Thursday, May 12, 2011

2009 Odyssey EX-L: First week of ownership

After one week of ownership of our 2009 Honda Odyssey EX-L, I have to give it two thumbs up.

I took the minivan to work the other day as it was my responsibility to pick up my son after work.  While the vehicle is bigger than we need at present, even with just one more kid, I can see it being very useful for things like trips to the beach where it'll be easier to clean sand, etc. off the car's floor, and it'll be easier to take all the "stuff" with us that we want to take.  My wife is fair skinned as is my son, so for my son we take a little tent to the beach and we need the umbrella, blankets, chairs, etc.  Fitting this all in the trunk of a Mercury Sable was not pleasant last year.

In terms of performance, the 244 horsepower i-VTEC engine with Variable Cylinder Management is smooth and powerful.  During acceleration and at highway speeds, it doesn't lag a bit or leave you wanting for more.  It is a minivan after all, so it deserves a lot of power to move its heft around.

The braking performance isn't blowing me away, but it's good enough for our driving styles.  When in a minivan, as nice as the engine may be, it's still not something you want to drive in an aggressive manner.  I've heard complaints about the braking performance but in normal city driving and when not tailgating, it's fine.  Even if you do have to punch the brakes at a low speed, the brakes are very responsive.  The problem comes when you're heading off a highway ramp at, say, 60mph, and see traffic up ahead where the driver needs to suddenly slow down.  It's taking some getting used to, to figure out how much pressure to apply, so the braking in these cases isn't always smooth.  Once I get used to it, I'm sure it'll be fine.

We have only driven it a couple hundred miles, and have yet to make use of all the nice rear cargo space.  I plan on folding the third row of seats entirely flat for the summer, as there are only three of us, and it's easy enough to fold one of them back up for an additional passenger should we have one.

Typical of Honda, the EX-L trim is highly refined.  I do miss the extra creature comforts of the Mercedes E-classes I've owned, and even the driving dynamics and smoother transmission of the VW Passat wagon.  But as this is a minivan, the auto climate control for the rear, the extra vents and lights, the leather seating & refined interior are all nicer than one would normally expect in a commonly seen family hauler.

While Honda has a solid reputation for reliability, my only concern going forward are transmission issues that Honda has managed to keep a lid on in recent years.  Join up on a couple of Honda forums focusing on Accord or Odyssey, and you'll know what I mean.  This is reason enough, in my opinion, to purchase an aftermarket extended warranty from a reputable company next year, before the factory warranty runs out.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

So, Mazda5 or Ford C-Max? Neither: Honda Odyssey!

Per my recent post about buying a new family car, I went and drove the 2012 Mazda5 recently. It was a great vehicle and we could have afforded it brand new.  There were some curious things about it, such as having power seating and a few other gadgets left off the highest possible trim level of the vehicle. While in-dash navigation isn't a necessity for us, getting a rear DVD entertainment system included from the factory would have been a nice option - but not really Mazda's style, so that would have been a dealer accessory/add-on.

But the way it drove was fantastic.  Really handled itself well for a 2.5 liter 4-cylinder engine with only a little bit of pep added from the first gen Mazda5.  I was impressed with the engine and the way it used its power.  I extended the test drive a bit and made sure to rev it up to a good highway speed, and it handled itself like a champ.

In the end, though, my wife, already comfortable with the minivan she has to drive for work, which is a Dodge Caravan, had said all along she wanted a full size minivan.  I told her that the Mazda5 was a great option, but admitted that there is virtually zero cargo room for our needs when the 5th and 6th seats in the 3rd row are up. That's too bad as just a little bit more length wouldn't have killed the idea of the Mazda5 and still would have made it significantly smaller than the full size minivans on the market.

While the 3rd row seats might not have been used frequently, we really wanted a long term family car with the kind of hauling capability that homeowners require at times, for that trip to Home Depot to get a big something-or-other.  It's also nicer to have the extra cargo room for beach trips, where one has a deep well of space in the Odyssey even behind the third row for things like beach chairs and bags that will get sand all over most car trunks. 

What about the upcoming Ford C-Max, you ask?  The reviews I've read indicate it will be 5 inches shorter than the Mazda5, so the cargo room with all seats forward would be even worse.

So we ended up with a 2009 Honda Odyssey EX-L with only 13K miles on it.  Hard to resist given we get the balance of the factory warranty; one full year from purchase date to think about an aftermarket warranty, etc.  The EX-L trim on any Honda comes loaded with goodies like leather, moonroof, heated seats & mirrors, auto climate control...and on the minivan, the doors on the side & rear are power operated (if one chooses to engage that option - one can turn it off and go manual instead).   Nice little gadgetry I didn't even know it had until I was pulling off the lot:  a rear back up camera appears in the rear-view mirror on EX-L models not equipped with navigation.  I asked to add backup sensors and the dealership employee looked at me with an inquisitive look - why would you need them, he asked, if you can see what's going on behind you?  I didn't know what he was talking about so had him show me.

Yes, with a more complex car and a bigger engine, fuel economy and little quirks are likely to be more of a nuisance.  But we're thrilled with our purchase and we know it will be a great long-term family hauler.  If my wife drove more than 15,000 miles per year, I would have probably not found the extra room in our budget it took to get this vehicle.  But given she typically drives 10K miles per year or less, it was a no-brainer.

Who knows, maybe after we've paid it off, I'll trade my car in for a C-Max or a Mazda5?