I had been concerned for the Honda Odyssey, of late. I worried that Toyota, Nissan and even Chrysler with their newly redesigned minivans might topple Her Royal Highness, the Odyssey, from her throne. But my worries were baseless. The crown and scepter are safe, and the 2011 Honda Odyssey's reign as Supreme Minivan continues undisturbed.
The redesigned Odyssey is such a seamless combination of function and fun that the mind boggles. The minivan's body is completely new and as un-minivan-like as possible. It looks more like a space-age wagon than the bread-box-on-wheels that used to be the standard minivan.
My top-of-the-line test vehicle, the Odyssey Touring Elite, had more bells and whistles than I could have imagined in a vehicle, including a surround-sound audio system, an HDMI video input and a pop-up trash containment stand. It has seating for eight, and it's comfortable for everybody, even grown-ups in the third row. In a stroke of genius, the Odyssey's five sets of Latch anchors actually fit five child-safety seats at the same time. Amazing!
Driving the Odyssey is like driving a large sedan. The ride is smooth and solid, and there's little roll in the turns. The V-6 engine, which was in the previous-generation Odyssey, manages to be perky, even on hills. No matter what I asked of the Odyssey, it delivered. It moved people and hauled cargo. It looked good in the carpool lane. It impressed my kids, my friends and even my husband. I can't even do thatat least, not all at once.
Of course, royalty like this demands substantial payment. While the base LX trim starts at $27,800, the Odyssey Touring Elite I tested came with a $44,030 price tag. Ouch. That puts quite a burden on us commoners.
The inspiration for the Odyssey's new body style came from a lightning bolt. However, I think it took some inspiration from the Mercedes-Benz R-Class. Either way, the 2011 Odyssey is as far from a boxy old-school minivan as you can get. It's lower to the ground and somehow seems smaller, even though it isn't. It's also wider and sleeker than the previous generation. As much as I was initially put off by the funky design, I ended up a fan of the 2011 Odyssey.
The big news in the redesign is the bump in the side window line, which drops a couple of inches at the third row. That gives better visibility for the folks in the third row, and it may potentially reduce car sickness. When the window line is trimmed with a narrow chrome strip, it does make a nifty lightning bolt design. Bam! The grille keeps with the rest of the Honda lineup, with large, wide-set headlights, three chrome strips and a bold badge.
One of my favorite things about minivans is how easy it is to climb in and out of them, and the Odyssey is no exception. It sits at just the right height for me to slide into the driver's seat, and the power sliding doors help little ones get right in and a wide, anti-slip step helps them get out. A grab handle is helpful for taller folk. The top trims come with a power liftgate that's tall enough to walk under without danger of a concussion.
The 2011 Odyssey only comes with one engine option, the 248-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 that was offered in the previous model. A new six-speed automatic transmission is available with the Touring and Touring Elite trims. With it, the Odyssey gets 19/28 mpg city/highway. The lower trims have a five-speed automatic transmission that gets 18/27 mpg. All of the Odyssey's trims take regular gas.
SENSE AND STYLE
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Excellent
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Good Times
The interior of the 2011 Odyssey is pure bliss for families. It's comfortable, entertaining and a lot cleaner than my house.
In the front, the large heated leather seats are supportive and adjustable. In the driver's seat, even the back cushions warms up, which is just so luxurious. The dash is impressively minimalistic, considering all the technology and entertainment options in the Odyssey. If I could ask for anything more, it would be some wood trim to warm up the abundance of black and gray plastic in the cabin.
Most of the controls are in the large center stack, which is cleanly laid out and clearly labeled. The large navigation screen is no longer a touch-screen, so it's easier to read and use with the large controller knob that's close to the driver. The navigation system is easy to program, but the voice control didn't seem to like me very much; I had to resort to pushing the buttons. Bluetooth is standard and not only provides hands-free calling but audio streaming right from your cell phone.
There are bins and cubbies everywhere, and they're all made of substantial plastic, with no rough edges or flimsy construction. There's even a "cool box," which is an air-conditioned console, that actually fits a gallon of milk or a six pack of soda. And this wouldn't be a minivan review if I didn't mention the 15 cupholders scattered throughout the Odyssey.
The huge center console bin is large enough for my not-petite purse and could hold a laptop with no problem. There are more bins in the doors and third row. There's also seatback pockets and a nifty fold-out ring that perfectly holds a plastic grocery bag for containing the continuous creation of trash in the backseat.
The second-row seats slide not only to the front and back but to the sides as well, creating more room to install child-safety seats. The center seat can slide even farther forward, keeping an infant within reach, or it can fold forward to provide more cupholders and storage for older kids. The second-row seats slide and tumble forward with one hand to allow access to the third row, which is roomy enough for grown-ups. Built-in sunshades protect delicate skin in both the second and third rows.
The optional entertainment system in the Odyssey Touring Elite offers a way to settle any squabbles. With the 16.2-inch widescreen, rear passengers can watch a single video in widescreen mode or split the screen into two separate shows and use wireless headphones. There's even an HDMI input in the third row for gaming systems or portable HD players. Everybody is happy and quiet, so Mommy is happy, too. The Touring Elite has an upgraded surround-sound system, too. For low-tech entertainment, there's a power sunroof to let in the light. However, its standard size is no longer impressive in a world of panoramic and multiple sunroofs.
There's plenty of cargo space behind the third row. A deep well accommodates a major grocery trip as effortlessly as a couple of kids' bikes. For those occasions when that's not roomy enough, the third row's 60/40-split bench folds easily into the floor, leaving a huge, flat cargo floor. There's no power seat option, but the manual operation seems almost spring-loaded.
IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Galore
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Galore
The 2011 Honda Odyssey is a family vehicle, and nothing is more important to families than safety. So, the long list of safety features should come as no surprise.
There are six airbags protecting everyone from the driver to passengers in the third row. The driver and front passenger get active head restraints and dual-stage front-impact airbags as well as seat-mounted side-impact airbags. There also are side curtains for all three rows.
The Odyssey's other standard safety features include front-wheel drive, four-wheel-disc antilock brakes with brake assist, an electronic stability system and traction control. The top-of-the-line Touring Elite trim also comes with a blind spot warning system.
In all but the base LX trim, the Odyssey has five sets of lower Latch anchors, with two sets in the second row's outboard seats and three sets in the third row. All five locations are easy to see and reach. The base LX trim has four sets of lower Latch anchors.
The Odyssey is made for families, and child-safety seats are part of the package. The Odyssey won't be thrown by an infant-safety seat or two. Or three, even. Everything sits flat and latches in with little struggle. In all but the base trim, the second row's outboard seats each slide outward by 1.5 inches, allowing three car seats to actually fit in the second row.
Get more safety information about the 2011 Honda Odyssey here.
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