Forty miles south is 1 degree warmer. That's not a scientific formula as much as it is rest stop math I learned on my interstate odyssey from Detroit to Key West, Fla., the happiest place on Earth.
Driving to Florida is a rite of passage for many Michiganians. We know the route by heart. Hop onto I-75; zoom past the never-ending construction near Monroe; trudge through Ohio, past the charred remains of Butter Jesus; see how beautiful Cincinnati looks in your rearview mirror as you climb "the Cut" in Kentucky; drive through the dark of night to get south of Atlanta; and then, in the morning, you see the sign post up ahead: Florida.
This road trip could have been overwhelming as we replaced the new minivan smell in the 2011 Honda Odyssey with the scent of stale peanuts, coffee and back sweat.
But this all-new minivan proved its mettle with every mile. It provides a fantastic ride, answers every need and knows how to take abuse that only a road trip provides.
During my testing, I overloaded it with boxes — and later people — played with every electronic gizmo to the point of irritation of my passenger, ate and slept in it and then drove more than 1,100 miles straight, stopping only for beef jerky, gas and an occasional snicker at the names of state parks along the route. Big Bone Lick State Park?
First of all, the front seats pass every possible test I could have inflicted. I could easily find a comfortable position — and then another comfortable position 200 miles later — and was incredibly happy to turn off the heat element somewhere near Knoxville, Tenn.
Even getting out of Odyssey after one 18-hour trek, I felt relaxed. The upright seating position is easy on your legs and back.
Lots of legroom
The second and third rows are nearly as comfortable, providing lots of legroom for adults or kids. A neat feature in the second row allows you to pull the center section forward so you can reach it easily. This was designed to put a baby seat there so the passenger could tend to the child without unbuckling.
Secondly, all those cubbies around the cabin are incredibly useful. The Odyssey is like the ultimate organizer. There's a place for everything. There are little slots, crannies and big drop-down holders.
The fold-flat third row opens up the back for 93 cubic feet, room enough for luggage, Christmas presents and other stuff. Fold up the second row and there's even more space.
A place for trash
Then there's the flip-up trash ring. It sounds simple enough, a small ring attached to the center stack that pops up and creates a ring like a basketball hoop. A typical plastic grocery bag fits in it and all of your trash goes there. It's ingenious.
I have two complaints about the cabin. First, the navigation system is overly complicated. I found it difficult to find points of interest on the map. When searching for a restaurant, the map listed them by distance, instead of placing an icon on the map. I couldn't tell how far away anything was from the highway. Maps should be helpful, not annoying.
Second, the 110-volt outlet is in the third row, which means you stretch power cords across the minivan if someone in the front wants to use a computer. But that's only if you have an adapter to plug it in; the outlet does not include a ground and only works with two-pronged plugs. Honda should include an adapter in the glove box. There's nothing more frustrating on the open road than to think you have something useful and then discover you can't use it.
Quiet, comfy ride
Driving the Odyssey was certainly a pleasure. The ride is quiet and comfortable. Very little road noise seeps into the cabin, and the 248-horsepower V-6 provides plenty of power to the front wheels.
The all-aluminum engine includes Honda's variable cylinder management system that allows the engine to turn off two or three cylinders when not needed. The transitions between how many cylinders are running is seamless.
The top-of-the-line Touring model includes a six-speed automatic transmission, while other trim levels include a five-speed automatic transmission. The difference is 1 mpg in both city and highway driving — the base model LX gets 18 mpg city / 27 mpg highway, while the Touring model achieves 19 mpg city and 28 mpg highway.
This minivan can haul on the highway and feels much more nimble than it looks. Cruising along, killing thousands of bugs, the Odyssey felt great. And despite weighing 4,500 pounds, it managed to average 26.5 mpg during the 3,000-mile trip.
Some features, such as blind spot detection, were extremely handy on Florida's crowded roads; it beeped every time I wanted to cut over a lane to hit Miami Subs, the American Coney of Miami.
Looks poor, ride great
While the driving is superb, the Odyssey's looks aren't.
The lightning bolt beltline is distracting and makes it look like the back end of the minivan is about to fall off a cliff. Honda, however, contends that dropping the third-row window was more a necessity than cosmetic.
And there's a reason for the lower sliding door slash on the exterior.
Typically, minivans try to hide that by placing it under the window. Honda, however, found that by doing so the motors would take up valuable shoulder space that allows three adults to sit in the second row.
Lowering the motors makes the second row much more comfortable for adults, as my parents can contend.
Wider and lower
Overall, Honda made the Odyssey wider and lower and just a touch longer. All of those changes enhance the vehicle's ride and comfort.
We all have journeys in our life, no matter what highway we take. This particular Odyssey just makes arriving that much better. Homer would approve.
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Exterior: Good. Looks big on the backside and the window line appears jagged. Front looks aggressive and nice.
Interior: Excellent. Lots of nice utility, comfortable seats and other family-friendly features.
Performance: Excellent. Powerful engine, good gas mileage and quiet ride, combined with nice road manners, make this minivan exceptional.
Pros: Great ride and lots of nice features.
Cons: The Odyssey’s odd-looking rear may turn some customers away.
**** Excellent *** Good ** Fair * Poor