Over much of the past decade, if you had asked me if my future car ownership experience would ever include the words "new car," "minivan," or "Honda," my enthusiast-based answers would have ranged from "no" to "hell no." But here I am with all three.
Yes, the wife and I purchased a brand new 2015 Honda Odyssey over the weekend. We had casually shopped vans over the past year or so, figuring we were already sold on a Town & Country whenever the time came. With the most power, features, and flexibility for the price, why would anyone spend $5k-$10k more for an Odyssey or Sienna? These suburbanites must be smoking crack (or snorting Oxycontin or whatever it is the suburbanites do nowadays.)
Casually discussing this purchase with any sense of enthusiasm among my friends and coworkers, the usual response is something along the lines of "Ugh, anything but a van." "Time to turn in your man card." "When are you going to put the stick figures on the back window?" It's funny how image-obsessed people are when it comes to cars. Maybe that's why Honda will sell you the same basic car under the Pilot name, complete with optional AWD, less interior space, a boxier exterior, and a vial of HGH in the glovebox so you can feel a little manlier and maybe rebut the comments from the peanut gallery. "No, it's an SUV." You have to be above this sort of talk because you're (hopefully) not a 14-year-old girl with a self-esteem problem.
About a month ago, we took the opportunity to actually rent – and live with – a Town & Country for an entire week. On day six, wife turned to me and said "It's just too much like a truck." In more technical terms, I think the bouncy solid rear axle, loud drivetrain, boomy interior, higher ride height, and thin Stow & Go seats had worn her down enough to convince me we should at least explore all the Odyssey hype. After a few days with a 2011 model from Carmax that had more latent problems than we cared to live with, we returned it and ended up with a brand new 2015 model for a justifiably higher price. I say "justifiably" because we're long-term owners with fastidious maintenance plans and we found that many used minivans were NOT previously owned by like-minded car enthusiasts. Can you believe that?!
So long story short, the original Lee Iacocca "van that drives like a car" was handily eclipsed by its Japanese emulators. I should probably point out here that the Chrysler is actually made in Canada, while the Honda is made in Alabama, about 40 miles from where I sit. For some reason, I still paid the same $880 destination fee as everyone else because Honda doesn't yet have a factory delivery program for the Odyssey. Can you believe that?!
In addition to being an enthusiast, I'm also something of a finance guy (both personally and professionally). I always considered it suicide to buy anything new. Why would you want all that depreciation? But the more I wrestled with the options, the more I realized that with a 10-year-plus ownership horizon, you're often trading early depreciation for unknown repairs and maintenance hassles down the line. For the average buyer (or the increasingly busy enthusiast), that often doesn't work out in favor of the used car. When I crunched my numbers 10 different ways, the actual monthly breakout of additional cost to buy new (vs a few years old) was immaterial. Under $10 a month. And we'd be getting the exact car we wanted, no compromises.
On a related note, coming from 90s and early 2000s Volkswagens for the past 15+ years, I'm anxious to see if the famed Honda reliability materializes. Given the fact that the owners' manual doesn't even have the maintenance schedule printed in it, I'm already starting to think it might. I guess the only reason Honda doesn't weld the hood shut is because it's made of aluminum, while the quarter panels are steel. I've heard that's a pain.
Owning and driving a minivan definitely requires an adjustment in your personal definition of "car enthusiast." Lateral g forces, acceleration, braking? It does all of those things just fine. Talk of "8 minutes around the Nurburgring" is replaced with "8 minutes around the Burger King." But what you give up in driving dynamics, you more than make up for in what the vehicle can accomplish: With roughly 90% of the same speed, handling, and economy of an average sedan, you get 2-3 times as much comfort, flexibility, hauling, and, in turn, stress reduction. The latter counts double for parents of young kids – at least for the ones who are too young to make fun of you for driving a van. They're the ones who think you're actually COOLER for driving a van.
For a long time, I've said that the most well-rounded car enthusiast can find the good in any vehicle, can appreciate good design and construction, loves a good drive, and even finds the joy in maintenance and the occasional repair. For its mission, the Odyssey was our winner and I'll rock it with a well-founded sense of pride and manliness.
If the wife lets me drive it, that is.