2012 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
Best handling and most efficient of the big vans.
The Honda Odyssey is about function and making family life easier. It can carry a family of eight, or half a high-school soccer team, with all their coolers, balls, tents, shoes, whatever. It can tow a small trailer with a motorcycle or watercraft. It can carry 4x8 plywood flat on the floor, with 10-foot-long boards can be stacked on them, extending between the front seats when the convenient removable console is taken out. Best of all, it's loaded with conveniences designed to simplify life.
The Honda Odyssey was thoroughly redesigned and re-engineered for the 2011 model year, marking a new generation of one of America's favorite multi-purpose vehicles. For 2012, the only change, besides a new color, is that the 2012 Honda Odyssey EX gets some of the fancy electronic equipment previously reserved for the Odyssey EX-L.
Though still called a minivan, there is nothing mini about the modern minivan. The Honda Odyssey, Nissan Quest, Toyota Sienna, and Chrysler Town & Country are big passenger vehicles. If you need a true mini-van, you might consider a Mazda5. For many uses, and especially for carrying people, a Honda Odyssey or one of its competitors makes more sense than a full-size sport-utility or crossover. A minivan handles better, is roomier, and is more fuel-efficient than an SUV does.
The Odyssey is less expensive than a luxury SUV, gets better fuel economy, and has more cargo room, with greater flexibility in how the space is configured. Unless you need four-wheel drive or you tow a big car or boat, the Odyssey should work. Odyssey's third-row seats set a new standard in legroom, with as much space as the front seats in a Cadillac Escalade or even the Odyssey itself.
The Honda V6 engine leads the class in fuel economy and delivers 248 horsepower. A 5-speed automatic transmission is standard, but Touring models get a 6-speed automatic that delivers better acceleration and better fuel mileage. Honda is a leader in engine development and the Odyssey's V6 is smooth.
Comfort and poise are excellent, even with six large people on board. Six airbags including three-row side curtains are standard. The Odyssey leads its class in safety ratings, with 5 Stars from NHTSA and Top Safety Pick from IIHS. Honda boasts that it's the only eight-passenger minivan to ace both tests.
Odyssey's main competition is the Toyota Sienna, which offers more choices with a four-cylinder engine, a sport model and all-wheel drive available but not eight seats. The re-engineered Chrysler Town & Country is an eight-seat rival.
All 2012 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 the number of transmission speeds.
Odyssey LX ($28,225) 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, power locks, power 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 for all rows, trip computer and 10 beverage holders.
Odyssey EX ($31,475) 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, USB port, Homelink, Bluetooth, HandsFreeLink, intelligent Multi-Information Display (i-MID) with 8-inch touch-screen, conversation mirror, security system, heated mirrors, wheel-mounted audio controls, auto on/off headlights, compass and outside temperature display.
Odyssey EX-L ($34,875) upgrades to leather upholstery and steering wheel-wrap, power moonroof, tailgate and four-way passenger seat, heated front seats, XM radio, front cool box, and auto-dimming mirror. Options: Navigation with voice recognition, FM traffic info, multi-view rear camera and 15GB disk drive; and rear entertainment with 9-inch screen, wireless headphones/jacks and a 115-VAC outlet.
Odyssey Touring ($41,180) 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 ($43,675) 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 Honda Odyssey got longer and wider in its 2011 revision, resulting in good aerodynamics. It's still plus or minus a couple inches of its competitors in every measure. The grille and headlamps appear to be a cross between the Honda Insight and Civic, and Toyota Sienna. Odyssey's looks are somewhat daring, but boxy minivan architecture, function and mission all conspire to limit styling. Touring models have aero rocker panels and mirrors, and larger wheels.
One distinctive visual feature is the drop at the bottom of the window line, behind the sliding doors. They call it the lightning-bolt look, a bit of an exaggeration, but it does break up the monotony and improves the view from the third row.
The front and rear door handles are paired in a mild recess, almost reminiscent of a Rolls-Royce with rear-hinged rear doors. The power sliding doors can be opened without having to shift to Park first, sometimes useful but not a good idea to do so, especially with kids.
The roofline looks something like a tent pulled taut over a stake, similar to that of the Acura MDX, or even the Mercedes R-Class. Taillights use clear lens signals with amber bulbs for visual pop, without the expense of LED lamps. A spoiler atop the hatch is standard, and the power tailgate (EX-L and above) has pinch protection. Roof rails are a dealer accessory.
The Odyssey LX seats seven, and all other models seat eight. We found it roomier and more comfortable than any SUV including a long-wheelbase Cadillac Escalade. Only a Sprinter van offers more interior space, until you get to buses and motor homes.
With all three rows of seats up, the cargo area is 38.5 cubic feet, just 7 less than the biggest SUV. With the third-row folded it grows to 93 cubic feet, and with the second row down there's a breathtaking 148.5 cubic feet. A 4x8-foot sheet of plywood will go flat on the floor, and 10-foot-long 2x4s will even fit, between the front seats when the center console is removed. The floors are lower than they are on SUVs, so loading is easy. The Lazy Susan-like cargo area under the floor carries a spacesaver spare tire.
High-quality cloth upholstery is used in the LX and EX, leather in the other three models, with carpeting and soft-touch panels above the muddy foot zone. The LX doesn't feel cheap like a commercial vehicle, while the Touring model is as luxurious as the nicest Accord. The Odyssey is full of useful bins and good ideas. If you've never owned a van, the Odyssey makes you wonder how you managed without one.
The dashboard, center stack and controls are conventional, and the styling is conservative. The Toyota's swooshy woodgrain interior is fancier (and it has dual gloveboxes), but the controls aren't as simple or logical as they are in the Odyssey, and that's a big thing.
The major gauges are easy to see through the steering wheel, which can be tilted and telescoped. Four small displays at top center are shaded by a hood, and we could see them even wearing polarized sunglasses. Center vents frame the climate controls, including a sync button to match all the zones, while audio and navigation controls are lower. Operation of all controls is reasonably intuitive, and if you don't like buttons there's voice command.
The rear climate controls are overhead, where only a kid could spill a milkshake on them.
A power driver's seat is standard. Adjustable pedals are unavailable. Tall drivers might find their right leg resting sharply against the center tunnel.
The Odyssey chassis uses active noise cancellation and active engine mounts to minimize vibration. A laminated windshield reduces wind noise, in the Touring. In the middle row, any noise comes from the sliding door, and in the third row it comes from the rear tires. We found it is easy to carry on a normal conversation at freeway speeds.
The view out the windshield from the rear seats is very good, with tidy pillars and front headrests. Of course, if the passengers are watching a movie using the available entertainment system, the drop-down screens take away visibility both directions, but that's how it goes, it's worth it. Having six passengers in back will be more of an issue, because the center shoulder belts anchor in the roof on opposite sides. Upper models have parking sensors, multi-view rear camera and blind-spot warning, but in the rearview mirror, the driver can see through the right rear anyhow, unlike some SUVs with thick pillars.
There's a whopping 40.9 inches of legroom in the second row. The seats 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. We love it all.
Third-row seats set a new standard in legroom, with as much space as the front seats in a Cadillac Escalade: 42.4 spectacular inches. It's three-wide for kids and two for adults, with good headrests. Like the second seat, the split-folding wayback seat can be folded into the floor with one tug.
If gadgets and details make the minivan, the Odyssey does not disappoint. Besides that removable center console, you can get a six-pack coolbox under the dash, grocery hooks, 15 beverage holders, four coat hooks, a trash bag holder for passengers, and bins, cubbies and reading lights throughout. Indeed, the Odyssey is a great vehicle for six adults out on the town.
On Odysseys with leather, for $1600 you can get the rear-seat entertainment system with a 16-inch widescreen that shows side-by-side images or one panorama, using 650 watts driving 12 speakers in 5.1 surround sound. So in the unlikely event anyone asks, 'Are we there yet?' you won't hear them.
It's easy to see why the Honda Odyssey is called a benchmark by reviewers. When it comes to road manners, it's the most refined of its kind. When it grew in 2011, it also got tighter.
The 3.5-liter V6 is smooth, quiet, and efficient. It has active cylinder management that runs on 3, 4 or 6 cylinders as needed, improving fuel efficiency.
Honda Odyssey is rated 18/27 City/Highway miles per gallon by the Environmental Protection Agency. That's better than the Toyota Sienna and Nissan Quest, each EPA-rated at 19/24 mpg. The Sienna V6 has a bit more power than the Odyssey does, but it isn't as refined or as economical when cruising on the highway.
The Odyssey is about equal in power to the 4.0-liter V6 in the Chrysler Town & Country, but gets better fuel mileage, even with its 5-speed automatic versus the Chrysler's 6-speed automatic. Town & Country gets an EPA-estimated 17/25 mpg. With an EPA-rated 21/28 mpg, the Mazda 5 is more fuel-efficient than the big Odyssey around town, but the Odyssey nearly matches the much smaller Mazda 5 on the Highway fuel economy rating. Kia Sedona is rated 18/25 mpg. Regular gasoline is recommended for the Honda Odyssey and the other minivans.
Odyssey Touring models come with an excellent 6-speed automatic transmission. The Touring models weighs an additional 200 pounds, but thanks to its 6-speed it accelerates better and climbs hills more smoothly than do the LX and EX models. The 6-speed transmission and its aero kit helps raise the EPA fuel economy rating of the Honda Odyssey Touring to 19/28 mpg City/Highway. The transmission lacks a sport mode, but we don't think it's needed.
Vans generally handle better than people expect. They are often more stable than SUVs because they're lower. Among minivans, the Odyssey is one of the best handling. The steering is light on center, and weights up nicely with cornering effort. It's direct without being quick, gives good feel for the front tires, and pulls a U-turn in 36.7 feet, way tight for a long-wheelbase minivan. The brakes also have good feel, unfazed by our downhill charges. No van is tuned for sports-car handling, but that didn't stop us from trying sports car roads and parking-lot autocross courses. That tells you something about how it would behave in an emergency maneuver.
We found the Odyssey corners like a heavy, front-wheel-drive sedan: stable, predictable and secure. The electronic stability control is not invasive; on the one occasion we managed to reach the limit it gently and quietly put things back on the ideal course.
The Odyssey rides like a big sedan, too, admirably soaking up bumps. The Toyota Sienna is stiffer but compared to the Odyssey feels rubbery, leaving the driver slightly less connected and passengers rolling more. Among the minivans, the Honda is the driver's car.
The Odyssey doesn't offer all-wheel drive, so it's not a van for places with lots of snow. The Toyota Sienna is available with AWD.
The Honda Odyssey seats eight, has a vast cargo capacity, passenger legroom, and is chock full of storage places and good ideas for convenience. Its crash ratings are the best for any minivan. The Honda V6 is smooth and efficient, with excellent fuel economy. The 5-speed automatic works well, but the 6-speed offers better performance and fuel economy. The handling and ride are sweet. The Odyssey can be equipped for full-tilt style and fun, with a rear-seat entertainment system.
G.R. Whale and Sam Moses contributed to this NewCarTestDrive.com report.
Honda Odyssey LX ($28,225); EX ($31.475); EX-L ($34,875); EX-L rear entertainment ($36,475); EX-L navi ($36,875); Touring ($41,180); Touring Elite ($43,675).
Options As Tested
Honda Odyssey Touring Elite ($43,675).
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