By Mary Lowry
Minivans are largely the laughingstock of the automotive world, ridiculed for not being sporty or cool, put down for being mommymobiles. And I know moms who don’t even want to be seen in them.
But after a long road trip that began on Christmas Day and put a car to a very grueling test, I’m here to praise the lowly minivan and give it the credit it deserves.
My niece Cate was getting married in Arroyo Grande, Calif., three days after Christmas. So I and my son and daughter-in-law who live near Portland decided to drive down there together, along with their two children, 9-year-old Lizzy and 4-year-old Ben. We wanted to get there as fast as we could, to have maximum time with all the rest of the family, so we decided to drive straight through. The distance between their Oregon home and the California hotel is 857 miles. It’s a drive that would take about 14 hours, according to Google Maps.
Well. Three adults and two young children, all closely related, together in a car for 14 hours, could potentially be as stressful as Nik Wallenda crossing the Grand Canyon on a wire. But we would be in the 2014 Honda Odyssey Touring Elite minivan, with comfortable seating for eight, three rows of seats, and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system. I knew the Odyssey would increase our chances of survival as a family, but I had no idea what a profound difference it would actually make.
We started loading up the Odyssey on Christmas morning. Lizzy had already staked out a corner seat in the third row and she set to work arranging her traveling necessities – an entourage of Uglydolls and stuffed animals, her iPad Mini, Rainbow Loom, fleece blanket, Pillow Pet, food snacks, water bottle, backpack, suitcase, and one of the two headsets for the car’s DVD player – until she had effectively turned the third row area into her own apartment.
We positioned Ben in a second-row seat on the opposite side of the car, so the kids would be out of arm’s reach of each other. We folded down the middle seatback to create a big center console with cupholders and bins Ben could use to stash his snacks, water bottle, Insignia Flex tablet, a few of the toy cars from his backpack full of them, and his own headset for the DVD player. On the floor, we put a tote bag full of children’s classic DVDs I got from a Sno-Isle library, plus two new ones the kids got for Christmas: “Despicable Me 2” and “Monsters University.”
Even with the third row seat upright to create Lizzy’s apartment, there was still lots of room in the Odyssey’s rear cargo area because its bottom has a deep well. We were able to get three more carry-on-size suitcases in there, along with several duffel bags, assorted tote bags, a sleeping bag in a stuff sack, various extra shoes, heavy winter parkas, our snowstorm emergency equipment, and the equivalent of a survivalist’s food pantry so we wouldn’t have to stop for dinner (it would take too much time and most places would be closed for Christmas anyway).
And then off we went. And a miracle happened: The children were angels the entire time. A 4-year-old and a 9-year-old in a car for 14 hours with no whining, no crying, no fighting, no fidgeting, no screaming or yelling, no complaining, no kicking the seat in front of them, no freaking out, no driving the adults crazy. This is unprecedented in human history. And the return trip was very much the same. We owe it all to the 2014 Honda Odyssey Touring Elite minivan, we really do, because the miracle wouldn’t have happened without it.
Here are a few more of the many things we liked about the Odyssey:
- Power sliding doors on both sides. In addition to being convenient for entry and exit, and loading and unloading, the doors were fun for the kids (especially Ben) to operate. So, we didn’t have to plead or scold to get them into or out of the car. They were happy for any legitimate opportunity to open or close the doors. And, with Odyssey’s low step-in height, the kids could get in and out easily.
- Manually-operated mesh shades on all second- and third-row windows. Great for relief from too much sun on the face, and for more privacy, particularly at night when the DVD player is lighting up the interior. Manual operation allowed the kids to raise or lower their own shades to suit themselves.
- A built-in vacuum cleaner system. A godsend for people like me who like a clean car and don’t often have children on board. Located inside a side wall in the rear cargo area, it has a flexible hose long enough to reach all the way to the driver and front passenger footwells. It includes crevice and upholstery attachments. I used it several times during the trip to control the incredible mess kids can make of a car. Does anything they eat even make it into their mouths? Without the vacuum system, if we had left a door or window open too long, the Odyssey would have had seagulls circling above it.
- The many plug-ins for electronic devices and convenient stowage spaces located throughout the vehicle. No space is wasted inside the 2014 Odyssey, and we used every inch of it during our trip. We three adults agreed enthusiastically that the people who designed Odyssey’s interior really knew what they were doing, and that they had thought of everything.
- Blind Spot Information System. One of the best recent advancements in automotive safety technology (and available on more new cars and trucks all the time), it was extremely useful during our trip, which included long stretches of driving in pitch dark or heavy fog, and sometimes both at once. Automatic notification of a vehicle in the blind spot on either side eliminates lane-change anxiety in those sketchy conditions.
- Power and performance. Odyssey’s 248-horsepower V6 engine did a remarkably good job under the most demanding circumstances: hauling us, all our stuff and the heavy car itself up steep grades at Grants Pass and Siskiyou Summit in southern Oregon, and the Mount Shasta area in California. The six-speed automatic transmission, also faced with a tough task during those circumstances, was downright saintly. When the road was level, the combo soared.
- We averaged 23.8 mpg fuel economy on our trip, better than the Odyssey’s EPA combined city/highway rating of 22 mpg. (Its city rating is 19 mpg; highway is 28 mpg.) About 90 percent of our driving was on freeways and highways, but with all the extra weight, the mountain passes, and the definitely un-mommyish driving habits of all three of us, 23.8 could be considered darn good.
Price as driven: $45,280
Mary Lowry has been reviewing cars for more than 20 years. She is a member of the Motor Press Guild and a board member of the Northwest Automotive Press Association. Vehicles are provided by the manufacturers as a one-week loan for review purposes only. In no way do the manufacturers control the content of the reviews.