The roomy and comfortable riding Honda Odyssey family van is starting 2014 much the way it finished 2013 - on top.
The 2014 Odyssey has the top combined city/highway fuel mileage rating from the federal government among vans that have seats for more than six people - 19 miles per gallon in city driving and 28 mpg on the highway for a combined 22 mpg. The Odyssey earned top, five out of five stars overall in federal government crash testing. Without requiring the removal of heavy, bulky interior seats, the Odyssey also offers the maximum cargo room - 148.5 cubic feet - among seven- or eight-passenger vans.
And the Odyssey is a recommended buy of Consumer Reports magazine where predicted reliability is average.
The Odyssey also won a Good Housekeeping Very Innovative Product Award this year. Only six awards were bestowed. No others were in the automotive segment, and Odyssey was recognized for its onboard vacuum cleaner that makes cleaning dirt, crumbs and pet hair from the interior easier. No other passenger van includes a vacuum. Odyssey also has collected other, more automotive-oriented awards in 2014, including best residual value for a passenger van and best family minivan.
Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, of $29,655 is on the high side, too. This price is for a base, front-wheel drive, 2014 Odyssey with 248-horsepower V-6 and six-speed automatic.
In comparison, the 2014 Toyota Sienna has a starting retail price of $27,780 with 266-horsepower V-6, six-speed automatic and front-wheel drive. The front-wheel drive, 2014 Dodge Grand Caravan has an even lower starting MSRP, including destination charge. Offered in American Value Package trim, the Grand Caravan starts at $21,590 with 283-horsepower V-6 and six-speed automatic.
To be sure, the Odyssey comes with a lot of standard features.
The base 2014 Odyssey includes standard fabric seats, remote entry, front and rear air conditioning, Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity, rear camera with directional guide lines, heat-reflecting glass, front seats with power adjustment, 240-watt audio system with Pandora capability, illuminated vanity mirrors, sunglasses holder and split, 60/40 rear seats that fold easily into a cavity in the floor.
Other features, such as rear entertainment system and navigation, are on upper trim models where prices can soar to more than $38,000.
For 2014, all Odysseys have a new kind of side curtain airbag with a front chamber designed to provide better passenger protection in offset crashes, not just straight side crashes.
The Odyssey continues to have six air bags, traction control, electronic stability control and antilock brakes as standard safety equipment. Forward collision warning and lane departure warning are available on upper trim levels for 2014.
No offense to the people at U.S. News & World Report who named the Odyssey best minivan for families this year, but there's nothing mini about the vehicle. The Odyssey is big, stretching nearly 17 feet in length. It looks and feels big, despite some subtle styling updates for 2014.
As a result, door openings, including the two sliding side doors, are large and help all sizes of passengers get inside. Seats, especially the two up front, have generously sized seat cushions. And there is so much legroom to be distributed among the two back rows - seats in the middle row move forward and back on tracks - that even third-row passengers don't have to feel constrained.
In fact, Honda reports more than 40 inches of third-row legroom. This compares with 37.7 inches in the back of the Grand Caravan and 36.3 inches in the Sienna.
Headroom is a good 38 inches back there. This is more than what's found in the back seats of many sedans, though the Sienna offers a tad more headroom at 38.3 inches.
Seats have a "cush" feel to them as passengers settle in, and this includes the short-cushioned third row. Both front seats include pull-down center armrests, a nice touch.
Beyond the spaciousness and good-sized windows for comfort-focused travel, the Odyssey rides nicely by cushioning most road bumps.
This makes for stress-free, long-distance vacation travel, as well as across-town family trips.
There can be a feeling of tippiness in aggressive driving through curves, however, and passengers can notice the shifting of the Odyssey's considerable weight from one side to the other as the vehicle travels on mountain twisties. The variable, power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering has a mainstream feel.
But while the ride and handling are mainstream, the 3.5-liter, single overhead cam V-6 provides decently strong power for a 4,000-pound vehicle. The test Odyssey quickly got up to speed to merge into city traffic, and there were confident engine sounds during highway merges.
Shifts from the six-speed transmission were smooth in the tester. The driver never noticed when the engine, with variable cylinder management, would deactivate engine cylinders when they're not needed, such as when the van was coasting.
But the result - fuel savings - was evident as the test vehicle averaged 21 mpg in combined city/highway driving. This translated into a travel range of 440 miles, which is respectable for such a large vehicle driven in a regular, not-worrying-much-about-fuel-economy manner. The Odyssey needs only regular unleaded gasoline, so filling the 21-gallon tank at today's prices can top $77.
Lastly, the Odyssey has details that are endearing. The test Odyssey EX-L Touring Elite had easy-to-operate, power sliding doors and power tailgate - features that are particularly appreciated during rainstorms when everyone is trying to get inside without delay. The front center console was so wide and deep, it could hold - and hide - a purse. The deep cavity behind third-row seats easily stored tall items and stackable boxes.