After researching, comparing, and driving all minivans on sale today, we can say that the best is the 2016 Honda Odyssey EX. It’s the safest and most fuel-efficient minivan on the market as well as the best to drive. The Odyssey is a great value despite its higher initial cost because it’s one of the least expensive minivans to own over time. It’s also a critical darling with countless positive reviews to its credit. After crunching the numbers and considering the features I would get, I concluded that the Odyssey EX in particular comes with everything that I believe the average family needs for a little over $33,500.1
The Wirecutter is experimenting with car recommendations, using research from the best sources and veteran car testers who aren’t satisfied with the status quo in automotive journalism. Let us know what you think of our work so far and sign up to be notified when we publish a new guide. You can also help us make the experience of shopping for cars better by completing this short survey.
NOTE: You may notice that we considered vehicles for this guide from different model years. That’s because automakers release their new vehicles at different times of the year, and we look at every vehicle that’s available to buy at the time of writing. Rest assured, as new vehicles become available, we’ll evaluate them separately and update this page if any of our recommended picks change.
Of course, you shouldn’t pay MSRP. TrueCar.com estimates that the average price paid for a new Honda Odyssey EX is over $2,000 less than MSRP depending on where you live; TrueCar asks for your zip code so that it can show regional pricing. In my area, for example, an Odyssey EX is going for an average of $30,802.
The Odyssey EX comes with every feature a family needs and then some, including standard Bluetooth for your smartphone and audio devices, a rearview camera, and power-sliding side doors. Honda also gives you its innovative LaneWatch system, automatic climate control for all three rows of seats, and a touchscreen for controlling the stereo. The Odyssey’s second row features a Wide Mode function that can fit three full-size child seats across, and its One-Motion Magic Seat third row disappears into the floor more quickly and easily than any other.
I was the editor-in-chief of Autoblog.com for nearly 10 years, and I grew that website to make it the most popular destination for automotive news, reviews, and auto-show coverage on the Web. While I led the site, Autoblog.com reviewed 20 new vehicles on average per month, performed comparison tests, and maintained a stable of long-term review vehicles.
To create this particular guide, I spent hands-on time with every single vehicle we considered. Automakers loaned some vehicles to me for a week at a time; when loans were not available or further evaluation was necessary, I visited local dealerships. While we do accept vehicle loans from automakers for review purposes, a common practice, we are never paid to write about their vehicles or products. I also researched minivans using information from the manufacturers and as many credible third-party sources as I could find. I performed this process as if it were my own hard-earned money or that of a loved one at stake, and then I evaluated the vehicles on the qualities that I felt are the most desirable for the largest number of minivan buyers.
While stigmatized as uncool by some, minivans are designed for the sole purpose of family transport. Consumer Reports, in its review of the Honda Odyssey, writes, “There’s simply no beating a minivan for overall versatility and practical family transportation.” While some families with one or two children can make do with a sedan, station wagon, sport utility vehicle, or crossover, parents who have or are considering more children (and those who often transport their kids’ friends) will appreciate the generous size and versatility of a minivan most.
Although the number of automakers offering minivans has shrunk since their heyday, you still have a good number of choices: In addition to the Odyssey, buyers can also consider the Dodge Grand Caravan, Chrysler Town & Country, Toyota Sienna, Nissan Quest, Kia Sedona, and Ford Transit Connect Wagon. Most of these minivans are pretty big with powerful V6 engines. The Transit Connect Wagon is the exception; it’s smaller and the only one powered by an inline four-cylinder engine.
Often the focus of cross-shopping with large crossover utility vehicles (also known as CUVs) offering three rows of seating, minivans are far more family-friendly for a number of reasons. They’re lower to the ground, which makes getting into and out of them easier, especially for small children. Their large sliding doors also help in that regard and make installing and removing child seats easier.
Because of their shape and size, minivans also have much more space inside for people and cargo. In particular, their third row of seating is usable even for adults, which is not the case in crossovers (or even possible in station wagons), and they can carry taller items than a large crossover or SUV because of their lower floor.
Some minivans are also more fuel efficient than three-row crossovers despite their bigger dimensions. The Odyssey, for instance, can achieve up to 28 miles per gallon on the highway versus 25 mpg for the three-row Honda Pilot. This is due to things like the more slippery shape of some minivans, a lack of all-wheel drive (the Toyota Sienna is the only minivan that offers AWD), and fuel-saving technology such as the Odyssey’s ability to run on fewer than six cylinders when cruising along.
Small minivans like the Ford Transit Connect Wagon (and the Mazda5, which was cancelled in 2015) offer even more fuel efficiency but sort of miss the point about what a minivan is for. While their smaller size might be an advantage for some people, the majority of families with two or more kids need the extra space and utility of a traditional-size minivan. This is especially true considering the amount of gear required to travel even short distances with children, including toys, bags of clothes and diapers, and strollers. And the advantages of size only increase the farther you’re traveling, with space for more people and luggage, as well as room to keep siblings separated. For these reasons, I nixed the Transit Connect Wagon from contention for the top pick. People with fewer than two kids or a couple of older kids should still consider a smaller vehicle like the Transit Connect Wagon, as well as crossovers and station wagons.
The Honda Odyssey EX is my pick partially because it’s everybody’s pick. After reading every review and comparison test written in the past few years about minivans, like this one, I found that the Odyssey consistently ranked ahead of its competition in critics’ assessments. As Cars.com says in a video review, “They’re all good minivans, but none of them top the Odyssey.” And buyers have kept it among the segment’s best sellers for years.
Refreshed for the 2014 model year, the Odyssey is the minivan I would get myself and recommend to the people I love because of its sterling safety record, but it also represents the best overall combination of drivability, functionality, and exceptional fuel efficiency. It feels like a car to drive, and its fold-flat third-row One-Motion Magic Seat is the easiest and quickest to use. Plus, no other minivan can achieve 28 mpg on the highway and travel a range of 466 miles on a single tank. It’s even a terrific value: Despite the Odyssey EX costing more up front, it winds up being less expensive to own and operate over five years than most of its competitors, according to Kelley Blue Book. You won’t find many areas of the auto industry where a segment leader is so clear, but this is one of them.
The Odyssey leads the competition in nearly every category that should be important to a minivan buyer. Let’s start with safety. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration uses a five-star rating system for its crash tests, which include frontal crash tests, side crash tests, and a rollover test. A vehicle doesn’t have to earn five stars on every test to earn an overall rating of five stars, and most don’t. In fact, every minivan tested, including the Odyssey, managed only four stars on the rollover test. But of the minivans rated five stars overall—the Odyssey, Kia Sedona, Toyota Sienna, and Ford Transit Connect Wagon—only the Odyssey and Sedona earned a full five stars for driver and passenger in both the frontal and side crash tests.
The Odyssey performed even better in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash tests, which the IIHS made more difficult for 2014-model-year vehicles with the requirement of a new small overlap front crash test. The Odyssey and the Sedona are the only minivans to earn the highest rating of Good in this test. With their top ratings in every other IIHS crash test (moderate overlap front, side, roof strength, and head restraint), these two are the Institute’s highest-rated minivans and Top Safety Pick award winners. Among traditional-size minivans, only the 2016 Sienna (not the 2014 model) is a Top Safety Pick+ award winner because it offers automatic braking with its optional crash-avoidance system, though it scored lower in the small overlap front crash test than the Odyssey and Sedona. Meanwhile, the Quest, Grand Caravan, and Town & Country all rated as Poor, the lowest rating, in the small overlap front crash test.
Along with all of the safety features that are ubiquitous among minivans, such as countless airbags, electronic stability control (a federally mandated safety feature), antilock disc brakes, and the Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) system for installing child seats, the Odyssey also includes the extra features I was looking for and then some.
All Odysseys come standard with Bluetooth for your phone (as well as Bluetooth audio) and a rearview backup camera, while the EX model I’ve chosen adds power sliding doors and Honda’s innovative LaneWatch system. Nearly all minivans offer such features as either standard or reasonably priced options on their midlevel trims, except for LaneWatch, which is a Honda exclusive. LaneWatch uses a camera mounted below the passenger-side mirror to display the driver’s blind spot on the dashboard’s lower screen every time the turn signal is in use. It might sound annoying, but it’s actually very useful in practice thanks to guidelines on the screen that tell you how far back vehicles in your right lane are. Changing lanes thus becomes safer, and the system can also help you avoid scraping your curbside wheels when parallel parking.
Honda’s 3.5-liter V6 engine produces 248 horsepower and 250 pound-feet of torque, which puts it in the middle among most of its competition. The Toyota Sienna, Nissan Quest, and Kia Sedona all have a bit more horsepower (266, 260, and 269, respectively), but the Odyssey has more torque than all three. Torque is the measurement of an engine’s pulling strength (click here for a good explanation of torque versus horsepower). It’s what will get your minivan moving from a stoplight or passing on the highway when it’s loaded up with extra people and gear. Cars.com, in a video review of the Odyssey, says, “The V6 has plenty of power, whether you’re drag-racing a Toyota Sienna … or passing on the highway.” The Dodge and Chrysler minivans, which are platform mates produced by the same automaker, have the segment’s most powerful engine: a 3.6-liter V6 that generates 283 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque.
Even if the Odyssey is not the most powerful minivan—and let’s face it, you aren’t buying a race car—it is one of the most fuel efficient. Its thriftiness comes courtesy of a new trick that Honda implemented for 2014 called variable cylinder management, which lets its V6 engine run on three, four, or all six cylinders depending on how much power is needed. This accounts for the Odyssey’s impressive fuel economy of 19 miles per gallon in the city, 28 mpg on the highway, and 22 mpg combined. The Grand Caravan and Town & Country, for comparison, achieve 17 mpg city, 25 mpg highway, and 20 mpg combined, which illustrates the price you must pay at the pump for more power under the hood.
The Nissan Quest is technically the most fuel-efficient minivan, with EPA ratings of 20 mpg city, 27 mpg highway, and 23 mpg combined. Those numbers are similar to the Odyssey’s, though a little better in the city and a little worse on the highway. But thanks to a 21-gallon fuel tank, the Odyssey offers the longest range among minivans: a bladder-busting 466 miles. The Kia Sedona is the least fuel-efficient minivan with ratings of 18 mpg city, 24 mpg highway, and 20 mpg combined, and it offers a range of just 422 miles.
All of these traditional-size minivans are adequately powerful with their large V6 engines, but the Odyssey’s engine is also smooth and relatively quiet. That’s partly thanks to Honda’s use of active engine mounts, which help to quell vibrations, and active noise-cancellation technology (a rare feature in a minivan), which cancels out unwanted frequencies. This engine is also the same V6 that Honda uses in many other vehicles, like the Pilot three-row crossover, the Ridgeline truck, and a number of luxury sedans from Acura. The company has been using this engine in the Odyssey and updating it along the way since the late ’90s. In its Annual Autos Survey, Consumer Reports gave the Odyssey’s V6 its highest reliability rating for every model year going back to 2009.
Where the Odyssey really stands apart, though, is in how it handles. From behind the wheel, the Odyssey feels like you’re driving a car, as opposed to its competitors, which in varying degrees feel more like the top-heavy, roly-poly minibuses they are. In a review, Motor Trend writes that “the 2014 Odyssey minivan doesn’t drive much different than our 2013 Honda Accord Sport sedan on the streets.” Some of that impression may have to do with Honda’s excellent tuning of the steering. Or maybe the Odyssey’s suspension is just better designed to handle the forces of such a large vehicle, or maybe it’s because the Odyssey is the widest minivan of the bunch. Whatever the reason, Honda’s minivan is by far the most composed and pleasing to drive. In its review of the Odyssey, Car and Driver states, “it’s as athletic as a minivan gets and is fun to drive on a back road.”
In terms of cargo-carrying capacity, the Odyssey is second largest, behind the Toyota Sienna. The latter can carry 39.1 cubic feet of stuff behind its third row of seats and 150 cubic feet with the second row removed and the third row stowed in the floor. The Odyssey is right behind it with measurements of 38.4 and 148.5 cubic feet, respectively, and with all of the seating out of the way, Honda says a 4×8 sheet of plywood—an industry standard of measurement—will fit in the cargo area.
AutoWeek associate editor Jake Lingeman used an Odyssey to transport the gigantic box of a recently purchased flat-screen TV. Lingeman comments: “The darn boxes on those things are so big now, a crossover won’t even hold it. I know, because I tried.” The Odyssey did, though, with Lingeman having only to flip down its fold-flat third row of seats and slide forward the second row.
Most people aren’t transporting plywood or buying big-screen TVs every weekend, so I turned to paper grocery bags for a more accurate measurement of how the Odyssey hauls everyday things. Using an Odyssey and a Chrysler Town & Country I had on hand, I compared how many paper grocery bags can fit at once in the rear cargo wells behind their third-row seats. The results: 10 bags for the Odyssey and nine for the Town & Country.
The Odyssey’s second row of seats does not handily stow into the floor as in Chrysler’s Stow ’n Go system or fold forward flat as in the Nissan Quest, but it does have other tricks. The second row consists of two outboard seats and a smaller center seat that you can remove, fold over to create center armrests with cupholders, or use as a genuine third seat. This means the Odyssey can seat a maximum of eight people, equaling the Sienna and Sedona, and doing one better than the seven-passenger Grand Caravan, Town & Country, and Quest.
The Odyssey’s two outboard seats also have a Wide Mode function that lets them slide 1½ inches closer to the doors. When in Wide Mode, the second row can accommodate three full-size convertible child seats with LATCH anchor mounts available in all three positions (another two anchors are in the third row, as well), which no other minivan can claim. The seats can also slide forward 5½ inches, bringing children closer to their parents in the front seats. Note too that, unlike some other second-row seats that slide forward and backward on tracks in the floor that can easily collect dirt and debris (see the Toyota Sienna), the Odyssey’s seats slide on their base and have no floor tracks.
While you might argue that the inability to stow or fold flat its second row of seats is a disadvantage for the Odyssey, I think its highly configurable, full-width second row of seats is worth the inconvenience. The average family probably doesn’t use a minivan’s maximum cargo space too often, because doing so means removing carefully installed car seats, and most large objects will fit after stowing the third row of seats alone. And because the designs of the Chrysler minivans and the Nissan Quest demand that their second row of seats be able to stow away or fold flat, those models offer only two captain’s chairs in their second rows, thus restricting seating to a maximum of seven, whereas the Odyssey can seat up to eight for when the grandparents are in town.
Speaking of third rows, the Odyssey’s way-back seats are impressive. Every traditional-size minivan lets you stow its third row of seats in a rear cargo well (except the Quest, which requires you to fold its third row forward), and the Odyssey is no different except for how simple the process is. Honda’s One-Motion Magic Seat is split 60/40, and you can flip each section rearward into its stowed position by pulling on a single strap. It’s one of the simplest designs (the Sienna’s is similar), and it works quickly, as opposed to the process in the Chrysler minivans, which have four straps to pull in order. Power-folding third rows are expensive and much slower.
The Odyssey is also one of the freshest minivans on the market (for now), the only one to receive a midcycle upgrade for the 2014 model year after its full redesign for 2011. This midcycle upgrade included a slightly redesigned exterior, the structural upgrades that helped it perform so well on the IIHS crash tests, the availability of forward collision and lane departing warning systems on certain trim levels, a redesigned interior center stack, and many tech and connectivity updates. Also, its smooth-shifting six-speed automatic transmission became standard on all trims (previously that feature was available only on the Touring and the Touring Elite). The Toyota Sienna also received some updates for the 2015 model year, and the Kia Sedona was brand-new for 2015.
New vehicles are never sorted right out of the box, so Honda gives you a warranty on the whole minivan for three years or 36,000 miles and on just the engine and transmission, or powertrain, for five years or 60,000 miles. The company also throws in three years or 36,000 miles of free roadside assistance and half a decade of corrosion coverage in case rust rears its ugly head. This is a very standard warranty package, and Honda doesn’t really have to offer more because of the brand’s generally excellent reputation for reliability. A few minivan makers do go above and beyond in the warranty department: Kia offers its industry-best five-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty with a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty, while both Dodge and Chrysler offer longer powertrain warranties.
The Odyssey is often thought to be more expensive than the average minivan, but as I’ve said, research shows that while it may cost a little more up front, it costs less to own and operate, so you’ll spend less money over time.
The Odyssey has five trim levels. The LX begins around $30,000.2 Unlike Dodge, which starts the Grand Caravan’s many trim levels much lower at around $23,000,3 Honda equips the Odyssey LX with features such as an 8-inch infotainment screen, a rearview camera, Bluetooth phone and audio, a tilting and telescoping steering wheel with integrated controls, power driver and passenger seats, a USB port and auxiliary-input jack, and remote entry. Of course, you also get the aforementioned second-row seats with Wide Mode and the One-Motion Magic Seat third row. I didn’t pick this base trim level, however, because power sliding doors are not available, and you don’t get Honda’s innovative LaneWatch or automatic three-zone climate control system, among other things.
I picked the slightly costlier Odyssey EX that starts around $33,500 as the overall best configuration for most people because it’s very well equipped with the features most families need and a few more they’ll appreciate. In addition to providing power sliding doors and LaneWatch, the EX comes standard with an automatic three-zone climate control system, push-button start, heated power side mirrors, a drop-down conversation mirror, a removable front center storage console (with a nifty flip-up trash-bag ring), integrated sun shades for the second row, a better sound system, and a separate dash-mounted touchscreen for the stereo. It has just the right balance of features and affordability.
Above the EX is the new-for-2016 Special Edition trim, or SE. The SE is basically the EX with a small group of additional features that used to be reserved for the Odyssey’s highest trim levels, including the handy HondaVAC onboard vacuum system, a rear entertainment system for the kids, a 110-volt power outlet, and SiriusXM satellite radio. The cost for these four features is about $950 and raises the SE’s price to $34,500.4 That’s a bargain for what you get (you used to have pay over $10,000 more to get the vacuum in the Touring Elite trim), but we’d rather save the $1,000 and buy the EX. The HondaVAC works well, but so does the shop vac you probably already have in your garage or the vacuums you pay to use at your local car wash. Likewise, you can replace all of the other features the SE gives you with options you might already own, such as smartphones and tablets, or with accessories that you can buy cheaper, such as a power inverter.
Next is the EX-L, which starts a little over $36,500.5 This level adds leather seating, heated front seats, a chilled Cool Box for drinks, a sunroof, a power rear liftgate, forward collision and lane departure warning systems, and an extra cost of $3,500 over the EX. For even more money, you can also order a navigation system and a rear entertainment system on this trim level. The EX-L is an excellent choice if you can afford it, which I’ll talk more about below.
Farther up the ladder are the Odyssey Touring and Touring Elite. These fully loaded trim levels start at $43,0006 and $45,500,7 respectively. For that kind of money you get 18-inch wheels (the largest size offered), fog lights, body-colored parking sensors front and rear, an even more premium stereo, high-intensity discharge headlamps, Honda’s Ultrawide rear entertainment system with a 16.2-inch roof-mounted screen, and the company’s innovative and exclusive HondaVAC onboard vacuum cleaner (the last three features are in the Touring Elite).
Out of curiosity, I asked Honda for a trim breakdown of Odyssey sales, and representatives told me that the EX-L comprises the largest share of sales, around 30 percent, followed by the EX-L RES (Rear Entertainment System) at 20 percent. The EX, my pick, comes in third, followed by the most expensive trim, the Touring Elite, then the Touring, the EX-L with navigation, and the least expensive LX, in that order. The SE trim level is brand-new for 2016, so we don’t know how popular it’s going to be, but our guess is very.
It is true that you can buy similarly equipped minivans from Honda’s competitors for less money than the Odyssey EX, which costs a little more than $33,500 with destination charges factored in. In fact, I priced them out for you. A Dodge Caravan SXT with the Uconnect Hands-Free Group option package costs about $29,000,8 a Chrysler Town & Country Touring costs around $32,500,9 and a Nissan Quest SV costs about $31,500.10 The Toyota Sienna LE, meanwhile, goes for a bit higher than $32,50011 (or over $35,00012 if you want AWD), while the Kia Sedona’s EX trim level actually costs about the same as the Odyssey EX—right around $33,500.13 The price you pay up front, though, is only one part of what a vehicle actually costs, which I’ll explain next.
What’s remarkable about the Odyssey EX is that it costs less to own over five years than all of its competitors, and that’s taking into account its purchase price, which is one of the highest. According to current estimates from Kelley Blue Book, the Odyssey EX costs $41,891 over five years, or 56 cents per mile.14 The similarly priced Kia Sedona EX is estimated to cost $47,501 over five years, or 63 cents per mile. That means you may spend $5,610 more to own a Sedona after five years!
How does the Odyssey do this? Of the seven categories KBB considers (fuel, insurance, financing, state fees, maintenance, repairs, and depreciation), the Odyssey commands the lowest cost for fuel, insurance, maintenance, and repairs over five years, which is what puts it so far ahead of other minivans. The depreciation of each minivan over five years is similar, around $18,500 to $20,000 each, with the Dodge Grand Caravan SXT and Sedona EX losing the most value.
The Odyssey has also received a 2014 Best Value Award from Kiplinger’s Personal Finance and its sixth straight ALG Residual Value Award for having such low depreciation, which means it should fetch a higher price if you ever decide to sell it.
A big part of my research process is to find, read, and include research from the best automotive journalists around.
After digesting nearly all of their articles, I found that the Odyssey is easily the favorite minivan among critics. A Cars.com Ultimate Minivan Comparison conducted in 2011 ranked the Odyssey first ahead of five other competitors, with Kristin Varela commenting, “I love the smooth, powerful, nearly carlike ride,” a comment oft repeated by auto journalists. Currently U.S. News & World Report ranks the Odyssey at number one, and the Honda also leads the Top Recommended Minivans/Vans list at Edmunds.com. Motor Trend, one of the few outlets to review the updated 2014 Odyssey, concludes that it “remains the fun-to-drive people hauler it has been since 2011.”
Consumer Reports, having purchased an EX-L model to test, likes the Odyssey too. The Odyssey received an overall score of 84 from Consumer Reports, becoming the highest scoring minivan and earning the organization’s coveted Recommended rating. Consumer Reports writes that the Odyssey has “commendably agile handling and sharp steering, challenging the notion that a minivan has to be boring to drive.” I disagree, however, with CR’s opinion that the EX-L is the “sweet spot” in the Odyssey lineup, as I prefer the $3,500-cheaper EX, which gives up a few luxury items (power rear liftgate, leather seating, chilled Cool Box) and safety features (forward collision and lane departure warning systems) to achieve a substantially lower cost. But if you like the higher-end model’s bells and whistles and can afford it, I recommend this model as a secondary pick.
Having driven all of these traditional-size minivans, I can only concur with my industry colleagues and say that the Odyssey stands out as being better to drive and more car-like than its competition. Its ride is smooth, its throttle and braking are linear, and its handling is composed, in contrast to the rest of the minivans we drove, which often felt either top-heavy or floaty with very light and numb steering.
The short answer: If you know you want the wipe-clean convenience of leather, you’ll have to pony up at least $3,500 more for the Odyssey EX-L, and in the process you could be paying for extra features you might not need or want.
Surprisingly, the most heated debate I had with others while deciding the overall best configuration for a minivan focused on whether it’s wiser to stick with standard cloth seating or to opt for leather- or leatherette-trimmed seating. There are good arguments for and against both. Cloth costs less and wears better over time but stains more easily. Leather costs more, requires regular maintenance, and gets very hot in direct sunlight, but liquid spills wipe right off—a big selling point. An informal poll of family and friends on Facebook showed preferences were evenly split, while “Chief Mom” at Cars.com Kristin Varela told us that leather was a must for busy families.
Unfortunately, automakers treat leather as a luxury item rather than as a practical seating material that some parents prefer. As such, they relegate it to higher, more expensive trim levels. The EX-L is over $3,500 more expensive than the EX because you’re not paying just for the leather; you’re also paying for heated seats, the Cool Box, and some advanced safety features. It’s a shame that no minivan maker offers leather as a stand-alone option on lower trim levels. Chrysler offers leather as standard equipment on every trim level of the Town & Country, but it has the highest base price of any minivan. (Chrysler also offers cloth seating as a no-cost option if that’s your preference.)
In the end, I decided that there is no definitive right answer, as both cloth and leather have their merits, so all other things being equal I chose the less expensive configuration, with cloth, as my baseline pick. The biggest knock against cloth is its susceptibility to staining, especially from liquids, but minivan floors are carpeted and thus vulnerable to the same problem. An upholstery-cleaning service can remove stains on both surfaces, and just as you can get rubber mats for carpeted floors, you can purchase seat covers for cloth seats that protect them from stains at a cost far less than opting for leather seating. If you can’t pass up on cowhide, remember to regularly clean and condition your leather surfaces to keep them from cracking. And to help prevent premature wear, consider placing a white towel (so as not to transfer dyes) over the leather when installing a child seat.
I don’t like everything about the Odyssey, and at the top of my list of gripes are the dual screens in the dashboard’s center stack. The higher one is an 8-inch screen called the intelligent Multi-Informational Display, or i-MID, which displays lots of vehicle information, shows the rearview backup camera when you put the vehicle in reverse, and hosts the navigation system when you order that package. The lower screen serves as the audio touchscreen, acting as a fully touch-controlled version of a normal stereo head unit. The i-MID, however, is not a touchscreen; you control it with a knob and buttons located directly below the audio touchscreen.
Having to use physical controls for one display and a touchscreen for another is complicated and confusing, especially when the physical controls are located closer to the display they don’t control. Also, some of the same media information displays on both screens at the same time, creating redundancy. Life was simpler when Honda offered one large display for the infotainment system and smaller displays for basic information like the temperature and track numbers. Plenty of other automakers have done a better job with a single, large screen complemented by redundant hard controls for the stereo and the climate control system.
I haven’t talked about styling at all yet, and that’s because the Odyssey’s design is not universally loved. Styling is largely in the eye of the beholder, and when this current generation of the Odyssey debuted back in 2010, I wasn’t fond of the shape of its sheet metal. Minivans in general, however, aren’t the most attractive forms to begin with, and I’ve grown to appreciate the Odyssey’s styling, particularly its lower, wider stance. At the very least, its design isn’t truly polarizing like the Nissan Quest’s, and its ubiquity in suburbs and shopping-mall parking lots means most people are accustomed to its look by now.
Why did I choose the EX over the EX-L as the top pick? Two reasons: I don’t consider the EX-L’s extra features to be essential equipment, and I think spending an extra $3,500 on a $32,000 car is a big deal for families on a budget, especially when that money pays for perks that are neat but not ultimately necessary.
Let’s talk about those extra features. The power rear liftgate is a convenient feature that I do wish came standard on the less expensive EX, because there’s nothing better than being able to open your trunk with a press of a button without dropping either your kids or your groceries. Even with a power rear liftgate, though, you still have to fumble for the key fob or reach down to press a button on the liftgate itself. (Some companies have developed a solution for that: Kia, for instance, is introducing a Smart Tailgate on the Sedona that automatically opens the rear liftgate if it senses the key fob nearby for more than three seconds.) And unlike power sliding doors, which also help prevent injury to errant digits and limbs, a power rear liftgate offers no additional safety benefit.
Leather is certainly nice, but remember that Honda offers removable, washable seat covers for its second- and third-row cloth seats as official accessories for about $265 and $200, respectively—far less money than the cost to upgrade to leather.
While I do consider safety a priority, the EX-L’s two extra safety systems—forward collision and lane departure warning—are both passive. Their sensors trigger beeps and flashes when they detect that the vehicle isn’t slowing quickly enough or that it’s wandering out of its lane; they cannot, however, prevent an accident by applying the brakes or turning the vehicle back into its lane like more expensive active safety systems. As such, I don’t think they’re worth the upgrade cost.
As for the Cool Box, I spoke with an EX-L owner who told me it’s more of a novelty because it cools only when the vehicle is running, doesn’t work well on beverages that aren’t already cold, and has enough space to cool just three or four drinks at a time. His family doesn’t use the Cool Box on their daily drives, and they usually bring a larger cooler on long trips to hold a bigger supply of drinks and food.
Finally, the sunroof is a convenience of personal preference, but I find it easy to forgo if that saves some cash.
Honda charges a fair price for all of those features; $3,500 is not too much to pay for what you get when stepping up to the EX-L. For comparison’s sake, stepping up from a Toyota Sienna LE to an SE to get leather, a power rear liftgate, and the same safety features costs $3,570, and that’s sans the sunroof and mini fridge.
But you’re probably not paying for this minivan in one lump sum. How much larger of a monthly payment does an extra $3,500 create? At the time of this writing, Honda is running an offer for a low interest rate of 0.9 percent for 24 to 36 months when you finance an Odyssey. The company states that it costs $28.16 per month for every $1,000 financed, so $3,500 equals an extra $98.56 you would pay per month. The terms won’t always be that sweet, however, nor the length of the loan that short. It’s up to you whether $100 extra in your pocket every month is worth sacrificing for leather seats and a power rear liftgate.
If owning the ultimate minivan is your goal, the Odyssey Touring Elite is unmatched. Car and Driver has called it “the Bentley of minivans”—a fitting name considering its $45,50016 starting price. It further cemented its elite status in 2014 by debuting the segment’s only onboard vacuum cleaner, the HondaVAC. Located in the rear cargo area, the HondaVAC has a hose that reaches all the way to the front seats to suck up dirt, Cheerios, or dog hair. We’re hoping Honda will make this useful feature an option on more trim levels in the coming years, but for now it’s exclusive to the Touring Elite and the new-for-2016 Odyssey SE.
The Touring Elite includes a few more features you can’t get in other Odysseys, including Honda’s Ultrawide Rear Entertainment System (a 16.2-inch high-resolution screen with HDMI input that can play video from two sources simultaneously), a 650-watt stereo with 12 speakers, and brighter high-intensity discharge headlamps. Honda tosses in everything but the kitchen sink as standard on the Touring Elite, so leather seating, a navigation system, a sunroof, fog lights, reverse sensors, a blind-spot alert system, and many more features are also included.
If you’re a fan of minivans but you don’t have kids, the 2016 Kia Sedona is a great choice. The Sedona has improved so much thanks to a complete redesign last year that I can now say it’s my second-favorite minivan. It isn’t the best minivan overall because the Honda Odyssey is larger inside, more fuel-efficient and family-friendly, and the best to drive, but the new Sedona is great for people who want the utility of a minivan with less of the soccer-and-juicebox stigma that comes with it. The new Sedona even won Motor Trend’s latest comparison test of fully loaded minivans, narrowly beating the Odyssey. The midlevel EX trim, which starts around $33,500,17 is the best version to buy because for about the same price as our top-pick Odyssey EX, it comes with more and better standard features.
The Sedona’s new design makes it arguably the most handsome minivan you can buy right now. Kia’s head designer came from Audi, and his team has created a more mature-looking Sedona that borrows cues from crossovers and sport utility vehicles to minimize its minivan image. The upright nose and almost horizontal hood, for instance, are unusual for the front of a minivan. While Kia isn’t fooling anyone—the Sedona is still obviously a minivan—this design looks appreciably less like the stereotype than others.
Parts of the interior, too, are laid out more like the inside of a car or a crossover than a minivan. The center console, for instance, stretches uninterrupted from the dashboard through the two front seats. Most minivan dashboards go straight to the ground and leave some floor space in front of the center console; that’s where you would drop a bag or maybe place a wastebasket. The Sedona gives that up for a front-seat environment that feels more car-like than other minivans.
You also get more and nicer features in the Sedona, particularly at the EX trim level, than in its competition. The Sedona EX is about the same price as the Odyssey EX, but Kia gives you full leather seating along with a power rear liftgate standard. Most automakers don’t offer such features on their middle-trim minivans, Chrysler being the exception, and Honda provides them in the next trim level up at an extra charge of $3,500. Kia’s power rear liftgate also has a special trick: It opens automatically if it senses the key fob nearby for three seconds. That means you can approach it with arms full of whatever, and it will open automatically without your having to put anything down or to reach to press a button.
The Sedona EX is so well equipped with standard features that it really feels like you bought a higher trim level than what you paid for. And that’s Kia’s style, along with offering the industry’s longest warranties: five years or 60,000 miles basic coverage and 10 years or 100,000 miles on the engine and transmission. Honda’s coverage, meanwhile, meets the industry standard of three years or 36,000 miles and five years or 60,000 miles, respectively.
The Sedona does have flaws, though. It’s one of the heaviest minivans of the group (only the Chrysler Town & Country is heavier), and its engine, which is among the most powerful, must work hard to move it. Consequently, its fuel economy of 18 mpg in the city, 24 mpg on the highway, and 20 mpg combined is back-of-the-pack. While the Odyssey’s highway rating of 28 mpg soundly beats the Sedona’s, in combined fuel economy the Sedona is only 2 mpg behind the Honda—not bad, but over time and with a lot of highway driving, you will feel the difference. We calculated that the Sedona would burn about 68 more gallons of fuel than the Odyssey during an average year of driving, which could cost $150 to $250 extra per year depending on the price of gas.
The Sedona also has less cargo space and less configurability than segment leaders like the Odyssey and Sienna. Its second row of seats, for instance, isn’t removable; the seats just tip up and slide forward against the back of the front seats. They also slide back and forth on tracks in the floor, which will inevitably collect dirt and crumbs. That said, climbing into the Sedona’s third row is the easiest we’ve experienced because of how far the second row seats slide up and out of the way. The feature is great for chauffeuring adults around, but it wouldn’t be useful with child seats installed in the second row.
Lastly, the new Sedona is now technically the most expensive minivan we’ve considered, with a $33,500 price tag for the midlevel EX trim, which costs just a few lattes more than the Odyssey EX. Although Kia does give you more features for about the same price as you’d pay Honda for our top pick, your money buys a great new minivan that’s almost, but not quite, as good as the Odyssey.
The Grand Caravan is a good alternative to the Odyssey if up-front cost is your main concern. Not everyone can afford more than $30,000 for a well-equipped minivan, and Dodge manages to serve more people with a wider range of trim levels and lower prices. The Grand Caravan SE starts around $25,500,18 over $8,000 less up front than the price of my top pick (and almost $5,000 less than even a base-model Odyssey LX); it also costs nearly $2,500 less to own after five years. But you won’t find power driver and passenger seats, automatic climate control, power sliding doors, or Bluetooth anything as standard equipment here. Features such as Bluetooth, power windows, and a touchscreen information and entertainment system are available as options. The Grand Caravan doesn’t offer the overall best configuration for a minivan, but it has by far the best price for a traditional-size minivan that will accommodate seven. The most basic Grand Caravan trim level is called the American Value Package, which, while lacking some basic features, has a remarkably low starting price of just $21,795 (not including a $995 destination charge). If price were my priority, I’d skip the AVP and choose the SE trim level for $24,095, which adds the useful Stow ’n Go seating and other features.
The Toyota Sienna is a good minivan; the Odyssey is simply a bit better in just about every way. Toyota does, however, offer all-wheel-drive versions of the Sienna, which gives it a great selling point in colder and wetter climates. Toyota makes AWD available on three trim levels—the LE, XLE, and Limited—starting around $36,000.19
While AWD is great for people who regularly drive on snow and other slippery surfaces, it isn’t something I recommend for most because of its extra cost, its complex mechanicals, and its effect on fuel economy—a Sienna AWD is rated at 16 mpg city, 23 mpg highway, and 19 mpg combined, 2 mpg less across the board than its front-wheel-drive counterpart. Plus, when you choose AWD, the Sienna maxes out with seating for seven instead of eight because the design requires two captain’s chairs instead of a full-width row behind the front seats.
Toyota updated the Sienna for the 2015 model year, and having spent a week driving one, I can say that most of our disappointments remain. The biggest update involves the dashboard, which was all-new for 2015 and carries over for 2016 unchanged. It’s made of better-quality materials, and the layout is better organized, but Toyota has added a new 7-inch touchscreen display with capacitive “buttonless” controls that are distracting to use while driving. Overall the interior looks and feels nicer but isn’t that much better to use.
Last year Toyota also debuted a new feature called Driver Easy Speak that’s available as an option on the SE and XLE and standard on the Limited. This intercom system uses the microphone up front to broadcast the driver’s voice through the rear speakers. It’s meant to help kids in the third row hear their parents up front, which it does perfectly well. Unfortunately, the system works only one way (kids’ voices aren’t amplified up front for their parents) and has enough sensitivity to pick up whispering, which means you don’t want to leave it on all the time. We’d like this technology a lot more if it worked both ways and if it included a button on the steering wheel that activated it only when pressed, but for now it’s a novelty that’s not worth paying extra for.
Like the previous Sienna, the current Sienna still has too much variation in its exterior design from trim level to trim level. When you’re configuring one, matching the exterior design you want with a particular feature set can be difficult. It is the only minivan that offers a “sporty” model: The SE starts around $36,000 and features larger wheels, a sharper look, and a “tuned” suspension. But the Odyssey is still more fun to drive.
For 2016, the midlevel Sienna LE trim remains best; it starts at a little over $32,500. That price is over $3,500 less than the cost of the sporty SE, the next trim level up, and you get all of the features that I think everyone will find worthwhile (rearview camera, Bluetooth phone and audio, power sliding doors, and the like). Above the SE is the XLE, where those who can afford its higher price of nearly $36,500 get more attractive features such as heated and leather-trimmed seats, a power rear liftgate, fog lights, and a sunroof, as well as access to more option packages. Lastly, the Limited Premium tops the lineup with a towering price tag of more than $46,000.
I considered many factors such as comfort, utility, value, and fuel efficiency, but because a minivan is made to carry your family and loved ones, safety was my first and foremost concern. I judged each minivan’s safety credentials using the two most well-known and highly regarded arbiters of crash testing in the United States: the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and its five-star rating system, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and its Top Safety Pick designations. I also considered the amount and type of safety equipment each minivan has standard, as well as what’s available as optional equipment.
Comfort and utility were also big factors. We judged the former by putting butts in seats and measured the latter by evaluating not only how much people and cargo each minivan could hold but also how easily everything went in.
Value was another area of consideration, so I examined the price of each minivan at every trim level and with options, as well as the five-year cost-to-own data from Kelley Blue Book. This metric takes into account the cost of fuel, insurance, maintenance, repairs, financing, state fees, and the depreciation over five years of ownership.
While each of these minivans is impressive when fully loaded, I think the overall best minivan is the one that most people can afford. A fully loaded minivan can cost more than $45,000, which is far above the average price for a new vehicle and similar to the cost of luxury cars. So to make value a priority, I tasked myself with determining the overall best configuration of a minivan that’s still affordable. To do that, I decided on which optional features are must-haves.
The first two features that I decided are worth getting are power sliding side doors and a Bluetooth phone connection. Power sliding side doors might seem like a mere convenience (and they are indeed handy), but they’re also an important safety feature, as any kid who has had his or her fingers slammed in a sliding door can attest. Likewise, cell phone use has become so prevalent that having Bluetooth support for your phone is necessary, as it allows you to make and receive calls without taking your hands off the wheel or your eyes off the road.
I then decided that the overall best configuration must also include a rearview backup camera, which is still optional equipment on many vehicles. Studies have shown this safety feature to be most effective at preventing collisions when the vehicle is backing up, which includes avoiding contact with bicycles left in the driveway or children chasing a ball, and the federal government will mandate its inclusion as standard equipment in all passenger vehicles by 2018.
Other advanced safety features, like blind-spot alert systems, front and rear collision alerts, and radar-based cruise control, missed my list of must-have features. While they do make vehicles safer to drive, they’re generally restricted to higher trim levels or expensive option packages.
These three features alone—power sliding side doors, Bluetooth phone compatibility, and a rearview camera—meant that I would be considering midlevel trims, many of which come standard with or offer other features like push-button start and keyless entry, three-zone automatic climate control systems, 115-volt household-style outlets, and Bluetooth audio. However, I did not consider these features essential because they are only conveniences and are sometimes bundled in option packages or higher trim levels that can greatly increase the cost. And the most expensive options, such as navigation systems and rear entertainment systems, are also not required, as these days smartphones and tablets can effectively perform their functions for far less money.
Fuel efficiency was also an important factor, and I took into account each minivan’s official miles-per-gallon rating from the Environmental Protection Agency as well as real-world data from the site Fuelly.com.
I also sought out the opinions of other experts, reading reviews from authorities such as Motor Trend and Consumer Reports, including this excellent comparison test that Cars.com conducted in 2011. I found it so helpful that I called up one of its authors, Kristin Varela, “Chief Mom” at Cars.com, for her additional thoughts.
Lastly, I spent time with each minivan. Either in my own driveway (with a vehicle on loan from the auto manufacturer) or at the dealership, I inspected each minivan as an actual buyer would and drove each one a number of times.
2016 Chrysler Town & Country Touring
The Town & Country can’t match the Odyssey’s driving demeanor or low cost of ownership. As such, Chrysler has tried to carve out a niche and position it as the luxury-oriented twin of the Dodge Grand Caravan. The starting price is the highest among all minivans at right over $30,000, but the Town & Country comes with a wealth of standard equipment, including luxuries like leather seating and a single-screen DVD rear entertainment system. I liked the Touring model most, which starts at more than $32,500.20
The Town & Country also offers some interesting optional equipment, including the segment’s only heated steering wheel and a dual-screen rear entertainment system with Blu-ray player and HDMI inputs. It’s a more advanced setup than what you can find in most of the competition, but ultimately it’s unnecessary in an age of smartphones and tablets.
As with the Grand Caravan, I found the Town & Country decent to drive and liked its Stow ’n Go cargo tricks, but its Achilles’ heel is the Grand Caravan itself: Unless you really like the different styling of the Town & Country, you can get an almost identically equipped Grand Caravan for less. Or you could buy a similarly priced Odyssey that’s better to drive and much less expensive in the long run.
2016 Nissan Quest SV
The Quest has some neat features but joins the large group of minivans behind the Odyssey in driving feel, cost-to-own figures, and crash-test ratings. I’ve read some nice things about the Quest, but when I visited a dealership for a test drive, it failed to meet my expectations.
The Quest uses Nissan’s well-regarded 3.5-liter V6 engine, which has plenty of power, but it’s matched to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that has an odd sensitivity to throttle inputs off the line. The handling was also less controlled than in the Odyssey, exhibiting more body roll. I very much liked the Quest’s second and third rows of seating, which fold forward to create a completely flat floor that also preserves the deep rear cargo well—a handy feature that means owners don’t need to empty out the well when stowing the third row. Available features such as Nissan’s 360-degree AroundView Monitor and simple conveniences like the Easy-Fill Tire Alert system, which honks the horn at the correct PSI when you’re filling its tires with air, are other examples of the company’s unique and clever engineering. Seven needs to be enough for your family, though, as the Quest can accommodate only that many people because of its second-row captain’s chairs; a second-row bench seat isn’t available.
A base Nissan Quest starts around $27,500,21 though I targeted the next trim level up the ladder, the SV, which starts around $31,500.22 The base Quest lacks in features but oddly includes the luxury of push-button start and Nissan’s version of proximity keys, which can stay in your pocket while unlocking the doors. Stepping up to the SV for $3,960 more brings everything I’m looking for, including power sliding side doors, a rearview camera, and Bluetooth phone and audio, as well as automatic climate control for all three rows and solid alloy wheels instead of steel wheels with plastic covers. If you choose the SV, you also have access to a Leather Package and a DVD Entertainment System Package, but those pricy options will raise the cost by another $3,600. I’d simply rather have the Odyssey for the way it drives and for its lower cost of ownership, and I think Honda’s unique features (the Wide Mode second row of seats, the One-Motion Magic Seat third row, and LaneWatch) are more family-focused than Nissan’s.
2016 Ford Transit Connect XLT Wagon (seven-passenger with SYNC)
The Transit Connect Wagon is really a minivan in name only, being the passenger version of the Transit Connect Van, which Ford began importing from Europe in 2009 as a small commercial van. While it is “mini” by virtue of its size, shape, and sliding doors, the Transit Connect Wagon is not ideally suited for families with children in the way that the Honda Odyssey and other traditional-size minivans are. Instead, it makes an interesting alternative for those who are seeking the storage, hauling, and seating capacity of a minivan but may not have a family or don’t plan to use the vehicle solely for transporting a family. Ultimately, this is a vehicle designed for plumbers and florists, not families. One person told me it’s great for bands because of how it many instruments it can transport at once.
Ford redesigned the Transit Connect for the 2014 model year and added some interesting features, including two available lengths that seat either five or seven people and two available engines. Unfortunately, it costs nearly as much as larger, traditional-size minivans despite the fact that it doesn’t offer the same level of refinement and family-friendly features. A base model Transit Connect XLT Wagon starts at nearly $26,000,23 but that’s the five-passenger version; the seven-passenger model costs another $2,000.24 At that price, you do get a rearview camera, but that’s about it. Bluetooth for your phone requires Ford’s SYNC connectivity system, which is a $325 upgrade, and power sliding side doors aren’t available at all. The most expensive Titanium Wagon model, while nicely equipped, starts at about $30,500,25 which is just as much as (if not more than) the price tags on some of its larger, traditional-size competitors.
Our pick, the Honda Odyssey, received an update for the 2014 model year, and an all-new version is in the works for next year. Automotive News (subscription required) reports that engineers have been spotted testing the 2017 Honda Odyssey on public roads, but it’s too early yet to know what the final design will look like. Honda will likely debut the new minivan sometime in 2016, with sales to start later in the year.
Joining the new Odyssey will be the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica, which debuted early in 2016 at the Detroit Auto Show and will go on sale in the spring. The Pacifica name previously belonged to a big wagon-like crossover vehicle that Chrysler used to sell about a decade ago, but the company is reviving it for this all-new minivan, which will replace both the Town & Country and the Dodge Grand Caravan. What’s more, the company will even have a plug-in hybrid version that goes 30 miles on a charge and achieves the equivalent of 80 miles per gallon. The gas-powered version launches in spring 2016, with the plug-in hybrid version following later in the year. If any minivan can challenge the Odyssey as our pick for the best minivan, the new Pacifica might be it.
The Honda Odyssey is the best minivan now, as it has been for many years. The EX model is the best configuration if you prioritize price and features equally, while the EX-L is a good choice if you want its extra features and can afford the higher cost. The Odyssey beats its rivals on paper as well in practice, from safety to efficiency to usability, and though it has come under criticism for being expensive, it’s really the best value in the long run. The future of the minivan segment may always be in question, but a family shopping for its next truckster will never second-guess buying an Odyssey.
(Photos by John Neff.)
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