These are not those vans. Those vans are vintage Volkswagens or commercial Ford Econolines, campers and conversions as colorful and full of character as their live-in owners. These are minivans, loaded with Blu-ray players and vacuums and three rows of kid-friendly buckets and benches. These are vehicles designed for parenthood and responsibility, their owners having traded character for characters. “Barbie, Elmo, or SpongeBob? Which do you want to watch, honey?”
The redesigned 2018 Odyssey is the newest minivan on the market, the fifth generation of Honda’s people mover. The company claims that it has made the segment’s best seller for seven years running, but Honda likes to count only retail sales. If you look at both retail and fleet numbers, the 2016 title went to the Toyota Sienna by a narrow margin; the Sienna also won our last minivan comparo in 2015. However, Toyota sold just 127,791 Siennas last year, while FCA moved a total of 249,115 minivans split among three nameplates. The Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country twins accounted for more than 186,000 units, with the rest of those sales belonging to the new-for-2017 Chrysler Pacifica. The old Grand Caravan still soldiers on—and leads the 2017 sales race so far. But it’s the Pacifica that represents the latest and greatest from the company that invented the soccer mom.
While brand-spanking-new Dodges are being advertised locally for under $17,000, our test vehicles occupy the opposite end of the minivan pricing spectrum. These fully loaded examples bear prices close to $50,000. The Pacifica Limited has the lowest starting price, at $43,990, though once we added a rear-seat entertainment system and driver-assistance features, it became the most expensive, at $48,780. Our Sienna Limited Premium is missing the advanced safety features of the other two competitors, but still stickers for $47,855. The Elite-trimmed Odyssey carries a $47,610 base price, which covers almost everything you can throw at the Honda, including a welcome new infotainment system.
This is a robust and competitive market, in part because minivan design has coalesced around one formula: front-wheel drive, automatic transmissions, just over 200 inches in length, seven- or eight-passenger seating, a curb weight near 4600 pounds, and a V-6 engine making about 285 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. It has made minivans as interchangeable as pickups and just as likely to engender the same fierce brand loyalty. Still, there is one with which we’d most like to photo bomb the Lake Michigan sunset.