Honda’s latest Odyssey minivan is a fine vehicle, I’m sure, but the company’s engineers apparently have forgotten that the best thing about a minivan is that the driver can stay as far away as possible from the kids.
Honda has made it easier for drivers to see what the tots are up to, and if necessary to speak to them.
But we drivers don’t want to know what our wee passengers are doing back there. We’ll find out anyway when we get wherever it is we’re going, and we won’t be happy. But at least we won’t have ruined the journey by worrying about how much it’s going to cost to shampoo the upholstery.
And we certainly don’t want to talk to our most distant, and diminutive, riders, and for the simple reason that they might respond.
Which can lead to many things, most of which involve a drive-through window or a bathroom masquerading as a hazmat site, and none of which will make the trip shorter or less stressful.
I have great admiration for the people who design and build cars.
Indeed I am awestruck that they can construct vehicles that do precisely what they’re supposed to do, in all weathers (except when snowflakes fall in Portland) and despite being driven on occasion by people who shouldn’t be allowed to operate a coffeemaker absent supervision.
Besides which cars can go 100,000 miles without needing a tuneup.
The trouble is that the engineers, having conquered most of the mechanical maladies that have plagued the automobile for much of its history, have trained their prodigious talents on more mundane matters.
Most of these fall under the broad cloak called “technology.”
There have been, I’ll concede, some genuinely useful breakthroughs. Cars that can parallel park themselves, for instance, might extend the life span of driving instructors by several years. And pickup trucks that tell the driver which way to turn the wheel while backing up a trailer will prevent untold numbers of boat ramp fistfights.
Yet this fixation on fancy accessories that can be marketed with clever names has also yielded such dubious options as stereos that respond to hand gestures.
But it is the minivan on which the automakers have let the engineers indulge themselves to the greatest extent. Their overriding goal, it seems to me, is to make the minivan mimic, as near as possible, the average house, only with an engine and four wheels.
Which explains why multiple minivans can be equipped with an on-board vacuum cleaner.
This might sound sensible. Minivans are designed to haul kids, after all, and kids, as anyone knows who has watched one eat, are congenitally incapable of not spilling a considerable proportion of whatever it is they’re trying to cram into their mouths.
But here’s the thing: Portable shop vacs are quite adept at sucking up cheese curls and raisins and anything else of an edible nature — and I daresay they’re more powerful than a vacuum that runs off a puny 12-volt system.
The greater flaw, though, with in-vehicle vacuums is that kids, who are immensely clever and resourceful, will get hold of them. This can be troublesome in the house, such as when junior decides to clean out the gerbil’s cage with the crevice tool but forgets to remove the gerbil first.
This is not generally dangerous, however, except to the gerbil.
It’s quite a different matter, though, when brother decides to perform a suction experiment on his sister’s forehead while you’re doing 70 on the expressway and it’s raining buckets and there’s a lifted pickup with naked lady silhouette mudflaps hydroplaning in the next lane over.
Honda touts two other, non-vacuum-related options in the 2018 Odyssey, each bearing the expected nongrammatical moniker.
CabinWatch features a video camera that spies on passengers and displays the image on the video screen in the dashboard. Honda says this can help a parent keep tabs even on an infant in a rear-facing seat, but it seems to me that a parent who wants to protect his precious newborn would do well to watch the road rather than a video screen. Besides which, how is a person supposed to check Facebook likes AND monitor CabinWatch? We’re not airline pilots, for crying out loud.
CabinTalk — you see the naming pattern — is an intercom that allows the driver to talk into a microphone connected to the speakers or headphones in the back seats.
I understand the concept here but I don’t think it’s realistic.
If the kids are happily listening to something — anything, really — what driver/parent would want to interrupt the blissful silence? And if they’re fighting, your adding to the cacophony isn’t apt to help.
I don’t think the engineers, in trying to make the minivan more like a house, understand that the great attribute of a house is that it has rooms.
Including rooms where you can banish kids when you’re tired of listening to, or even looking at, them.
And these rooms have doors.
If Honda wants to revolutionize the minivan it ought to figure out how to install one of those limousine-style clear plastic partitions, or failing that the metal mesh screen they put in cop cars.
They could call it the CabinDivider.
J ayson Jacoby is editor
of the Baker City Herald.