Homer's epic poem The Odyssey chronicles a cunning hero's arduous journey home to his family to triumph over his rival suitors. As is common in Greek mythology, the story's hero, Odysseus, is not without fault. These faults however, serve to humanize him to readers rather than impede his victory. Our 2009 Honda Odyssey Touring test vehicle — representing the priciest trim level in the Odyssey line — comes with nearly every bell and whistle one could imagine. Like its namesake, Honda's Odyssey ably endures long journeys, is very much focused on family and handily dispatches competitors.
The Odyssey's long list of features makes distant journeys bearable, while ample space for seven passengers (eight in a pinch) is bolstered by amenities like triple-zone climate control, navigation, rear-seat DVD entertainment, plenty of power outlets and satellite radio. Top marks in government crash tests as well as stability control and Bluetooth make it a safer way to whittle away the miles.
As typical buyers opt for more exciting and carlike SUVs, the minivan still reigns supreme for those who need more versatility and space, and among minivans, the 2009 Honda Odyssey is king. Royalty doesn't come cheap, though — our Odyssey will punch a $40,000 hole in your wallet, but keep in mind that the base model can be had for $14,000 less, if you're willing to forgo a lot. The lofty price and a slightly dated interior serve to drag the Honda down, but like Odysseus, the Odyssey bests its competitors with skill and cunning. Opposing suitors like the Dodge Grand Caravan, Kia Sedona, Nissan Quest and Toyota Sienna seem to lack the necessary combination of drivability, features, quality and versatility to effectively challenge the Odyssey.
The 2009 Honda Odyssey Touring is powered by a 3.5-liter V6 producing 244 horsepower and 245 pound-feet of torque. It also comes with Variable Cylinder Management (VCM), which automatically disables two or three cylinders when cruising or decelerating to increase fuel economy. When the VCM is active, a green "ECO" light in the gauge cluster is the only hint that the engine is running a few cylinders short. Gearchanges are handled by a five-speed automatic transmission that shifts quickly and smoothly.
Acceleration is slower than some competitors with a 0-60-mph time of 9.1 seconds, but the immediate throttle response and burly engine note make the Odyssey seem quicker than it really is. Stops from 60 mph register an acceptable 131 feet with fairly consistent distances after multiple tests. Fuel economy is only slightly better than comparable vehicles with an EPA-estimated 17 mpg city/25 mpg highway and 20 mpg in combined driving. We were only able to extract an average of 16.8 mpg from our test vehicle — due in no small part to our aggressive driving style.
When performing family duties, the 2009 Honda Odyssey is as good as it gets for minivans. The suspension has just enough stiffness to relay pertinent information to the driver while also providing enough compliance to reduce road imperfections to agreeable levels. While no minivan should be considered for twisty canyon road excitement, the Odyssey copes with curves surprisingly well. Steering is well weighted and accurate enough that we'd call this people mover carlike.
As with most minivans, the Odyssey Touring provides ample space for all passengers. Wind noise is nearly absent, while road noise is subdued. Still, the Odyssey is not as quiet as some competitors. As is fitting for a minivan, legroom and headroom are plentiful all the way back to the third-row seats. The driving position is fairly upright — more like a delivery truck than a car — but it is nonetheless comfortable for most drivers, even on long road trips. No surprise when you consider this model comes with an eight-way power-adjustable driver seat with a tilt-and-telescoping wheel and adjustable pedals.
Second-row seats are also comfortable, with plenty of padding and support, but the center PlusOne console seat is far too narrow, even for the skinniest frames. Still, the removable center seat serves as a useful addition in a pinch. Third-row passengers are treated to similar accommodations with a noticeably more comfortable center seat, since that row features a 60/40-split folding configuration. However, some center-seat passengers in the second and third rows took issue with the ceiling-mounted seatbelts that cut across their necklines.
Despite the Odyssey's large proportions, visibility is commendable thanks to large windows and narrow roof pillars. Parking and reversing maneuvers are simplified with the short sloping nose, tilt-down sideview mirrors, proximity sensors and rearview camera (though the screen images lack contrast and detail). Mounted above the rearview mirror is a convex conversation mirror, which allows the driver to keep tabs on rear passengers without having to turn around — good news for parents, bad news for rowdy kids.
The 2009 Honda Odyssey Touring is packed with electronic features that can be controlled from the driver seat. However, all of this control comes at a price, both literally and figuratively. We counted nearly 100 buttons, knobs and switches within reach of the driver (not including touchscreen buttons), adding space shuttlelike complexity to some of the most mundane tasks. In our attempt to watch a DVD, we were forced to consult the manual to find the correct settings — other in-car units are much more intuitive and simple. Even though the Touring model gets an upgraded 360-watt stereo, we found the sound quality disappointingly hollow — perhaps due to the huge cabin — and sadly, iPod integration is not offered.
Interior storage is adequate up front, with twin gloveboxes, smaller bins and a folding center tray. Behind the front seats, a large under-floor bin and the PlusOne center seat open up for additional storage, while third-row passengers get outboard armrest bins. As expected, there is enough second-row space for front- or rear-facing child seats, with LATCH anchors easily located. Access is effortless thanks to the large power-sliding doors on both sides.
Design/Fit and Finish
The 2009 Honda Odyssey Touring is rather bland in its styling. As in most minivans, floor height is about the same as a passenger car, but the roof is as high as a crossover SUV's. This allows for a much taller cabin than either car or SUV for easy passenger access and large cargo capacity.
Inside, the Odyssey's simple and unadorned cabin seems a bit dated when compared to contemporary SUVs, and interior materials seem to suffer a bit in the name of practicality. Hard plastics abound, but in Honda's defense, these surfaces are easily cleaned and will likely hold up to years of heavy use, but we're not fans of the gathered leather seats that we found stiff and stifling (reminding us of a late '80s OldsmoBuick).
Utility is one of the Odyssey's strong suits, with features that allow for multiple configurations to handle varying passenger and cargo combinations. Behind the third row, a sizable pit can hold an impressive 38 cubic feet of cargo. Of course, you can flip down one or both sides of the 60/40-split seats (which fold flat with the floor) for even more cargo capacity.
Versatility carries through to the reconfigurable and removable second-row seats. The narrow PlusOne center seat can be removed and the remaining captain's chairs can be repositioned into a two-person bench seat for even easier access to the third row. The only issue we had with reconfiguring the seats was the amount of physical effort needed — the second- and third-row seats are quite heavy and awkward to maneuver. Still, it's a small price to pay for versatility, especially when you consider the Odyssey's 147 cubic feet of maximum cargo capacity.
Who should consider this vehicle
For years, the Honda Odyssey has been ranked at the top of our minivan list, and for good reason. In this segment, no other can match the Odyssey's combination of drivability, extensive features, safety and versatility. If you need to haul more than the typical 2.5 kids or require more cargo space than an SUV, the 2009 Honda Odyssey is for you.
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