The Honda Odyssey minivan is known for its versatility and convenience for family use or even hard work.For 2014, the Odyssey has lots of changes, additions, and upgrades, starting with the new six-speed automatic transmission, standard on all trims.Both front and rear styling are now less cluttered, safety equipment is enhanced, and the electronic controls and instrumentation are revised. Odyssey offers five trim levels, all well-equipped, from the LX starting at $28,825 to the Touring Elite, which I drove, for $44,450. The base price for the thoroughly revised LX has only increased $150 from the previous model. The new transmission, coupled with a 3.5-liter V-6 engine with Variable Cylinder Management, helps keep the Odyssey at the top of the minivan crowd with fuel economy ratings of 19 mpg city/28 highway, up slightly from 2013. For this report, I managed 22.3 mpg combined, in mostly neighborhood and city driving.Honda has added two exterior colors for 2014 — Steel Metallic and Obsidian Blue Pearl (my tester). Interiors come in Beige, Gray (my tester) and Truffle, in either high-quality fabric featuring a dynamic new weave pattern for the LX and EX, or leather in the EX-L, Touring and Touring Elite.All 2014 Odyssey models now include an expanded-view driver’s mirror, one-touch turn signals, four-way power passenger seat, Bluetooth hand-free link with streaming audio, Pandora, and text messaging. New options include lane-departure and forward collision warning systems, along with Honda’s exclusive LaneWatch blind-spot monitor.The Odyssey Touring Elite also comes with — drum roll — the world’s first in-vehicle vacuum cleaner, a real plus for families with small children or folks using the large cargo area for DIY supplies or professional hauling. Each Odyssey trim builds on the previous, adding new, more-advanced features such as pushbutton start with keyless access, wiper-linked headlights, HondaLink with Aha compatibility, multi-angle rearview camera, HD Radio, and Neural 5.1 Surround audio.My Odyssey Touring Elite was youthful and sporty, with new black-trimmed headlights, muscular hood and upscale black-surround chrome grille. The new LED taillights with clear lenses and “light pipes” gave the new rear a polished Art Deco look.The vehicle also had new body-color side mirrors and additional bright chrome trim on the headlight housing, front bumper and fog lights, the door handles and window surround, and the tailgate.Touring and Touring Elite models wear all-season tires mounted on 18-inch premium sport-alloy wheels in a stylized, shaded five-spoke design. My thirty-something single daughter admitted she would drive the new Odyssey — it’s that attractive.The expanded-view driver’s mirror provides a 19-percent increase in side visibility over the previous model, while the exclusive Honda LaneWatch system displays a live, 80-degree camera view (on the dash navigation screen) of the passenger-side roadway/curb/ditch area, at least 55 degrees more than the typical standard door mirror.I found the LaneWatch, activated by the right turn signal, especially helpful for turns where a ditch or curb were too close for comfort.All 2014 Odysseys have a standard rearview camera. Odyssey LX, EX and EX-L models have a single-angle display, while EX-L Navi, Touring and Touring Elite models have a multi-angle camera with wide, normal and top-down views. The rearview camera systems show guide lines on the screen. New one-touch turn-signal levers provide three blinks of the turn signal -- best for changing lanes -- with a slight flick, while pressing the lever past a click point provides steady blinking for turns.The new wiper-linked headlights turn on when the front wipers are activated, as required by law in several states.My Odyssey had a new keyless entry system, which allows the driver to unlock and open the door, then start the engine with a pushbutton, all without handling a key. Unlocking and opening the power sliding side doors and power tailgate, and locking all doors when leaving the vehicle, only require that the key fob be within touching distance.Odyssey’s instrumentation has updated styling and white halo lighting instead of blue; the dials and door handles are trimmed with chrome; and the DVD player for the rear entertainment system has been repositioned.The new-touch panel controls on the center stack reduce button clutter, and two display screens — upper eight-inch and lower seven-inch — divide information to improve usability.Audio and navigation controls were between the two screens, the audio information mostly on the lower screen, and the map and navigation programming information on the upper screen. But the touch-panel controls weren’t intuitive, and programming the navigation was a little confusing. The navigation system also had voice recognition, which I didn’t attempt. The navigation manual was almost as large as the owner’s manual, but given time, a little reading would be helpful.The tester had a 650-watt hard-disc-drive audio system with HD and satellite radio, Bluetooth audio streaming, 12 speakers and the new Neural 5.1 Surround audio. Sound quality was excellent, with speakers located from front to back, filling the cabin. Odyssey Touring Elite also has Aha and Pandora interfaces, and SMS texting via a compatible cellular phone. A rear entertainment system with HDMI is standard on the Touring Elite, with a removable, upgraded remote control beside the drop-down 16.2-inch panoramic high-resolution screen.Second-row passengers have separate controls for temperature, fan speed and climate mode. The second-row seats are versatile: folding, flipping, sliding back and forth, reclining, moving outward and coming out. The seats are comfortable, including the small middle seat. The middle seatback folds flat with three cupholders on the back. There is a flip-up bag ring under the two cupholders on the back of the front console to hold a plastic bag open for trash. The third row will accommodate three small people and actually has lots of leg room (42.4 inches) and headroom (38 inches). The large rear side windows and tailgate glass provide excellent visibility for passengers and driver.There are cupholders and cubbies on the armrests and 360/90-degree vents above the second row. HDMI and auxiliary ports are on the side walls above the armrests. The third-row “Magic Seats” flip, fold, and stow. With the third row in place, cargo space is 38.4 cubic feet, due in part to the deep well in the rear, which is tall enough to carry a rocking chair or a large stroller.With the third row folded and stowed, cargo space increases to 93.1 cubic feet; with the second row removed and the third row stowed, cargo space becomes 148.5 cubic feet to carry lots of stuff or very large items such as a chest of drawers or enough lumber for a nice dog house.Located in the side wall above the cargo well, the HondaVac operates on the vehicle’s 12-volt electrical system -- up to eight minutes on the battery or unlimited if the engine is running — using an extendable hose that will reach every corner of the van. It comes with two head attachments, a removable debris canister and replaceable filter bags.There is also a “cool box” under the center instrument stack, which will keep cold items cold while the engine is running; a retractable bag hook on the passenger’s side of the stack; a “conversation mirror” above the rearview mirror; double map pockets on the front doors, retractable manual shades on the door windows and rear windows, heated front seats; and a power moon roof.For such a roomy vehicle, the Odyssey is fun to drive, easy to handle, smooth riding and quiet. Total sticker price of the Touring Elite tester was $45,280, including $830 freight.
The automotive columns of Emma Jayne Williams appear weekly in the Star-Telegram. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.