This week: Honda Odyssey.
Price: $45,280 as tested
Marketer’s pitch: “This sucks,” says the broken crayon to the old lollipop, animal cracker, toy soldier, gummy and piece of popcorn. Just before the vacuum hose sucks them up.
Conventional wisdom: Edmunds.com likes the “agile handling; fuel-efficient V6; quiet cabin; configurable second-row seat; easy-to-fold third-row seat,” but not that it’s “pricier than some competitors.”
Reality: Not bad for a box.
Family unit: It’s been around 30 years since Chrysler introduced the modern American front-wheel drive minivan with the Dodge Caravan. Since then the choices multiplied considerably and then divided once more. Now, Honda and Toyota have become top box, although today that has all the cache of a Caribbean cruise or relaxed-fit pants. But when you've spent more than 20 years carting around Sturgis Kid 1.0 through 4.0, one learns it’s the only way to take everyone and everything — from diapered youngsters to college dormsters.
Cleaning up: Anyone who’s ever passed a Sturgis minivan in a parking lot has watched the debris fall out every time the sliding doors open. It’s like a Warner Brothers cartoon closet. And so the onboard vacuum was so obvious that it took 30 years for designers to think it up.
Thirteen-year-old Sturgis Kid 4.0 and I found it does the job quite well. It has an actual ShopVac inside the rear compartment wall complete with tools, a filter and a small bag, and plenty of suction to pick up the toughest dirt. This only comes on the Touring Elite, and that price above is the no-options, bargain-basement version. Ouch.
As a minivan veteran, I’m sorry I didn't think of this first, although after some trips I think a rubber floor, hose and drain would be more appropriate.
On the road: It’s not all about the kids, right? Mom and Dad still want to feel a bit of racer in them, and the Odyssey serves up enough pep — 248 horses are brewed by the 3.5-liter V6 — to make driving, well, at least not terrible.
On the curves: The Odyssey handled best of the three. It’s not a Miata, but then you don’t have to slowly pour yourself into the Odyssey like it’s a voyage on the Yellow Submarine. And you can bring along six more friends. The Odyssey handles much better than most large crossovers I've tested as well.
Shifty: The downside? The transmission selector only offers D, OD off and L, not the full range of gears.
Driver comfort: If Mom or Dad can’t have fun, at least they’ll be comfortable. The Odyssey Driver’s Seat was not too heavy in the lumbar support like many Hondas.
Room for the family: This is where minivans have it all over crossovers — if you need room for real people in the back, all three have it. The Odyssey rear seat lands about in the middle of the three. Foot room is kind of tough and the seat sits a little low to the floor. The middle row does slide back and forth, which helps make the most of available space. And all but the bare-bones Odyssey offer seating for eight.
Technology: Plenty of places to plug in HDMI and 12V, as expected.
Stuff: The minivans all average about 150 cubic feet of space behind the front seats, which is head and shoulders (and futons and boxes) over any crossover or SUV. The Chevy Traverse-Buick Enclave cousins win that category, at a slight 116 cubes.
A big bin between seats is almost too big; put in just a couple CDs and they clatter around as you drive. And the rear DVD player sits in the dashboard, taking valuable cubby space from this area. A pull-out tray holds cell phones and other devices.
The seats come up and fold down very easily.
Keeping cozy: The heater controls are on top of the dashboard with the seat heater controls right over them. Buttons operate the fan, while dials control temperature on each side. I prefer all dials.
Radio gaga: The radio controls irk. Until you get presets arranged, it’s touch the screen to change the station, then again to change source. It’s really hard to do on the fly.
The navigation is on a separate screen, offering far and away one of the worst views of Earth I've ever seen. I found it hard to get around unless I was zoomed up to the closest level. And the map controls are at the bottom of the console, while the map sits on the other end of the heater controls and radio controls. Confusing.
Night shift: The interior lights interfere with night driving a bit.
Fuel economy: 21 mpg.
Where it’s built: Lincoln, Ala.
How it’s built: Consumer Reports puts its predicted reliability at only average, which is the rating it’s received for most of the last several years.
Next week: Chrysler Town and Country was the original — is it still the standard bearer?
Scott Sturgis, a freelance auto writer, can be reached at email@example.com.