s manual to get the full benefit of the system’s capabilities.

Our test vehicle was the 2016 Honda Odyssey SE trim level, new for this model year. Spaced between the Odyssey LX and EX base and low cost models, and the more upscale EX-L, Touring and Touring Elite, Odyssey adds the “features (customers) value most” to the EX trim level, including Honda’s Rear Entertainment System, a 115V power outlet incorporated into RES control panel, SiriusXM satellite radio, and the HondaVAC in-vehicle vacuum cleaner.

Honda elected to create the new trim level because of its take-in-or-leave-it trim strategy. There are, with only a few exceptions, no options, just trim levels with specific standard equipment. The problem was, however, that customers who wanted those most valued features couldn’t get them without other features available only in higher trim levels…at a higher price. The vacuum cleaner, for example, was only available in the Odyssey Touring Elite, which at $44,745 is the most expensive trim level. The Odyssey SE, however, is priced at a more family budget friendly $33,375.

2016 Honda Odyssey SE

2016 Honda Odyssey SE

The HondaVAC is exactly what it says it is, a built-in vacuum cleaner for cleaning up messes without having to find where you left the little handheld vac. The HondaVAC, however, is always where it’s supposed to be, housed in the left rear panel by the cargo area, and has a hose long enough to reach the entire vehicle. No other minivan has it, and only an obsessive-compulsive will clean his/her minivan more than the Odyssey owner. You can’t get these features, by the way, in the EX-L.

Trust us, the Odyssey LX is the poster child for “low ball,” but even as the EX-with-special-equipment, the SE comes with surprising standard equipment, including automatic headlights, heated outside mirrors, power sliding doors, and a standard security system. The SE also has a backup camera as well as the right-side blind spot camera—it shows the view from a minicam in the right outside rearview mirror when the right turn signal is turned on. You won’t miss it until you’ve had it and then don’t, and then you’ll wonder how you lived without it.

2015 Honda Odyssey SE second row seats

The second row passengers in the 2015 Honda Odyssey SE have comfortable seating…except that one in the middle. (click to enlarge)

While the Odyssey SE does not come with Honda’s collision warning systems (it’s standard on EX-L and above), lane watch is standard. As with all Odyssey models but the LX, the SE has power sliding doors, wiper-linked headlights (use the wipers and the headlights turn on), and to show how technology is spreading to lower trim levels, every Honda but the LX comes with proximity key “Smart Entry”—you don’t have to take the key from your pocket, just touch the door handle—and keyless pushbutton start.

The 2016 Honda Odyssey SE is upholstered with a rather industrial grade of fabric. It’s not uncomfortable but it’s not luxurious either. Call it family durable. Ditto the plastic in the interior. It doesn’t abound in soft touch surfaces, and what there are, are a long way was from cushy. But again, durable.

The same engine and transmission are used across the board. The 3.5-liter V-6 is rated at 248 horsepower and 250 lb-ft of torque has to move 4500 pounds, which is another way of saying the 2016 Honda Odyssey is not a hot rod. With just two aboard and no load, the Odyssey was able to merge and move with traffic. Load up with eight adult males and the 3,500 pound trailer the Odyssey is rated to pull and, well, you probably shouldn’t.