First Look: 2011 Honda Odyssey

2011, a Honda Odyssey

Honda is being stingy with details about its new 2011 Odyssey minivan. In a June 17 online presentation it let the virtual press peek at the new tippy-top-of-the-range "Touring (Elite)" model and released a few choice details. While the morsels we were fed are tasty, there's still a full meal yet to come.

So enjoy the following appetizers. But save room for the main course.

Wider, Lower, Longer
Designed and engineered wholly in North America, the 2011 Odyssey is both wider and lower than the outgoing model. The track goes up 1.4 inches while overall height drops 1.6 inches. The dimensional shift is obvious and it results in a more athletic and grounded-looking machine.

The Odyssey also grows less than an inch longer than before. But Honda is being coy and it hasn't breathed a word about how long the new van's wheelbase is. Best guess here is that it hasn't changed much from the 2010 Odyssey's 118.1 inches.

Honda calls the new Odyssey's look an example of "Lightning Bolt Design." And if you throw your eyes out of focus and squint really hard, there is a sort of lightning bolt shape along the van's sides where the bottom edge of the windows meet metal. The most successful element of the new design is, however, the C-pillar that is somewhat triangular in shape and similar to the Acura MDX crossover's C-pillar. The most jarring part of the new design is the giant gouge running from the top of the taillights forward to accommodate the slide track for the side door. No cleverly hiding that track in the base of the side glass for Honda.

Mechanical Assumption
Honda said that the Odyssey will be powered by the company's familiar 3.5-liter i-VTEC V6. Other than that, there aren't many details available about how the new Odyssey will move about. Of course the "three-mode" variable cylinder management (VCM) is back that deactivates up to half of the cylinders when the engine is operating under light loads to reduce fuel consumption. Again, there's no word from Honda about horsepower and torque ratings. There's no reason to expect much change from the 2010 model's 244-horsepower rating.

Honda has, however, let out preliminary EPA fuel mileage ratings for the 2011 Odyssey of 19 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway. That's a significant bounce up from the 2010 Odyssey's 17 in the city and 25 on the highway. And that is at least some evidence that Honda has switched to a six-speed automatic transmission.

With its expected solid fuel economy rating, Honda sees no foreseeable reason to offer a four-cylinder engine in the Odyssey even though Toyota offers one in the Sienna (which is rated at 19 mpg city and 24 mpg highway). Honda also plans to leave the all-wheel-drive market to Toyota.

Honda hasn't said anything about the new Odyssey's chassis and suspension. But it would be shocking if Honda abandoned the current setup of MacPherson struts up front and a double-wishbone independent system in the rear. The 2011 Touring Elite runs on 18-inch wheels and tires, but expect lower trim models to run smaller-diameter units.

Inside the Belly of the Beast
Seating virtually defines a minivan's utility. In the 2011 Odyssey Touring Elite that means two captain's chairs up front, two outboard captain's chairs in the second row (with a foldable center seat) and a split third-row couch that folds up into the floor for the third row. Of course Honda promises better legroom and accommodation than ever before. Honda even claims three adults will be able to sit comfortably across the third row.

With consumption of food and drink inside a minivan now a birthright in America, Honda has added a "cool box" beneath the dashboard's center stack. Honda says it keeps items cool when the vehicle is running, leading us to believe it's tied into the Odyssey's air-conditioning system. There are a total of 15 cupholders strewn about the new Odyssey's interior.

The new Odyssey does without the now-old Odyssey's floor-mounted lazy Susan storage bin. Instead there's a new large, removable and movable bin between the front seats that's accessible by both front and rear passengers.

Despite the fact that children today come sutured to Nintendo DS devices and that it's easy to play movies on phones or the iPad, many minivan buyers still look to stuff as much electronic entertainment into their vehicles as possible. Honda promises that the Odyssey will not lag in this department.

The Touring Elite is available with an "ultra-wide" video system that can function as two separate side-by-side monitors. The audio system wails out of 12 speakers. There's a full-on 150-watt AC outlet available. And, for the first time we're aware of, there's an external HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) for hooking up devices that are usually plumbed into home flat-screen TV systems. That could include gaming consoles and Blu-Ray disc players.

A Range of Possibilities
The 2011 Honda Odyssey represents this minivan's fourth generation. And the Odyssey's greatest strength has always been how it drives. So this teasing look at the top of the new Odyssey range really doesn't tell us whether the new van will overwhelm its competition when it goes on sale this fall.

That's something we'll learn when we get to drive it.