Auto industry Cars Fuel efficiency Quality Reviews

Driving the Honda Odyssey

Minivans take a lot of abuse. Not just from all the stuff they cart around, the parking lot dings they endure and the variety of bumps and scrapes they put up with from kids, bikes, potholes, etc. They’re also the subject of a great deal of psychological abuse. People love to hate them, even people who own and drive them every day. There are people — and I know a few — who grudgingly accept the fact that they’re in the minivan phase of their lives but still count the days until they can move up into the luxury SUV or sport sedan market.

Now, that attitude says more about the people than it does about their vehicles. But, what gets lost in all that self- and automotive loathing is just how darned practical minivans are. There are few vehicles that can easily haul a lot of stuff and get passengers (kids and adults) into and out of them without a lot of bending or climbing.

Take the Honda Odyssey for example. It’s quiet, powerful, easy to park and easy to enter and exit. Plus it’s loaded with cupholders — which still are, by the way, a key indicator of automotive quality for many people — as well as lots of smart and compact storage spaces.

When I say it’s quiet, I mean that it’s sealed so well that most road noise is blocked out. The engine makes nary a whisper. Sad news for hardcore gearheads, but happy news for people who are trying to carry on a conversation as they drive.

After spending two weeks driving the 2015 Touring (top of the line) edition, the Odyssey felt like a capable sidekick that was able to take on pretty much anything. Granted, the Touring edition, which starts at $48,410,  included pretty much every option available (including the much celebrated, by my daughter and her friends at least, rear widescreen DVD player).

The Odyssey easily holds its own on the highway and never felt like it was labouring under any load, even when I was carting seven girls to a birthday party. That was when the third row seats came in handy. Roomy, but not really meant for adults to occupy them for any stretch of time, the third row nonetheless is a great tool to have in your minivan toolbox.

But another bonus is the configurable second row. Not only can the second row accommodate three child seats, but the middle seat folds down as needed, giving the other two passengers a bit of elbow room. They can also slide fore and aft to give everyone a bit more leg room. And, once you fold the third row down into the floor and remove the second row, you have enough room (says Honda) to load in 4′ x 8′ sheets of plywood. Want more convenience? The Touring model comes with a built-in vacuum cleaner.

The driver’s seat was extremely comfortable and all the controls were easy to reach. Another plus of the boxy shape of most minivans means great visibility with very few blind spots. Rear sliding doors on both sides made getting into and out of the van easy, especially when parked in tight spaces.

As important as comfort is, the Odyssey has power to match. The 3.5L V6 engine helped it pull away from stoplights like a pro and accelerate on the highway with no hesitation. Honda puts the Odyssey’s fuel economy at 12.3 L/100 km (city), 8.5 L/100 km. (highway).

The Odyssey is an all-round refined vehicle that serves many purposes. It’s hard to hate, so why not just enjoy the minivan years?

Cars Driving Fuel efficiency Technology

Toronto Star story on fuel-efficient driving

A piece I wrote for the Star’s Wheels section in my role as CAA Magazine editor. It was published on the web Feb. 24 and in print Feb. 25, 2012


If you’re like most drivers, you’re probably wondering how to reconcile your love of the open road with your concern for the environment.

Thanks to a combination of automotive innovation, good driving habits and some old-fashioned common sense, you can enjoy the drive and worry less about its effect on the world around you.

And while you might be in the market for a hybrid Toyota Prius or a fully electric car, like the Nissan Leaf or Chevrolet Volt, know that you can still get some positive environmental mileage out of the ordinary internal-combustion machine parked in your driveway.

One of the best things you can do for any car is maintain it. Yep, it’s as simple as following your owner’s manual, checking fluid levels once a month, changing the oil at the required intervals and overall making sure everything is running as it should be — or taking it to an auto service technician when you think it isn’t.

“A poorly maintained vehicle may consume more fuel,” says Stephen Akehurst, chief, ecoENERGY Efficiency for Vehicles Program at NRCan (Natural Resources Canada).

“Poor maintenance adversely affects performance, produces higher levels of emissions and often leads to expensive repairs and low resale value.”

According to research from Desrosiers Automotive Consultants, the average age of vehicles on Canadian roads is increasing, so it only makes sense to make sure all the money we’re putting into them has some benefit for us as well as the environment.

While you’re at it, don’t neglect tires. Under-inflated tires increase rolling resistance and will negatively affect fuel efficiency. They’ll also wear faster.

“Tire pressure is a big one,” says Teresa Di Felice, director of government and community relations at CAA South Central Ontario. “That, and proper maintenance, is really important.”

Before you head out on the road, take a look at what’s inside your car, van or SUV. In addition to the important things like kids, dog, hockey equipment or groceries, you might find that a lot of extra, unnecessary stuff has accumulated inside your vehicle.

Or, you might be driving around with an empty bike or roof rack.

Remove any excess items and only install racks when you need them. The more weight you’re driving around with, the more fuel your car’s engine is going to burn.

When you do get behind the wheel, don’t just hit the gas and go — no jackrabbit starts followed by hard braking.

“The harder you accelerate, the more fuel you use,” says NRCan’s Akehurst. “In the city, where about half of the fuel you consume is used to accelerate your vehicle, you can save as much as 15 per cent by pressing the pedal gently. Imagine an open cup of coffee on your dashboard: don’t spill it!”

But don’t idle, either. Thirty seconds is about all your car needs before the engine and fuel is warmed up enough for you to get moving. And, except when you’re stuck in traffic, don’t let your car idle for extended periods. If you’re going to be stopped for more than 60 seconds, shut off the engine.

Once you get onto the highway, it’s best to maintain a constant speed of about 90 km/h. “We always say watch your speed, not just because it’s the law,” says Di Felice. “The prime highway speed is about 90 km/h; once you get above that, you’re really increasing your fuel consumption.”

On the highway, cruise control helps too, as it keeps your vehicle at a constant speed. Just remember to be aware that cruising at 70 km/h while cars around are moving at 90 km/h is unsafe.

Along with arming yourself with some DIY tips on eco-driving, it helps to use some forethought and plan your driving trips in advance, especially if you have several errands to run.

“Plan your trips accordingly, and consider if any of them are walkable or somewhere you can bicycle to,” advises CAA’s Di Felice.

“By decreasing the number of trips you take, you’re obviously reducing your fuel consumption.”

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