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Battle of the minivans: 09 Oydssey vs. 09 Sienna

March 25th, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

We recently purchased a new minivan to replace our 15-year old van, and so I thought I’d share some of my thoughts on the top two contenders for us: the 2009 Honda Odyssey and the 2009 Toyota Sienna. Hopefully these notes will provide useful insight to someone else who may be considering a similar purchase.

The Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna are widely considered the top two minivans in the U.S. There were a few features we (okay, fine, I – the rest of the family isn’t so into car gadgets) were looking for: three-zone climate control, navigation, rear entertainment system, and 8-passenger seating. Furthermore, the vehicle is to be used mostly for family driving and so comfort was preferrable over handling. To be perfectly honest, after the two test drives I wasn’t too excited about either van, which was a surprise for me since I’d heard so many good things. Don’t get me wrong – they’re both fine vehicles, it’s just that neither is perfect for what we were looking for (and, yes, I suppose there is no such thing as the perfect vehicle). Here are my thoughts:


  1. At the trim level we’re interested in (EX-L R/N or XLE EVP #4), the Odyssey allows for 8-passengers. We have a large family and so an 8-passenger van is a must for us. I’m surprised that Toyota offers an 8-passenger for some trims (CE and LE), but not for the higher trims. That seems pretty stupid to me.
  2. There’s more legroom and headroom in the 3rd row. I’m 6′ tall and thought I’d sit in the back of both vans to get a feel for it. In the Sienna my knees where pressed against the 2nd row seat back, which was uncomfortable (though I believe the second row seats do roll forward, which may have helped a bit). Also, the back of my head would keep touching the roofliner towards the back of the van. The Sienna definitely has a larger storage space behind the 3rd row, but I’m afraid it comes by moving the third row forward, costing you leg room there. The Odyssey was much more comfortable in this regard.
  3. The RES is more flush with the roofliner so you don’t bang your head. Both my wife and I banged out heads on the RES in the Sienna. It sits lower than that of the Ody. My guess is that this is because in the Sienna the actual DVD player and screen are mounted in the roof whereas in the Ody the DVD player is up front with just the screen in the back.
  4. Quieter acceleration in the Ody. Yes everyone raves about the Sienna being quieter, but in acceleration it was notable louder than the Ody. In fact, I believe Car and Driver also found this to be true.
  5. Bigger NAV screen in the Ody than in the Sienna. The two main reasons for me to get a factor NAV is the integration with other car functions and the larger screen (relative to a hand held). So, the bigger screen in the Ody is great.


  1. The ride in the back seat is MUCH more tolerable than the Ody. The ody was much more bumpy in the back, and also caused me to slide around more while back there. This, in my opinion, is a direct result of the stiffer suspension that allows the Ody to handle better (though the Sienna handled just fine for our purposes – the difference is good vs better, not bad vs good). Since we want a comfortable family mover, this is my biggest concern with the Ody.
  2. Features: for about the same price, the Sienna has all the features of the Ody plus some, like: auto on/off headlights (come on now Honda, how can you not include this. Do I really have to pay $40K to get this basic feature). Trip computer – miles to empty, MPG, etc (this is the most frustrating thing of all from a feature perspective – Honda requires you to pay $40K for a touring to get a feature that should be included in all models from the LX up! This is probably stupider than Toyota’s not having an 8th seat in all trims!!). Finally, sonar – the comparable Sienna has the corner and rear proximity sensors that you don’t get on the Ody unless you get a Touring.From a feature perspective, the Sienna hands down wins
  3. This is purely subjective, but I thought the Sienna had a better navigation system. First off, I fully acknowledge the frustrating inability to use it while moving – no argument there. It’s the same way in my Lexus, and I hate it (well, I do the 5-key bypass, but it’s still way worse than just being able to use it when I’m moving). However, I can get around this by getting a hybrid disk. So, looking past that, I thought the Sienna system was better for a few reasons: 1) the resolution and color depth seem better – the Honda looked grey and grainy to me compared to the Sienna. 2) the most important is that the POI search on the Toyota systems seems much better than Honda. I often find that I know the name of the place I’m looking for, and need directions to the nearest one. For instance, the nearest Steak n Shake. I tried to search for places by name in the Honda, entered Steak n Shake and was presented with a couple of options, all more than 300 miles away (I know there are some closer than that). I then tried the same for a Baskin Robbins and was presented the directions for one that’s in Canada! The dealer sat in the car with me the whole time and admitted that he didn’t think I could search by the name of the place – just by category (either that, or he didn’t know how to – he also insisted that the Ody had a 255HP engine, which was wrong). It could just be that I need to play with it some more, but after fumbling with it for over 15 minutes, we just weren’t able to get it.

After MUCH consideration we decided to go with the Odyssey. An 8-passenger Sienna XLE with package #4 would have been the perfect vehicle, but they just don’t make that vehicle. We also ended up dropping the navigation and rear entertainment system from the van. I disliked the Honda system so much that I decided that I’ll install an aftermarket system in the van myself this summer. As far as rear entertainment – as we thought about it more we realized that the kids will get enough television at home – we don’t want to give them more in the car…

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  1. Jessica
    December 29th, 2009 at 10:55 | #1

    thank you! i’ve had a horrible time deciding between the two (and the Town & Country which my mom has and loves…). this helps a lot – we’ll need to look into aftermarket touch screen nav/dvd systems for the sienna (we don’t need 8 seats) and it sounds like that might be our best bet. happy new year!

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