2014 Honda Odyssey review: Honda's easy-driving Odyssey sticks to minivan formula

The touchscreen showed its audio information in a different format than the upper screen, for example only allowing me to go through albums sequentially from a connected USB device, while the upper screen and its associated hardware controls let me browse and select music using a more complete music library interface. Honda should really look to Infiniti, which used a similar hardware set-up for its cabin tech interface in the new Q50 Hybrid, but made much better use of the touchscreen as a control interface.

Adding to the inconsistency within the cabin, the climate controls include an older-style monochrome LCD mounted between the upper LCD and lower touchscreen.

Voice command in the Odyssey let me request music by name from an iOS device plugged into the car's USB port. However, other voice command operations, such as destination entry, were so tedious and required so many repeat presses of the voice command button that I feared I would get a repetitive stress injury on my thumb.

The hard drive-stored maps of the navigation system looked good and showed in perspective and plan views. Under route guidance, the system took into account live traffic data and showed useful graphics for upcoming turns. Through the HondaLink app, powered by Aha, the navigation system offered limited online destination search, but I found it took so long to get search results that I didn't want to use this feature.

2014 Honday Odyssey
Maps on the navigation system can be set to perspective or plan views. Josh Miller/CNET

Standard at any trim level is a Bluetooth hands-free phone system, which let me use voice command to place calls by contact name. The phone interface included call history and my contact list.

A big part of the minivan experience is keeping the kids entertained on long trips. In Touring Elite trim, the Odyssey gets a huge bump in this regard, featuring not only a standard 16.2-inch extra-widescreen drop-down LCD, with an HDMI input, for rear seat entertainment, but also a 650-watt 12-speaker 5.1 surround sound audio system. The screen is able to show dual, side-by-side video from different sources to help keep peace in the family.

I was impressed by the video on the screen and the immersive audio when watching a movie. However, the screen resolution is WVGA, not HD. Likewise, the Odyssey does not have a Blu-ray DVD player built in -- you will have to bring one into the vehicle and connect it to the entertainment system through either the HDMI or composite cable inputs.

Since I wasn't carting around kids while testing the Odyssey, I listened to music using either Bluetooth streaming or the USB port. My other options were HD radio, satellite radio, CD, or music stored on the car's own hard drive.

Surround sound systems are not optimal for audio, but I was able to enjoy good audio quality due to the powerful amp and subwoofer included in this system. Bass and mids came through nicely, but higher frequencies tended to distort at volume.

At EX-L and Touring trim levels, the rear seat entertainment system uses a smaller screen, while the audio system gets demoted to seven speakers with a less powerful amp. The 5.1 channel audio also goes away.

2014 Honday Odyssey
These controls, below the touchscreen, control content on the upper LCD. Josh Miller/CNET

Honda throws in a few driver-assistance systems with the Odyssey, all standard at the Touring Elite level. The blind spot monitor lit up warnings on the A pillars when cars were in the next lane over. A forward-facing camera enabled a collision warning system, which sounded off whenever I was slow to hit the brakes when rolling toward traffic ahead. However, there is no adaptive cruise control available for the Odyssey.

A back-up camera comes standard at all trim levels, which proves an extremely useful feature due to the cliff-like rear of the car, and the inability to see anything below the rear window.

Short on innovation

For many, a crossover vehicle has taken the title of family car from the minivan. As such, automakers are putting more development and technology into crossover models. However, a few people remain loyal to the minivan, and it certainly meets some needs well. The sliding doors, ample seating room, and fold-flat rear seats of the 2014 Honda Odyssey are all features not available in most crossovers.

Reflective of the somewhat neglected minivan segment, the Odyssey doesn't innovate, unless you want to count the rear vacuum cleaner. Honda's cylinder deactivation technology keeps fuel economy high on the highway, but there isn't anything particularly exotic about the drivetrain. The Odyssey's steering and drivetrain do an excellent job delivering ease-of-driving.

Driver assistance systems go a little ways towards creating a safer experience, but not to the level I've seen in other types of vehicles. In particular, there are no active systems, such as automatic braking, adaptive cruise control, or lane departure prevention.

The wide screen and HDMI input are nice additions for the rear seat entertainment system, but hardly keep the Odyssey up with the latest in home entertainment. And teenagers will likely use an iPad or other tablet. As for driver infotainment systems, the features in the Odyssey are solid, but I am not a fan of Honda's weird combination of touchscreen and upper LCD.

What I would like to see is a redesign of the minivan from the ground-up, based on one of the newer commercial van platforms, such as the Ford Transit or Nissan NV. These vehicles are designed for excellent fuel economy and maneuverability, with versatile interior space. One of those platforms could potentially be a minivan for the 21st century.

2014 Honda Odyssey

Model 2014 Honda Odyssey
Trim Touring Elite
Powertrain 3.5-liter V-6 engine, six-speed automatic transmission
EPA fuel economy 19 mpg city/28 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy 21.8 mpg mpg
Navigation Optional, with live traffic
Bluetooth phone support Standard
Digital audio sources Internet-based radio, internal hard drive, Bluetooth streaming, iOS integration, USB drive, auxiliary input, satellite radio, HD radio
Audio system 12-speaker 650-watt system
Driver aids Blind-spot monitor, lane-departure warning, collision warning, rearview camera
Base price $28,825
Price as tested $44,450

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