2011 Honda Odyssey Expert Review:Autoblog
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Photos copyright ©2011 Steven J. Ewing / AOL
Honda did something silly during the launch of its all-new 2011 Odyssey minivan. The automaker built a large autocross-type "track" in the parking lot of San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium and invited journalists to take its latest eight-passenger family hauler for hot laps. It was an interesting "fish out of water" introduction to Honda's fourth-generation people mover.
Designed, developed and manufactured in the United States, Honda considers the 2011 model an "American Odyssey." The domestic development team, owners of 46 Odysseys between them, labored to deliver a minivan with distinctive style, greater interior versatility and improved fuel economy. Did Honda build itself a worthy successor and how did it fare on the autocross?
Photos copyright ©2010 Michael Harley / AOL
Sharing its platform architecture with the Honda Ridgeline and Pilot, the all-new 2011 Odyssey is wider and lower than the model it replaces. The automaker's California design team penned a much more stylish and distinctive edge to the new model, unlike its arguably bland predecessors. It's a look we first scoped in concept form at the 2010 Chicago Auto Show. Most striking is its unique "lightning-bolt" beltline. The "bolt" is functional, as it improves outward visibility from the third row, but the placement is arguably less than attractive at first glance. It's as though the trailing edge of the sliding door cuts the minivan in two pieces – like the back half had been surgically grafted to the front. Making things even more awkward, the optical illusion is reinforced as the sliding door channel abruptly ends in the same spot.
The interior, on the other hand, is far from controversial. It features an expensive and upscale Acura-like look and feel. Pleasantly traditional in layout, and very friendly to the eye, the center stack is much improved over last year's model with the audio and HVAC controls now occupying the same general real estate, and human-friendly round knobs replacing toggle switches for temperature adjustments. The analog tachometer and speedometer, now the same size, join analog coolant temperature and fuel level gauges on each side.
To avoid confusion going forward, it's best to outline the model hierarchy. Anyone familiar with this automaker, or current Odyssey owners, will realize it follows Honda's existing 2010 trim levels. The entry-level model is badged the LX, followed by the EX, EX-L, EX-L RES (rear entertainment) and EX-L NAV (navigation). The flagship models are the Touring and (new for 2011) Touring Elite. Pricing starts at $27,800 (plus $780 destination) for the LX model. Odysseys with leather upholstery, such as the EX-L, start at $34,450 (plus destination). Lastly, we have the Touring ($40,755 plus destination) and the new-for-2011 range-topping Touring Elite ($43,250 plus destination).
While all models share the same basic primary instrumentation, the multi-information display centered on the top of the dashboard varies by model. The standard model (LX trim) has a one-line segment readout. This is improved slightly with a three-line segment display on mid-grade models (base EX trim). But the real eye candy is the full-color, eight-inch QVGA display (EX-L and EXL-Res trim) or its VGA counterpart (EX-L Touring trim). Both are capable of presenting a full range of graphics, including navigation, audio, trip computer and even background images similar to those on your PC or smartphone.
Dash aside, the rest of the cabin is a reflection of the American family road-trip dream. There are 12-volt power outlets galore and cup holders everywhere (15 in all but the LX trim, which only has 13). Storage nooks and crannies are seemingly hidden behind nearly every panel and there's even a chilled "Cool Box" for keeping drinks crisp (EX-L and both Touring trims).
The driver and front passenger seat are bucket-style captain's chairs with eight-way (LX trim) or 10-way (all other trim levels) power assist. Each seat features an individual fold-down armrest in the center and leather, seat heating and seat memory are trim-dependant. Between the front seats is a reconfigured center console with storage and a new flip-up trash bag ring that's sized to accommodate ordinary grocery bags. The center console is also removable, allowing a generous pass-through for those who to choose to give up the storage.
The second-row of seating has been significantly redesigned compared to last year's model. Constructed in three seating segments, the center seat is 3.9 inches wider and can slide forward 5.5 inches – bringing it closer to the front seats. Even better, the three middle seats have a "Wide-Mode" configuration where they can be slid apart laterally by 1.5 inches each (allowing three child seats to go side-by-side-by-side with ease). The seats also fold down or can be completely removed.
The third-row of seating has also been enhanced. It has an additional 1.1 inches of legroom (for "adult-sized levels of comfort," says Honda) and outward visibility has improved thanks to the "Lightning Bolt" design. Honda's third-row "Magic Seat" is split 60/40 and each side folds and collapses flat and flush into the floor in a simple one-hand operation while the headrests remain in the seats.
A dual-zone (LX trim) or tri-zone (all other models) climate control keeps occupants comfortable, with the tri-zone system allowing the driver, front passenger and rear passengers to adjust the temperature and distribution automatically. Vehicles fitted with the navigation system take things one step further. Based on GPS data, the system automatically adjusts fan speed to compensate for direct sunlight (don't ask us how it knows whether or not there are sunlight obscuring clouds overhead).
The Odyssey's infotainment system is very capable, even in its simplest form. The base audio package (LX trim) is a 229-watt AM/FM/CD five-speaker system. Higher option levels (EX or EX-L trim) gain a 2GB audio library and two more speakers. Adding the navigation system brings a 15GB hard drive to the package. The top audio package (found only on the Touring Elite trim) is a 650-watt AM/FM/CD/15GB Hard Disk premium audio package with 12 speakers including a subwoofer. The center channel speakers for its 5.1 surround-sound audio system are located in the roof just in front of the second row.
The basic rear entertainment system (RES) available on the EX-L and standard Touring models is a 9-inch wide QVGA ceiling-mounted screen (480 pixels x 234 pixels) for viewing DVDs or devices through the audio/video input jacks. Even more enticing is the Touring Elite model's "Ultrawide" RES, featuring a 16.2-inch wide WVGA ceiling-mounted screen (1,600 pixels x 480 pixels). It can show one (full screen) or two sources (split screen) of programming simultaneously while the audio portion is sent to wireless headsets. The system also includes a high-definition HDMI port for external device input. A similar ultra-wide viewing screen can also be had on the 2011 Toyota Sienna and seems to be making its way around the minivan segment.
Under the hood, Honda is hiding a 24-valve 3.5-liter V6 that's nearly identical to last year's engine. However, Honda has pulled a few tricks to wring out more horses from the proven powerplant. To reduce friction, the aluminum engine block has been honed and very lightweight 0W-20 oil fills the crankcase. To improve breathing, there is a new two-stage intake manifold, and Honda claims the refined engine delivers 248 horsepower and 250 pound-feet of torque on regular unleaded fuel. (For the record, last year's models are rated at 244 horsepower and 245 pound-feet of torque).
Honda's now-familiar Variable Cylinder Management (VCM) is standard on all trim levels for 2011. In layman's terms, the technology starts the engine with all six cylinders firing. Things change during moderate-speed cruising and at low engine speeds when the rear bank of cylinders shuts down to effectively create a three-cylinder powerplant. For moderate-speed acceleration, the left and center cylinders of the front bank operate, and the right and center cylinders of the rear bank operate (the engine runs on only four cylinders). Computer-controlled, VCM closes the intake and exhaust valves of the cylinders that are not used, thereby eliminating pumping losses. Fuel supply is cut, but the plug continues to fire to prevent fouling and keep the spark hot.
While Honda has gone to exhaustive lengths to improve the engine's efficiency (even lowering the amount of tension on the alternator belt), one cannot help but wonder why they haven't embraced today's innovative technologies. If you've already relegated owners to driving on three or four cylinders during most of their driving, why not just seal the deal with a direct-injected turbocharged four-cylinder engine in the first place? (We'll remind readers that Hyundai's new 2.0T Theta II engine trumps the Honda 3.5-liter in horsepower, torque, efficiency, weight and packaging).
Power is sent to the front wheels (there is no all-wheel-drive offering) through one of two transmissions. The standard transmission on the lower trim levels is a five-speed, while a six-speed automatic – a Honda brand first – is standard on the top trim levels (Touring models). Compared to the five-speed, the gearing on the six-speed transmission is lower in first through fifth to improve acceleration, and taller in sixth to boost fuel economy.
The Odyssey's wheelbase is unchanged from last year's model, but its track is up 1.4 inches in the front and rear. The independent suspension design remains the same (MacPherson struts up front, multi-link out back), but Honda engineers worked hard to isolate passengers from road noise by using very stiff mounting points in the rear and "blow-off" valves on all shock absorbers that reduce harshness when a wheel hits a severe jolt, such as a pothole.
Many automakers have moved towards electric power steering pumps, but Honda bucks the trend by retaining a traditional hydraulic pump. As expected, there is more power assist at lower speeds to reduce steering effort. At higher speeds, when more feedback is desired, the system automatically reduces boost to improve steering feel while simultaneously lowering parasitic drag on the engine.
The disc brakes on all four corners are larger than their predecessors. The standard wheels have grown by an inch across the board, with all lower trim levels wearing 17-inch steel wheels (235/65R17 tires) and Touring models equipped with 18-inch alloys wrapped in lower profile 235/60R18 tires. Honda does not offer run-flat or extended mobility tires and instead, the minivan is equipped with a compact spare hidden out of view under the load floor between the front seats.
The curb weight of the flagship Touring Elite model we tested is 4,560 pounds (the entry-level LX tips the scales about 200 pounds lighter). Nevertheless, it still scoots to 60 mph in about 8.5 seconds, says Honda. Much more important to minivan owners is fuel efficiency. This is where the 2011 Odyssey shines. Models with the five-speed transmission (LX, EX and EX-L) earn 18 mpg city/27 mpg highway (21 combined). The Touring/Touring Elite models, with the six-speed automatic, earn 19 mpg city/28 mpg highway (22 combined). With a standard 21-gallon fuel tank, the range on the highway should easily exceed 450 miles.
Safety also sells minivans, so Honda has made occupant and pedestrian protection part of its core business strategy. Standard safety equipment includes Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA) and four-wheel ABS with electronic brake distribution (EBD) and brake assist. Dual-stage, multiple-threshold front airbags and active head restraints protect those in the front seats and there are standard three-row side-curtain airbags with a rollover sensor for all outboard passengers within the cabin. The driver's and front passenger's side airbags are fitted with Honda's Occupant Position Detection System (OPDS) - an innovative technology that deactivates the side airbag if sensors determine that a child or small stature adult is leaning against the door.
Inside the cabin, all seating positions feature three-point seatbelts (automatic pretensioners on the front seats) and there is a class-leading total of five childseat Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) positions (four in the entry-level Odyssey LX). There is also a "pedestrian injury mitigation design" in the front of the vehicle. The 2011 Honda Odyssey has not been crash tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) yet, but Honda says its Odyssey minivan is targeted to achieve the best 5-Star/Top Safety Pick scores.
We spent a full day with the 2011 Honda Odyssey in San Diego, but before heading out, we took a few minutes to sit in all three rows of the Odyssey - and each proved comfortable for a six-foot two-inch average-weight male. Even the third row, often the seating zone for small children, was accommodating thanks to the additional shoulder room gained by keeping the sliding door tracks low on the platform. Honda brought along a 2011 Toyota Sienna for comparison, and the third row in the Odyssey was noticeably roomier for our adult frames.
Turn the traditional key (there is no push-button start, as found on the Sienna) and the familiar V6 fires to a muted idle. Drop the dashboard-mounted shifter down into "D" and the Odyssey is good to go.
A slight press on the throttle sends the Odyssey off the line with confidence. Around town, there is more than enough torque to move around smartly and weave between the tourists who obviously aren't under any type of schedule. We spent about 15 minutes on the surface streets, never bumping much over 50 mph. The transmission shifts smoothly, the brakes work as expected and outward visibility is just fine. The power from the engine is exactly what you would expect from a six-cylinder eight-passenger minivan.
The new Odyssey was every bit as capable on the highway. Stable as a laden Honda Accord in its mannerisms, the minivan cruised down the highway at 70-plus with aplomb. We could have driven this way – content, comfortable and locked in conversation with our passenger – until the fuel tank ran dry.
However, prodigiously consuming fuel is not one of the Odyssey's strengths. While there was plenty of six-cylinder power around town, the minivan seemed to prefer running on fewer cylinders on the highway where it could squeeze another ten miles out of each gallon. Drop your right foot to pass at 60 mph and there's a slight hesitation (and a simultaneous downshift) as everything spools back up. It feels as if part of the engine has gone to sleep – because it has. While the behavior is far from a deal breaker (we became accustom to it after a few hours), it served to remind us that saving fuel was much more important than entertaining acceleration. And as it should be.
Over at San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium, we took Honda up on their offer, but with reservation. Nobody enjoys flogging a 4,500-pound front-wheel-drive minivan around a road course – even when it's someone else's vehicle.
Not to burst anyone's bubble, but the Odyssey didn't carve corners like a Porsche Cayman. This is still a minivan, after all. Yet, when we expected it to exhibit severe understeer in the corners and roll over its front outside tire, it didn't. With 56 percent of its weight over the front tires, a wide track and some downright ingenious suspension tuning, the Odyssey feels almost neutral at the limit. Apply power mid-corner and the eight-passenger family hauler drifts wider and wider in a completely controlled increasing radius arch. While not exactly a joyride, it's safe and predictable (not sketchy and sloppy, as we had predicted). We refuse to call it sporty, but "impressively competent" seems like the best description.
After a long day driving around San Diego, we came away impressed by the Odyssey and had a much clearer picture of how it compares to the 2011 Toyota Sienna, its primary competitor.
Honda and Toyota have unquestionably raised the bar significantly with their latest round of completely redesigned minivans, leaving their primary competition all but wallowing in a trail of spilled Cheerios. Both vehicles offer comfortable accommodations for eight, with a slew of amenities and entertainment to keep occupants occupied through the road trip doldrums. However, the similarities end there.
While Toyota's product is sleekly styled, modern and sporty, it's Honda's approach – familiar, family-friendly and fuel efficient – that seems to have earned the edge.
Photos copyright ©2010 Michael Harley / AOL
New Car Test Drive
Revised and re-engineered for 2011.
The 2011 Honda Odyssey has been thoroughly redesigned everywhere you can plainly see and re-engineered nearly everywhere you can't see. It's not an all-new model but clearly marks the next generation of one of America's favorite vans. These multipurpose vehicles aren't minivans anymore.
The Odyssey is all about function and making the business that is family life easier. It will carry two families of four and coolers and tents to supply them. It can tow a small trailer or a couple of personal watercraft. It can carry 4x8-foot materiel flat on the floor, and it can carry 10-foot long objects like 2x4s or lighting tracks inside. It is loaded with conveniences to simplify things and can be loaded with distractions to quell intra-family disturbances.
For most uses, the Odyssey makes a more logical, more compelling argument than a truck-based SUV and many full-size crossovers. It weighs less, is usually less expensive, gets better fuel economy, offers more passenger and cargo room, and greater flexibility in how the space is configured. Unless you need genuine off-road 4WD ability or tow a large trailer the Odyssey will serve better.
The 2011 Odyssey comes with a 248-hp V6 engine that leads the class in fuel economy. A 5-speed automatic transmission is standard, but Touring models get a 6-speed automatic worth a good portion of the price premium: Because of the 6-speed, the heaviest Odysseys are also the quickest and easiest on gas. Comfort and poise on the road are first rate, and we tried it empty and with six size large people on board. Six airbags including three-row side curtains, and electronic stability control are standard.
The new 2011 Odyssey's primary competition is the recently redesigned Toyota Sienna. Sienna offers a choice of four or six-cylinder engines, sports and all-wheel drive models, and optional active cruise control/collision mitigation braking, but Sienna does not offer eight seats on the top-line model nor the fuel economy of the Odyssey. Chrysler's vans and the VW Routan based on them are due for a redesign and are not fully competitive with Odyssey or Sienna top offerings. And buyers more concerned with luxury and fuel economy on a higher budget may consider the Mercedes-Benz R-Class.
Note we refer to the Odyssey and its class as vans. What were originally known as minivans have grown considerably and those shopping for a truly compact van should look at the very good three-row Mazda5 or Kia Rondo.
All 2011 Honda Odyssey models use a 248-hp 3.5-liter V6 engine, automatic transmission and front-wheel drive. The only mechanical differences among them are wheels, tires and number of transmission speeds.
Odyssey LX ($27,800) seats seven on cloth upholstery and uses a 5-speed automatic transmission. It includes front and rear manual air conditioning, eight-way power driver's seat, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, power windows/locks/mirrors, adjustable second-row seats, 60/40-split fold-in-floor third row seats, 229-watt AM/FM/CD/MP3 five-speaker stereo system auto-off projector headlights, cruise control, reading lights (all rows), trip computer and 10 beverage holders.
Odyssey EX ($30,950) has eight seats and adds power sliding side doors, three-zone automatic climate control, driver power lumbar, second-row sunshades and multi-function seats, alloy wheels, removable front center console with two more cupholders, 2GB CD library and seven speakers with subwoofer, Homelink, conversation mirror, security system, heated mirrors, wheel-mounted audio controls, auto on/off headlights, compass and outside temperature display.
Odyssey EX-L ($34,450) upgrades to leather upholstery and steering wheel-wrap, power moonroof, tailgate and four-way passenger seat, heated front seats, Bluetooth hands-free and steering wheel phone controls, XM radio, USB port, eight-inch display, front cool box, and auto-dimming mirror. Options: Navigation ($2,000) with voice recognition, FM traffic info, multi-view rear camera and 15GB disk drive; and rear entertainment ($1,600) with 9-inch screen, wireless headphones/jacks and a 115-VAC outlet.
Odyssey Touring ($40,755) gets 6-speed automatic transmission, 18-inch wheels, and mild aerodynamic changes like side sills and mirrors with signal repeaters. Touring also adds to EX-L driver-memory system linked to reverse-tilt mirrors, an acoustic windshield, standard navigation and rear entertainment, third-row sunshades, third-row center armrest, multi-information display, corner and backup sensor indicators, fog lamps and ambient footwell lighting.
Odyssey Touring Elite ($43,250) is a Touring model with blind-spot warning system, HID headlamps, and a dual-input 16.2-inch widescreen rear entertainment system linked to a 650-watt, 12-speaker 5.1 surround sound system.
Safety features on every Odyssey include frontal airbags, front side-impact airbags, three-row curtain airbags, tire pressure monitors, electronic stability control, ABS, EBD, and brake assist.
The 2011 Honda Odyssey is longer and two inches wider than the previous generation but half an inch lower, so while the aerodynamics are said to be better by 5.5 percent, the net improvement based on the wider front is 3 percent. Better aerodynamics positively affect both fuel economy and noise levels, and since vans don't do the high speeds of sports cars they don't need the added stability of wings and deep front spoilers.
Van dimensions and a good deal of styling is dictated by the box-like architecture, so the Odyssey is plus or minus within two inches of its competitors in every measure and Honda has added a new element with a drop in the lower window line behind the sliding doors. They call it the lightning bolt look and, while it has nowhere near that shock value, it does break up the monotony and improves the view out from the third row.
The door handles are moved closer together and paired in a mild recess, loosely reminding one of the fixtures on a Rolls-Royce with rear-hinged rear doors. New for 2011, the power sliding doors can be opened with the brakes on, without having to shift to Park first, which better matches the way we live (though we recommend shifting into Park). As is often the case on vans the trim piece below the third-row window and above the sliding door track may not exactly match the color on the fender below it over time, and darker colors hide that track better than lighter colors.
Up front, a new grille and lighting for 2011 appear to be a cross between Honda's Insight and Civic and Toyota's Sienna. Here again, van shapes and function conspire to limit daring, as does the somewhat mundane mission of most vans. The Odyssey's shape is not unpleasant by any means, it just comes across as nondescript rather than bold.
At the rear the roofline echoes that of sister-brand Acura's MDX or Mercedes' R-Class, much like a tent pulled taut over a stake. Taillights use clear-lens signals with amber bulbs for some visual pop without the expense of LED lamps. A spoiler atop the hatch is standard on all, and the power tailgate (EX-L and above) has pinch-protection in both directions and can now be opened with the remote without first unlocking the van. Roof rails are a dealer accessory.
Touring models have a few distinguishing features, including small panels under the sides and revised mirrors to smooth airflow, and larger-diameter wheels. They also use a laminated windshield to minimize wind noise.
Honda has set up the 2011 Odyssey to carry seven (LX) to eight people (everything else) in total or six adults more comfortably than any SUV right up to Cadillac's long-wheelbase Escalade. Only a Sprinter van, bus or motorhome offers notably more interior space.
Odyssey uses cloth upholstery on lower models and leather on the others, with carpeting throughout and soft-touch panels above the muddy foot zone. Even the base LX doesn't feel like a commercial vehicle, while a Touring model is easily as luxurious as the nicest Accord. A slew of items will keep first-time buyers discovering useful bins, thoughtful design and more why didn't I think of that than it's about time moments. If you've never owned a van you may wonder how you ever managed without one.
The basic dash and control layout is conventional and the styling conservative; the Nike-like swoosh of woodgrain on a fancy Sienna's interior is more distinct and it has dual gloveboxes, but the controls aren't quite as logical or familiar and the glovebox lid seems flimsy next to the Odyssey.
Typical gauges are easily viewed through the tilt/telescoping steering column, and any of four display screens are top center shaded by a hood; we had no issues with polarized sunglasses and any of the displays. Center vents frame all the climate controls, including a sync button to match all the zones; the rear-seat climate controls are overhead where it's nearly impossible to spill anything on them. Audio/entertainment input is below that, and the lowest controls (still an easy reach for driver or passenger) are those for the navigation and car systems. Operation of all controls is reasonably intuitive, and if buttons annoy you, simply use the voice-recognition.
Every Odyssey has a power-adjustable driver's seat and with the adjustable column adjustable pedals aren't needed. Some taller drivers may find the shift lever housing an uncomfortable place to rest their right leg. The view outward is very good with moderate size pillars and low-profile headrests. The drop-down video screens take away some rear vision but not all of it; eight passengers will be more of an issue because the center shoulder belts anchor in the roof on opposite sides. Top-line models have parking sensors, multi-view rear camera and blind-spot warning, but we had no issues with blind spots.
Second-row seats have been redesigned and can be moved apart so that three child seats will fit, or you can have two child seats and still be able to move the third section for back-row access. The middle section slides forward for an easier reach for front-row occupants, or creates a large center armrest, and all can be removed for cargo. One lever will fold, tilt, slide or remove the seats.
Third-row seats set a new standard in legroom no minivan or SUV can match, with as much space as the front seats in Cadillac's Escalade or Odyssey's first two rows. It's three-wide for kids and two for adults, with headrests that will keep the tallest occupants protected. The wrap-over roof corners do make the pillars feel closer than on the Sienna. As before, the split-folding rear seat can be folded into the floor with one tug.
Gadgets and flexibility make vans, and the Odyssey does not disappoint. Though they vary by model, you can get a six-pack sized coolbox under the dash, purse and grocery hooks, fifteen beverage holders, four coat hooks, a trash bag holder behind the console, reading lights throughout, and smaller bins and cubbies scattered about. Indeed, these are great vehicles for six adults for a night out on the town.
On leather-equipped Odysseys you can get a conventional rear-seat entertainment system. The Touring Elite's entertainment system uses a 16.2-inch widescreen that shows side-by-side images or one panorama and has 650 watts driving 12 speakers in 5.1 surround to insure if anyone asks Are we there yet? you will not hear them.
The lazy Susan underfloor storage area of earlier Odysseys, which tended to store things long-term like a teenager's bedroom, now carries the spare tire. If you get a flat the flat tire will not fit in that space but is secured behind (or on top of a folded seat) the third row.
For big stuff the cargo area holds about 38.5 cubic feet of gear, just seven less than the biggest SUV. With the third-row folded it grows to 93 cubic feet and behind the first row 148.5 cubic feet, both more than a big utility. A 4x8-foot sheet of building materials will go flat on the floor and with the front console removed, 10-foot long 2x4s will go inside. The floors are closer to station wagon height than SUV, easing heavy-object loading but if it's really heavy fold the rear seat or you'll be lifting it out of the cargo well.
The Odyssey is frequently listed among the best in vans or given the benchmark label, and while vans are primarily about function the road manners also play a part. We find the Odyssey the most refined of its kind.
Although it is bigger, the 2011 Odyssey is also a bit lighter than its predecessor and has a very minor increase in power from the 3.5-liter V6 with active cylinder management that runs on 3, 4 or 6 cylinders as needed. It's competitive in any school day grand prix, smooth and quite efficient.
Performance is close to the strongest 4-liter offered in Chrysler (and VW Routan) vans but gas mileage from the Honda is better, even though the Chryslers have a 6-speed automatic and most Odysseys are 5-speeds. Toyota's Sienna offers a four-cylinder version that gets the same EPA Combined rating as Odyssey's V6; the Sienna V6 rates 18/24 mpg versus the Odyssey's 18/27 mpg. The Sienna V6 has a power advantage on the Odyssey and feels livelier but isn't as refined or economical.
Odyssey Touring models come with a 6-speed automatic transmission to match other vans. With four gears to get going rather than three in the LX through EX-L models, the heaviest Touring models (more than 200 pounds more than an LX) accelerate the best, don't require as many downshifts on varying conditions and roads, and bump the EPA City rating to 19 mpg (same as the four-cylinder Sienna); the Highway rating is also up one to 28 mpg, but credit also goes to the Touring aerodynamic upgrades.
No Odyssey offers a sport mode for the transmission and we found one is rarely needed or desired. A compact shifter is adjacent the driver's right hand but it limits driver control of the transmission. If you press the button on the side it drops down two gears from top gear, where on long grades (up or down) you may want only one gear down. If you select L it downshifts gears as it slows on its programmed schedule; you don't always know when that will happen. This sometimes brings an unwelcome shove forward, puts more weight on the front wheels in the middle of a corner, or may make the front tires slide a bit on slippery descents like snowy driveways.
Steering feel is light on center and weights up nicely with cornering effort. It's direct without being too quick to respond, gives the driver a feel for what the front tires are doing, and executes a U-turn in a commendable 36.7 feet. Brakes have equally good feel and transmit no jerkiness to passengers, and seem more than adequate; a couple of downhill charges in 100-degree weather didn't faze them at all. That said, we'd want to have brakes on any trailer more than 750 pounds, less if the van is fully loaded.
Van drivers rarely consider them sporty but there is a reason driving schools use minivans rather than SUVs for teaching laps on racetracks: more of the weight is closer to the ground in a van than in an SUV, and that makes the vans inherently more stable. Most vans handle better than anyone expects, and the Odyssey is no exception.
No van is tuned for sports-car handling but that didn't stop us from trying sports car roads and parking-lot autocross courses where the Odyssey handles like a heavy, front-wheel drive sedan: stable, predictable, secure and all those other adjectives new parents love. The electronic stability system is very well tuned and not invasive; on the one occasion we managed to reach the limit it gently and quietly put things back on the ideal course.
Odyssey rides much like a big car too, soaking up bumps admirably whether we had two occupants or six adults spread across three rows. In back-to-back drives, the Sienna felt like it was stiffer but had a lot more rubber in suspension attachment points, leaving the driver feeling a bit less connected and the passengers moving about a bit more. It's not a substantial difference, but if there's a more refined van than the Odyssey Touring we don't know about it.
The Odyssey does not offer all-wheel drive like some minivans but we consider that a non-issue in any but mountainous areas with lots of snow. We'd rather spend a percentage of the price premium on a set of dedicated winter tires.
Vibration and noise play a big part in refinement, and fatigue for occupants, so all Odysseys come with active noise cancellation and active engine mounts to minimize both. The Odyssey Touring uses a laminated windshield to quell noise, so we found it interesting that with the radio off at interstate speeds front seat passengers heard wind noise from the area around the wiper blades. In the middle row any noise comes from the leading edge of the sliding door, and in the third row it comes from the rear tires. We found it is easy to carry on a conversation at normal levels and any radio, video, or chatter will drown out the wind or road noise.
The new Odyssey should have no difficulty maintaining its reputation with owners and critics alike. It combines all the seating and cargo flexibility needed in a van with a variety of features to suit different tastes, functions and budgets. Finally, it delivers best-in-class driving experience and fuel economy.
G.R. Whale filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com from Los Angeles.
Honda Odyssey LX ($27,800); EX ($30,950); EX-L ($34,450); EX-L rear entertain ($36,050); EX-L navi ($36,450); Touring ($40,755); Touring Elite ($43,250).
Options As Tested
Honda Odyssey Touring Elite ($43,250).
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