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Car-like-ride drives Honda Odyssey Minivan sales to #1 in North America

As reported by Honda News Wednesday morning, 3 out of 6 of the top selling automobiles in North America wear the Honda big “H.” Why is Honda Odyssey the best selling minivan in North America? Torque News looks for an answer or two.

A short historical retrospective of minivan evolution

Back in the day, old school, Dodge Caravan and Chrysler Town and Country was the #1 and #2 best selling minivans in North America. For well over 2 decades If one wanted a comfortable, safe and relatively pleasant to drive family hauler, featuring car-like driving characteristics, they would inevitably turn to Chrysler.

The reasons for the dynamic design shift in the evolution of the minivan varies. However, most experts point to the lower-aerodynamic-wind-friendly body contour and rear hatch utility of Dodge Caravan as the originator of what we generally perceive as a “mini-van” platform today. Dodge, Chrysler was the first to take minivan design past the evolution of the station-wagon, van want to be.

Last century one’s choice as to handling, performance and body style was a bit limited in the minivan classification; mostly flex-space- light cargo van conversions; retrofitted with bench seating and side windows led the growing segment. Minivans weren't so mini-rolling boxes. Chevrolet Astro, Chevy C10, Ford Custom & Club-Wagon F100 and F150 come to mind; all, big frame mounted ½ and ¾ ton pickup truck derivatives sucking copious amounts of gasoline.

Chrysler Corporation was the first maker to integrate creature-comfort, car-like driving and handling characteristics into the minivan classification. General Motors’ Pontiac Division and others would soon follow with low profile, close to the ground minivan-manifestations; only to fall by the wayside as the world-recession and crossover popularity pushed consumer demand for the minivan to the roadside.

It was long-time segment leader Chrysler Town and Country that set the stage for a minivan resurgence, of unforeseen consumer demand and timeline duration. Today, Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna are #1 and #2 in the game with Chrysler Town and Country taking a back field position at #5. Odyssey, while not the top seller in Honda’s lineup, continues to be the top choice for consumers wanting a comfortable, trouble-free work task and family hauler.

Interestingly enough, the #1 selling minivan in North America is not the least expensive to purchase

One could point to price-point as the prime reason behind Honda Odyssey's segment supremacy. However, that’s not the case. In looking to the numbers, Odyssey's initial base MSRP of $28,975-$44,600) is higher than some if not most make and model offerings in this segment. Entry priced within pennies of a mid-trimmed #2 Toyota Sienna, according to vehicle registration numbers for 2014, Honda Odyssey outsold Sienna by 40,000+ units. That’s a big hit! You may read 2015 Odyssey price and specifications here.

Superior fuel economy and performance

Odyssey takes the segment with superior fuel economy, standard features, ride and car-like handling characteristics and a slightly higher residual resale value. Looking to our reader’s commentary, the first time many drive Odyssey, they express surprise as to the smaller car steering nimbleness, city maneuverability and tamed, car-like handling experienced behind the wheel of Odyssey. Many owners believe Odyssey to be the best long-trip vehicle on the planet. And yet, for 2015, Odyssey retains the utility and interior load hauling volume, passenger capacity and towing capacity(3500 lb) of a much larger utility van.

Thanks to a combination of a transformer-like 2nd row seating(multiple configurations,spacing, row configurations and flat folding capability) an environment of arms-reach- parental advice, control and personal interface, is easily enabled through a thoughtful interior design. 3rd row seating is easily accessed through “one touch” 2nd row seat, tilt and slide, while folding 3rd row seating for additional cargo capacity is effortless. For those wishing to haul larger objects in the midsection of Odyssey, the second row seating is easily removed.

Owners interviewed, wax poetically as to Odyssey’s one touch activated power sliding side doors,(yes, both sides of Odyssey are fully accessible.) quiet interior ride,(passive and active electronic exterior noise reduction) and superior interior comfort, finish quality and personal communication connectivity, touch screen navigation and sound-system interface.

A bit about 2015 Toyota Sienna

For 2015 Toyota has made mild changes to Sienna’s front grill, head and tail lights. It’s a good look! Following Odyssey’s major modifications and upgrades in 2014, a year later, Toyota claims a revised suspension, stronger body structure and welcome improvements to interior comfort, design and personal electronic connect-ability. Also for 2015 you’ll discover a much improved dash layout, instrument cluster and touchscreen.

Where Odyssey can’t compete with Sienna for 2015 is in the AWD(all-wheel-drive) option. Honda doesn’t offer it. Although admittedly, Honda’s traction control, limited slip differential does is a commendable performer in most if not all weather conditions. While Odyssey offers a superior HondaWatch ™ electronic accident prevention suite, Toyota features second row Captain Chair seating with extended(Lazy-Boy) where’s the remote control comfort features.

The measurement of brand and quality trade-off is made yet a bit more tedious with Toyota’s slightly higher horsepower and torque rating Vs Honda’s superior average MPG.

In closing

From a driver’s point of view, that has had the opportunity to drive all Honda and competitive model market offerings, looking Odyssey, we've yet to identify a greater, overall automobile ownership value presented in minivan form. However that’s just a qualified opinion: When comparing Odyssey to Sienna, it’s a close call. For serious buyers anticipating long-term ownership (5 to 6 years) with their next minivan purchase, we suggest cross-shopping the two.

Note: Odyssey went through a major upgrade and redesign for 2014 and is unchanged for 2015. We see this as a purchase opportunity for buyers looking to save a few $.