Republished: 01/28/2010 (Original Date: 11/02/2010)
Mark Takahashi, Automotive Editor
The family minivan is a staple of the American road. Sure, SUVs have taken a big bite out of the market in the last couple of decades, but when it comes to shuttling multiple passengers and their personal effects, minivans are as purpose-built as it gets. After spending quite a bit of time with the redesigned 2011 Honda Odyssey, we confidently proclaim it the best minivan you can get today.
From tip to stern, the Odyssey delivers just what the carpool demands — convenience, comfort and confidence. Accessing any of the eight seats is easier than one could manage in any SUV, and once in place, passengers are treated to a smooth and quiet ride that can best be described as luxurious. The new Honda Odyssey also has enough power under the hood to get out of its own way and a suspension that helps it get out of the way of most everything else.
Just like the morning carpool, though, the 2011 Honda Odyssey isn't all smiles and sing-a-longs. The Odyssey is more expensive than the competition. Our range-topping Touring Elite model is as fully loaded as they come, and its $44,000 price tag is likely to frighten away a good portion of shoppers. Rest assured, the lower trim levels are comparably good, albeit with fewer bells and whistles.
The Toyota Sienna is a close second to the Odyssey, with similar features and power, but it lacks Honda's confidence in the curves. Most minivan shoppers might consider handling a nonissue, and for them the decision between the two will likely come down to personal preference. But we contend that a vehicle's handling prowess is key to avoiding life's little unpleasantries. For its all-around excellence, the 2011 Honda Odyssey takes the minivan crown, and it should definitely be on your short list of family haulers.
Powering the 2011 Honda Odyssey is a 3.5-liter V6 that produces 248 horsepower and 250 pound-feet of torque. Touring and Touring Elite models like our test vehicle are equipped with a six-speed automatic transmission that drives the front wheels — lower trims make due with a five-speed unit.
With a curb weight of 4,540 pounds, the Odyssey's powertrain has its work cut out for it. At our test track, the big Honda hustled from a standstill to 60 mph in a confident 8.1 seconds, an improvement of 0.7 second over the previous-generation Odyssey. Braking is also improved, and the Honda comes to a halt from the same speed in 129 feet with no sign of brake fade after repeated runs.
Out on the open road, this amounts to an assuring feel when you're behind the wheel. There's plenty of power to decisively merge onto highways and pass slower traffic. The suspension also contributes to the Honda Odyssey's solid ride, with very little body roll in curves and a carlike demeanor in parking lots.
The 2011 Honda Odyssey is remarkably composed, even on the most derelict road surfaces. Potholes, bumps and ruts are smoothed to nearly undetectable levels and the cabin remains as calm and quiet as a luxury sedan at highway speeds. Honda's ingenious use of noise-cancelling technology, along with an abundance of sound insulation, receives the credit here, ensuring a peaceful environment to keep the littlest of passengers in a blissful state of slumber.
We found it easy for drivers of all sizes and shapes to settle in to a comfortable position, with ample seat adjustments, headroom and legroom. Adult-size second-row passengers will also find the seating accommodations to their liking, with a wide range of seat travel and recline angle. Even the third row of seats will provide ample space and comfort for the average adult on an extended road trip.
Outward visibility is commendable for driver and passengers alike, with large expanses of glass that provide a commanding view of the road. Backing into tight parking spaces is a breeze in the Odyssey, aided by a conventional rearview monitor as well as a secondary elevated camera. The mirrors are well-placed and adequately sized, while a blind-spot monitoring system adds an extra level of assurance.
When it comes to day-to-day family needs, the Odyssey's capabilities really begin to shine. Features like a sliding second-row center seat with LATCH anchors make us realize that the Honda engineers really sweated the details. This allows a center-mounted baby seat to slide closer to the driver or front passenger while the outboard passengers enjoy their preferred amount of legroom. As with the previous Odyssey, the center seat can be removed and the right-hand seat can be positioned in its place, permitting easier access to the third row.
We do wish that the button-heavy dashboard would have been bred out of the new-generation Odyssey. This time around, the numerous controls are more logically placed and within easier reach, but the mere fact that we counted no fewer than 80 buttons and knobs at the driver's command has us longing for a more elegant solution.
In Honda's defense, our Touring Elite test vehicle represents the fully loaded trim level, with every bell and whistle you can cram into it, and all of those systems have to be controlled somehow. Still, the simple act of playing a DVD for the rear passengers seems needlessly complicated — even more so if you decide to play two DVDs simultaneously — and a consultation with the owner's manual is usually required. Fortunately for the 2011 Honda Odyssey, the added features outweigh their perplexing operation.
Some operations, on the other hand, are as simple as can be. If the generous 38.4 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third-row seats is not enough, those seats will quickly fold away with a quick tug of a strap, providing more than 93 cubes of cargo volume. Removing the second-row seats is more difficult, but it makes for a maximum capacity of 148.5 cubic feet. Audio and iPod functions are also easily operated, especially with the voice command system that offers helpful on-screen prompts. The sound quality itself is top-notch, rivaling the high-end branded systems found in luxury cars.
Design/Fit and Finish
Making a minivan appealing is no easy task, but the 2011 Honda Odyssey succeeds in making an otherwise boring shape interesting. Beveled body panel shapes make the large expanses of sheet metal seem slim and light, while the illusion of a continuous side window and the "lightning bolt" beltline add some visual flair. The interior takes a more utilitarian approach to design, looking more like a midcycle refresh than a full redesign of the last Odyssey.
The materials within the cabin are nothing special, with hard plastics making up the majority of surfaces. But these surfaces are easy to clean — a plus for a family hauler. Some of the removable elements (front center console, center second-row seat) had a detectable wobble, but generally remained silent, leaving the cabin mostly squeak- and creak-free.
Who should consider this vehicle
Our 2011 Honda Odyssey Touring Elite represents the most well-equipped minivan on the market. As such, it also represents the most expensive. When you consider that the base Odyssey model will cost you $15,000 less, you can choose from a wide range of trim levels with increasing levels of luxury.
The Honda Odyssey has been the top pick in this category for several years, and the new 2011 model keeps that standing intact. In a close second, the Toyota Sienna delivers much of the same, but with significantly less driver engagement. The Kia Sedona is worthy of consideration for those on tighter budgets, as is the Mazda 5 for those who don't need as much space. The Chrysler Town and Country and Dodge Grand Caravan appear competitive at first glance, but poor construction and materials have us steering shoppers away from them.
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