Auto Outlook: Honda Odyssey minivan cleans up

By AL SWANSON, UPI Auto Writer  |  March 31, 2013 at 5:30 AM
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It's hard to get excited about a minivan. Even the best of them are utilitarian people-haulers that their owners buy for all the proper reasons: safety, seating room and convenience.

The 2014 Honda Odyssey raised the bar for convenience at the New York International Auto Show offering HondaVAC, the industry's first built-in vacuum cleaner in a minivan. Say a quick goodbye to those errant Cheerios, goldfish, cookie crumbs, potato chips, french fries and sandwich remnants scattered on the floor and stuck between the seats.

The vacuum cleaner is in the Odyssey's rear cargo well but has a hose long enough to sweep the front collecting all the crud that falls during a ride with the children or a sports team.

Honda says the idea for the vacuum -- developed in conjunction with Shop-Vac -- came from the daughter of a Honda engineer whose family van was filled with garbage after a trip.

"We found it would have a lot of value to our customers," said Honda senior engineer Tami Giammarco. "So the team started scouting gas stations and car washes to figure out the secrets of the best auto vacs."

HondaVAC is standard equipment on the Odyssey Touring Elite, which Honda bills as the new "ultimate family vehicle." It goes on sale this summer.

"The Odyssey is already the leader in its segment, and for 2014, Honda has made the modern family hauler even better," said America Honda's vice president of marketing operations Michael Accavitti. "Honda is once again showcasing its reputation for innovation with HondaVAC, and its ability to provide true value to our customers."

The powerful vacuum's canister, attachments and replaceable filter are integrated into the driver's side of the van's rear cargo area and the unit never needs to be plugged in or recharged.

It can operate for eight minutes when the vehicle is switched off and run continuously when the van's engine is running.

KBB Image Awards

Auto show season brings a slew of honors, none more influential than Kelley Blue Book's 2013 Brand Image Award.

The automotive information source named Honda the Best Overall Brand, Most Trusted Brand and Best Value Brand for non-luxury brands.

Chrysler was awarded Most Refined Brand; Mini, Best Performance Brand, and Ford, Best Car Styling Brand.

Toyota was named Best Overall Truck Brand.

"The Kelley Blue Book Brand Image Awards are unique because they reflect the opinions of actual in-market new-car shoppers, providing automakers with a glimpse into what potential customers really think of their brand and showcasing their perception strengths," said Hwei-Lin Oetken, vice president of market intelligence for Kelley Blue Book.

Among luxury brands, BMW was named best overall; Lexus, Most Trusted Luxury Brand; Mercedes-Benz, Most Refined Luxury Brand, and Porsche, Best Performance Luxury Brand and Best Styling Luxury Brand.

Buick was awarded Best Value Luxury Brand with "a brand and lineup that transcend mainstream without reaching all the way into the traditional luxury stratosphere."

Buick launched the 2014 LaCrosse, Regal and Regal GS in New York, refreshing all three midsize cars with more luxury, safety features and IntelliLink infotainment options. The updated cars have LED daytime running lights, a sporty 2.0-liter turbocharged, 4-cylinder engine and optional all-wheel drive.

Regal and LaCrosse buyers can also opt for a 2.4-liter in-line 4 in and eAssist mobile hybrid package to raise fuel economy.

"Some will say that perception is reality, and while we concede that image isn't everything, it is more than enough to get shoppers into the store, and that's half the battle for automakers and their dealers," said Jack Nerad, KBB executive editorial director and executive market analyst.

Luxury rides and more

Cadillac, General Motors premium division, is hoping German rivals continue to ignore the U.S. luxury brand, but not consumers.

Caddy showed its all-new, midsize 2014 CTS sedan ahead of Friday's opening of the New York International Auto Show, unveiling a "longer, lower, leaner" design intended to take on the Mercedes-Benz E Class, Audi A6 and BMW 5 Series.

Cadillac has sold about 150,000 vehicles annually the last three years, slightly more than half luxury leader Mercedes' sales, and more telling, the average Caddy buyer was 65, compared with 55 for Mercedes, 49 for BMW and 48 for Audi, according to Strategic Vision, a San Diego research and consulting firm, the Los Angeles Times said.

The third-generation CTS, powered by a 2-liter, 4-cylinder turbo with 272 hp or an optional 3.6-liter V-6 with 321 hp, starts around $39,095, while the entry Mercedes E Class tops $51,000; the A6 $42,200 and the BMW at $47,800.

With the larger CTS, Cadillac now offers luxury sedans in three segments. While the CTS is five inches longer than before it's also about 200 pounds lighter than a BMW 528i. The smaller ATS was voted North American Car of the Year at the Detroit auto show in January.

"We are expanding and elevating the brand for Cadillac and the CTS in almost every direction," GM executive chief engineer David Leone told The Detroit News at the premier event at the Rose Theater.

For those seeking more power the CTS-Vsport will feature the division's first twin-turbo V-6 engine and an eight-speed transmission. The Cadillac V-8 has been discontinued for 2014.

Bob Ferguson, vice president of global Cadillac, predicted Caddy's U.S. sales will grow more than a third in 2013 and had a warning for luxury brands dismissive of American luxury cars: "underestimate us and we're going to surprise you."

Cadillac hopes to boost sales by 50 percent in China, where GM products are popular and Cadillac builds the front-wheel drive XTS sedan

Also in New York, Jaguar unveiled a $174,000 XKR-S GT coupe that features a supercharged 5-liter V-8 producing 550 hp and 502 pound-feet of torque. Only 25 of the rear-wheel drive supercars will be exported to the U.S. With a zero-60 mph time of 4.2 seconds, the coupe is street-legal.

The XKR-S is 0.3 seconds slower and will cost $132,000.

Jaguar also debuted a $116,000 rear-wheel drive XJR sedan intended to take on the Audi A8, Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG and Porsche Panamera Turbo.

Mercedes-Benz showed three fast AMG cars -- the E63 wagon, CLS63 four-door and the C63 Edition 507 -- but attracted more buzz with its introduction of the all-electric B-Class which uses a 100 kW electric motor that generates 134 hp and 228 pound-feet of torque. The front-wheel drive EV has a 28 kW lithium-ion battery and a maximum range of about 115 miles.

Chevrolet unveiled a revived Chevrolet Camaro Z/28, with the Corvette's LS7 engine, and the sporty new 415 hp, rear-wheel drive, full-size Chevy SS sedan in New York.

Toyota took the wraps off a bigger Highlander crossover SUV that can seat seven or eight and carry more stuff in the cargo area. The all-new Highlander has a 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine with a six-speed automatic transmission driving the front wheels.

A 3.5-liter V-6 engine is available as an option with front or all-wheel drive as is a hybrid model adding an electric motor and a continuously variable transmission.

The Jeep Cherokee returned as a front-wheel drive crossover, replacing the boxy Jeep Liberty, and sharing the same platform as the front-wheel drive Dodge Dart. The first Cherokee in a dozen years will be powered by a 187 hp, 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine and a standard nine-speed automatic transmission.

Acura debuted the seven-passenger, third-generation 2014 MDX luxury SUV powered by a direct-injected 24-valve, 3.5-liter iVtech V-6 engine producing 290 hp and 267 foot-pounds of torque. The MDX has a 6-speed transmission with paddle shifters.

Volkswagen showed two versions of its 2015 Golf which will be built in Pueblo, Mexico. The Golf will offer three turbocharged engines, two gasoline engines and one turbo diesel engine replacing the old five-cylinder gasoline powerplant.

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