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A Minivan Screams For Vengeance

2011 Honda Odyssey - Click above for high-res image gallery

While we shouldn't be shocked by anything coming out of Madison Avenue, part of me is incensed to hear Honda using Judas Priest to advertise its new Odyssey. That's right, the opening riff of the greatest album from the gods of heavy metal deployed, not in the service of Satan, but to sell a minivan?

While the 18-year-old headbanger in me would like to stand up and rail against Honda ("If you think you're going to make me think your stupid soccer mom taxi is cool, well, You've Got Another Thing Coming!"), the truth of the matter is that Honda's ad agency nailed it. We're not teenagers anymore. We've grown up and had families. I even own a minivan, and, indeed, there is at least one Judas Priest CD that lives in the center console. And after driving the new Odyssey for a week, I have serious van envy. Honda has crafted the ultimate, state-of-the-art people mover, even if it's not much more than some flashy design and incremental improvements in areas like powertrain, fuel efficiency and equipment.

Continue reading...


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Photos copyright ©2011 Steven J. Ewing / AOL

The biggest changes in the redesigned Odyssey are obvious at first glance, as it no longer looks so much like a conventional minivan. Honda's ideas on styling have been polarizing as of late (read: the Accord Crosstour is ugly as sin), so it's smart that the company chose the Civic as the donor of the new minivan's face. The venerable compact is still the most complete and fluid execution of modern Honda design language, and what it lends to the Odyssey works to make Honda's largest vehicle appear smaller and sleeker. It helps that the Odyssey has a lower and much wider stance, having been stretched over two inches across.

While its front and back sections don't exactly mate up well in profile, each works on its own. The flying buttress D-pillar helps the rear end achieve a more contemporary look, like that of many crossovers. Honda is calling the quirky jog in the beltline at the Odyssey's C-pillar a "lightning bolt," and it's more than just a clever device to give the vehicle a dynamic, moving-forward look. That little dip makes the third-row windows bigger and increases the feeling of roominess for passengers in the way back.

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Honda clearly wants to make the back of the bus a more desirable place to ride, and it's come up with some enticing new features to serve the rear-seaters' needs. The first is that the third row now has two sets of LATCH anchors, while the second row can be had with three. These carseat attachments mean more than horsepower to breeder parents, and the Odyssey has more of them than the competition.

The second row is interesting in that Honda has decided not to follow Chrysler into its folly of designing seats to fold into the floor like those in the third row. Understanding that it's the rare day when you want to use your minivan like a pickup truck, Honda instead designed a system that allows the second-row seats to be moved laterally to make more room for passengers or car seats, while improving third-row access through the center in the process. The optional second-row-center seat can even be moved forward to place an infant carseat closer to mom and pop in the front. This is smart engineering trumping gimmicky marketing.

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Up front, the cockpit is functional and the controls are similar to any number of other Honda or Acura vehicles (save for a dash-mounted shift lever). While having a central LCD display with a field of buttons and one large controller knob below seems to be the industry norm these days, it's unfortunate to see Honda abandoning the touch-screen interface that made its in-car navigation systems the class of the industry a decade ago. Also upsetting is Honda's decision to place the climate controls above those for the audio and navigation systems, a huge flaw when you consider that many drivers will set an automatic temperature setting and then rarely look at it.

Behind the wheel, the Odyssey is a nice driver, though it no longer feels as much like an Accord. It's not that this new version of what used to be the best driving minivan on the market can't corner, but that the steering doesn't provides as much feel as its predecessor.

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If the Odyssey drives more like a minivan than a station wagon now, it certainly doesn't accelerate like one. Honda's 3.5-liter V6 makes 248 horsepower in the 2011 Odyssey, along with 250 pound-feet of torque. It revs quickly and has great throttle response, and Honda has done a masterful job of matching the gear ratios of the new, optional six-speed automatic transmission to make the Odyssey move. This is a minivan than can go quicker than it should, at least with babies onboard.

Honda has also included its Variable Cylinder Management (VCM) system as standard equipment. This shuts down two or three of the V6's cylinders when they're not needed, improving fuel economy. This and some other measures, including a 50-to-100 pound weight reduction, have helped the Odyssey boast some impressive EPA numbers for a roughly 4,400-pound vehicle. With the standard five-speed automatic, the van is rated at 18 mpg city, 21 combined and 27 on the highway. The six-speed automatic improves each of those numbers by a single mile-per-gallon, and that's tops among any vehicle that can carry eight passengers.

2011 Honda Odyssey engine

No minivan these days would be complete without some sort of video screen for the kids, and Honda has gone big in this department with an optional 16.2-inch widescreen that folds down from the headliner in the second row. (A more conventional nine-inch screen is also available.) Before you get too excited about having a display larger than a MacBook Pro in the Odyssey, however, understand this is really just two normal-sized displays mated into a single, wide LCD panel. While it's possible to stretch out a single video source to cover the entire screen in a grotesquely distorted aspect ratio, the more useful application is to allow each side of the vehicle to select a separate input source for their half of the screen, choosing from the DVD player, composite auxiliary inputs and an HDMI port.

While this HDMI port is bound to get video game geeks excited, it's more of a way for Honda to future-proof its van than anything else. The screen in the Odyssey is still pretty small, making most modern video games designed for widescreen, high-definition displays difficult. Your World of Warcraft addiction will have to be a lot more severe than mine to want to play in the back of an Odyssey.

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As much as I like the Odyssey, I do have three caveats that are absolutely worth mentioning. The first is an audio system that had issues outputting varying levels of distorted sound across all audio sources throughout a 1,000-mile roadtrip, making even podcasts unlistenable. I'm trusting the tester was merely defective, and that this isn't a widespread problem with Honda's Active Noise Cancellation system, which uses the audio system to make the interior of the vehicle quieter.

The second issue is an aesthetic one: Why can't Honda hide the Odyssey's door track? Honda knows the importance of styling, given how much its redesign of the Odyssey was based on making a van that looked different from any that have come before. So why is it, then, that this company continues to allow these giant gashes on either side of the minivan to persist. Toyota and Chrysler tuck their door tracks under the third-row window, and such a configuration would make all the difference in tidying up the Odyssey's busy rear, which looks too much like it has been on the losing end of a battle with a guardrail.

2011 Honda Odyssey rear 3/4 view

My final complaint has as much to do with my own financial situation as it does with Honda, but $40,775 to get an Odyssey with the six-speed automatic seems a wee bit dear. That's an exceptional amount of money when the base model costs just $27,800. Whatever happened to paying an extra $1,500 for the better transmission? Why is the six-speed transmission bundled with a nav system and DVD player? This kind of business practice is akin to a cell phone provider offering a cheap plan with a token few minutes for thirty bucks, and then charging twice that amount to get enough minutes to actually use your phone.

As fantastic as the Odyssey is, there's a bigger question at hand: Can it (or Toyota's "Swagger Wagon," or a nicely revamped Grand Caravan from Dodge, or the all-new Nissan Quest) convince the masses that minivans aren't the automotive equivalent of wearing sweatpants? Surely there are a sizable amount of people who wouldn't drive a minivan even if it came with a personal invitation from Rob Halford himself. But Honda thinks that this market is primed for growth, and that's reasonable speculation. With plenty of consumers making the SUV-to-crossover jump in the interest of cutting their fuel bills while maintaining a capacious interior, giving minivans another look is the smart thing to do.


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Photos copyright ©2011 Steven J. Ewing / AOL


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 78 Comments
      • 4 Years Ago
      Toyota makes what is probably the best V6 engine in the world, but that is negated by the plastic plastic plastic interior. My family had a 2006 Previa (3rd gen) in China, and the interior was the same plastic plastic plastic. The seats were nice leather, though--almost Lexus-quality, but just the seats and nothing else.

      Honda clearly has the better interior environment here, and I like the Ody's body style better than the Sienna (plain, can't compare with the Previa/JDM Estima).
      • 4 Years Ago
      One of the better looking Honda's.
      • 4 Years Ago
      IMO, Buick China's GL8 does the lightning bolt thing better:

      http://www.netcarshow.com/buick/2011-gl8/

      Far more cohesive profile, and not a door track in sight. I could do w/o the ventiports, but otherwise, the Buick is the best-looking minivan...in the world.
      dek200
      • 3 Years Ago
      I find the writers comments regarding tucking the second row seats into the floor an unnecessary issue an assumption that is assinine to say the least. I am on my third Chrysler Town and Country and the primary reason I am buying Chrysler minivans is for the "Stow N Go" second row seats. My wife and I are seniors and find that the minivan offers the most convenient front and rear entrance and exit of any vehicle on the market for aging legs. And, as we travel from the North to the South to take advantage of the warm south in the winter, hauling the necessary items works better in the minivans that in any other vehicle including the SUVs and the Crossovers. Cars are out of the question as for most of us they are too hard to get into and out of. Friends of ours have Odysseys and frankly, I wouldn't trade our Town and Countrys with them for any money. The handling and the comfort are far superior in the Chrysler. And, the stow and go seats are wonderful. Get off of this kick that because it is made in Japan (Honda and Toyota) it is better than any other vehicle. My money goes with the most utilitarian vehicle, the Town and Country.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I've seen a couple of these new Odysseys on the road and think the dip down in the belt line at the third windows looks just as ugly in person as in the photos. It is commendable Honda increased the size of the 3rd row windows to increase the feeling of roominess for 3rd row passengers but while they were at it they should have gone all the way and made the entire belt line that low so everyone in the van could have better visibility and more of a feeling of roominess while simultaneously making the exterior of the vehicle look unified.
      Barbie
      • 4 Years Ago
      The 2011 Odyssey is designed poorly. It is way too close to the ground. Scraping the bottom is very possible just making a turn around a curb. When you lock it with the remote, the windows have a tendency to open. Last night, I locked it in the dark. This morning the windows were 1/2 down, the most I have seen them. It rained last night, plus someone "broke" into it. I do not think it is a good feature for the windows, all 4, when using the remote. I have looked back to make sure they were up and when I come back to the car, they are down. You cannot put the windows up with the remote. There was no wind noise the day I bought it. There is now. The back doors do not have to be closed to drive it. This is a safety concern. The seats must not be treated as they get dirty very easily. I do not like the seat material. It is longer and wider than most cars I have driven. Not easy to park. I do like the idea you can put down the middle windows.
        drose113
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Barbie
        I have tried to follow your comments, and will do the best I can to follow them..... Do your windows always open when locking it with the remote?? My a little bit older model doesn\'t do this. As far as the remote letting the windows up, I am pretty sure that it has never had that capacity; we have an older model Odyssey and it\'s not possible. Using the key in the door to lock/unlock the doors in some vehicles can sometimes result in a slight raising/lowering of the windows. As for driving with the doors open, I know that you can\'t open the doors while driving, but if you can close them while backing. also, if they are open, you will know. Your car will alert you. Which type of seat material did you choose? Some are better than others and honestly, if it\'s fabric, I would make sure it was well scotchguarded!!. I haven\'t tried parking the new one\'s, but now that you have mentioned it and we are shopping for a new vehicle, I will. As for the middle window\'s letting down or not, our family would only want one that did. There are other brands of mini-vans on the market that have stationary windows. If this was an issue for you, maybe the Oddyess wasn\'t the right fit/choice for you, There are nice vans whose middle windows are stationary and there are many choices of seat materials. Think about what your needs are and choose what you think will hold up for you.
      • 4 Years Ago
      In the past, when I went to test drive an Oddity, I was discouraged by the ridiculously high price and the sales people who made you think that you should be grateful to be able to take a test drive and that this was a Honda, there was no dealing. Now, with that 'Lightning Bolt Special' design, I won't want one any more.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Hondas have insanely high resale value because people have a knee-jerk reaction to buy a Honda without looking at anything else.

        I don't have anything against Hondas, but they are really overpriced for what you're getting.
        • 4 Years Ago
        @ nardvark

        ???

        Sounds like a knee jerk response.

        Honda has a high resale value because their vehicles are absolutely bulletproof for the most part. Consumer Reports has stated for a couple years now that Honda manufactures the most reliable vehicles. TrueDelta and JD Power have also come to the same conclusions.

        I'd say that 4 out of 5 times I hear a reliability or longevity story, it is about a Honda.

        You don't think that has anything to resale value? Of course people just go directly to Honda, they had great luck with them and they do everything they want the vehicle to do properly.
        • 4 Years Ago
        The base prices aren't that high at all, unless you are comparing it to the Sedona...

        Hondas have an insanely high resale value because they don't have $3,000+ laying on the hood at purchase, that is just something to expect when you are shopping.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Chrysler just called: they want the rear section of their Pacifica back

      Mercedes just called: They want the rear section of their R class back

      Toyota just called: they want the front end of their Venza back
        • 4 Years Ago
        Lenscrafters is calling you, they want you to come in for some new glasses.
        • 4 Years Ago
        If you can't see that the c-pillar and window does not resemble the Pacifica or R class then I think that perhaps you need the glasses

        The grill and lights look like it was lifted off a Venza
      • 4 Years Ago
      Exposed track line notwithstanding, I still can't get past that C-pillar treatment ... like the designers just gave up trying to line things up.
        • 4 Years Ago
        I've seen several in person, and the pictures make the lightening bolt seem a lot worse than it actually is.

        IMHO, when viewed in person, the lightening bolt is actually a nice styling element, especially when viewed from a front 3/4 view.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I still think this is the best minivan on the market. I spent almost a two weeks in a 2006 doing a cross-country road trip. It was insanely comfortable and versatile.

      The Odyssey is fun to drive (for a minivan), its interior is the best of the bunch as far as fit and finish and material quality, it has a great ride/handling trade off, and it is incredibly efficient given its bulk. The interior of the last van was so nice it could honestly pass as an Acura. The interior of the new Sienna is really nothing to write home about, and the Chrysler twins interior isn't great either.

      I know that Sabatini has an issue with the price, but almost all Odysseys I see are of the loaded variety. I hardly EVER see a lower trim line van.

      I still think this is the van to beat.
        • 4 Years Ago
        You're correct...per Honda, 70% of Odyssey's are have leather, meaning they're EX-L's or Touring models. So the predominant share of Ody's are the loaded varieties.

        I believe I heard the remaining split was 20% LX and 10% EX.
        • 4 Years Ago
        There's no denying that this minivan is competitive, but the Chrysler minivans just got best in class power (283 ponies compared to the Honda's 248), best in class interior
        • 4 Years Ago
        I completely agree. This is the best Minivan out there hands down. Honda isn't interested in the entry van market. They have left that and the volume seller crowd to Chrysler. Instead they have almost a complete lock on the fully loaded Minivan market where the disgusting profit margins are.

        Personally the gash on the side isn't that big of a deal for me. The "lightning bolt" line keeps the sight lines intact for both passengers and driver. For me that is both form and function. I don't like the trend towards tanks you can't see out of so we need to rely on cameras. Integrating the door into a slopping line wouldn't work.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I believe Honda said they didn't put the door track under the window as it would eat into interior space in that position. But, since they widened the van anyway, would it have made THAT huge a difference in shoulder room?

      Minivans are more about function than form, but since form was a big deal for them on this update, the overall design really would flow better without that black gash emphasizing the jagged line.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Fugly. I'll wait for the next exterior re-design...
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