Minivans should aspire to be the safest cars on the road.
There's no other vehicle more tailored toward carrying children, ostensibly our most precious cargo, than the classic family hauler. So it's notable, then, that Honda achieved a rarity earlier this week, earning a Top Safety Pick+ ranking from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety on its 2014 Odyssey minivan.
It's the first minivan in history to achieve the Pick+ status, the highest possible ranking on the IIHS scale. IIHS is an independent, not-for-profit organization dedicated to reducing traffic fatalities, and its crash tests are often considered benchmarks within the auto industry.
The Odyssey also earned a "good" ranking on the organization's new small-front overlap crash test, which replicates what happens when the front corner of a vehicle hits a stationery object, such as a tree. It's the first minivan to earn that ranking too, though none of the others in the segment have been tested yet.
"Honda established a new standard for minivans when the 1999 Odyssey was introduced, and the company has maintained that leadership position through innovative features and advanced safety technology," said Karl Brauer, senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book. "By acing the newest, most stringent IIHS small overlap crash test, the 2014 Odyssey maintains its segment-leading role in an area that's particularly important to family shoppers."
Competitors like the Chrysler Town & Country, Dodge Grand Caravan and Toyota Sienna all earned Top Safety Pick rankings, which is one notch below the "Plus" on the IIHS scale.
What's interesting about the improvement in Honda's ranking is the company achieved its new status without completely overhauling the vehicle.
The '14 Odyssey isn't a next-generation minivan. It's a refresh of the same vehicle that was redesigned in 2011. Engineers bolstered the car by redesigning the door ring that helps protects occupants in the front seat.
Instead of using a ring made of separate parts and held together by joints, it is now pressed as a single part in high-strength steel, helping to prevent the cabin from buckling in a crash.
Viewers can see this in the crash-test video provided by IIHS. The front of the Odyssey absorbs much of the accident's energy and crumbles. This is by design. The door area is intact, and the cabin is not penetrated by shrapnel.
Overall, six Honda current models have earned the Top Safety Pick+ designation, the highest number of any automaker.
Pete Bigelow is an associate editor at AOL Autos. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @PeterCBigelow.