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Drives, Honda, Odds & Ends, Subaru — May 9, 2012 at 11:14 am

Honda Odyssey & Subaru Forester: A Word About Our Family Cars


To my delight, I’ve been behind the wheel of a wide range of cars over the past six months or so, including everything from rare vintage sports cars to modern econoboxes. Variety being the spice of life, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to experience these many different automobiles and to share my impressions with readers.

Along with others from Atlanta’s automotive media, I will hop behind the wheel of Infiniti’s all-new three-row luxury crossover this Friday for a first drive. Called the JX, this vehicle combines Infiniti’s penchant for dramatic style and elegance to the typically staid family vehicle market, giving those with practical needs an option apart from the minivan and SUV mainstream.

Maybe if I were single I'd go car shopping.

Until then, I’m taking a break from testing this week and am instead driving our family vehicles, which happen to include just those two types – a minivan and an SUV, albeit a small one.

Let me answer a few questions preemptively. Yes, I love automobiles and driving. Yes, I have a 2003 Honda Odyssey and a 2004 Subaru Forester. No, I don’t hate either one. In fact, both are exceptionally satisfying vehicles to own, a point that I’m reminded of as I climbed out of last week’s test car – a brand new luxury sports coupe – and into each of my practical, economical and well-built family cars.

Before we were married, my wife bought the Forester brand new. A friend calls it “the automotive equivalent of an orthopedic shoe,” a sentiment that I neither disagree with nor am offended by. After all, I’ve always had an affinity for slightly odd looking vehicles, or those that put function at least on equal footing with form. The Subaru has been an exceptional vehicle. It’s relatively efficient, and the capable all-wheel drive system has performed well on Forest Service roads in the North Georgia mountains, in heavy rain and light Southern snow and ice.

I took it to my neighborhood mechanic this week. He changed the oil, replaced the front differential fluid, replaced the link pins, and bent a heat shield back into place to stop a rattle. The total cost was $250, a totally reasonable sum considering that the Forester has required no major repairs over nearly 120,000 miles.

With over 150,000 miles, the Honda remains a superb vehicle, too. Seldom is the Odyssey unable to accommodate my needs. It can carry six adults in comfort. It can easily swallow anything I buy at Costco or the home improvement store. It can pull a small trailer or carry my kayaks on its roof rack. Yet in everyday circumstances, it’s easy to drive and unmatched in its ease of use. As rain poured down earlier this week. I stood dry in the back of the Odyssey buckling the kids into their car seats. I then climbed into the driver seat without getting out and getting wet. Name an SUV with that kind of space.

We recently spent a couple of hundred dollars to repair a inoperable passenger side power window, but other than that, the van has required only routine maintenance.

Perhaps the best thing about these two automobiles is that they’re nearly a decade old and, while both are in relatively good condition, neither is cosmetically flawless. That means I don’t have to worry about every litte scratch, dent or spill. With a pair of three-year-olds, brand new cars are as much a source of anxiety as pleasure.

If I had a crystal ball to predict which new vehicles today would age as gracefully as these two have for me, I may be in the market for a new automobile. But right now, I’ll keep enjoying the 2003 Honda Odyssey and 2004 Subaru Forester, a couple of vehicles that still impress this driver, even as I step out from behind the wheels of automobiles far more luxurious and expensive.

  • Patricia Palermo

    This should be titled, “A love letter to my family cars.” I don’t think I’ve ever put that much thought or appreciation into either car. Thanks for the reminder.