2011 Honda Odyssey
Honda’s Odyssey continues.
The Japanese manufacturer did not invent the modern minivan—that distinction is held by Chrysler—but it refined the concept over the years to where it became the class of the class.
When the first Odyssey appeared in 1995, it was ridiculed for not measuring up to the standard set a decade earlier by Chrysler. It had swing-out side doors and a four-cylinder engine.Ironically, that original Odyssey would be praised today as an ideal crossover with its good fuel economy and seven-passenger seating in a tidy package. It also had a disappearing third-row seat, which since has become a minivan standard.
Honda shifted gears in 1999 with a new Odyssey that fit the prevailing template: V6, sliding side doors, front-wheel drive—and it became part of the mainstream. It was redesigned for 2005, and now again for 2011.
As Honda improved the Odyssey over the years, critics concluded that it delivered the best combination of ride, handling and amenities, despite the fact that the Chrysler (including Dodge) minivans perennially topped the sales charts.
For 2011, Toyota re-designed its Sienna minivan to overtake the Odyssey and it has come very close.
Without question, the minivan is the most useful vehicle on the planet. It beats all but the biggest SUVs and vans on space for passengers and cargo, handles and delivers better fuel economy than any big SUV and many crossovers, and offers the most people-friendly environment.
Yet there unaccountably are people who say they wouldn’t be caught dead in a minivan—even one as capable as the Odyssey. There also are families that would not be satisfied with anything else.
Honda calls the former “rejecters” and the latter “adopters,” and has concluded that there’s not much to be done about either group. So its focus is on the “hesitators” who might be persuaded.
These include the generations X and Y. Honda’s shamans have deduced that they are likely to be more open-minded. To that end, the 2011 Odyssey has an array of innovations in accommodations and 21st century electronic networking and entertainment.
That required some piling on of models. In times past, the EX was the top of the line. Now it’s next to the lowest in a seven-model lineup: LX, EX, EX-L, EX-L RES, EX-L Navi, Touring and Touring Elite. Each represents a different equipment level, and there are options available as well.
The base LX, with steel wheels and plastic wheel covers, nevertheless has a fairly comprehensive complement of standard equipment, including full safety equipment, air conditioning, audio with MP3 capability, remote locking and cruise control. It has a suggested price tag of $28,580.But the model that will set a technophobe’s heart a-flutter is the new Touring Elite. It has a suggested sticker of a whopping $44,030. But its state-of-the art electronics includes a navigation system and a15-gigabyte searchable hard drive for the owner’s music and photographs, as well as a 16.2-inch rear entertainment screen that can show wide-screen movies and also be configured as a split-screen so one kid can play a video game while another watches a movie.
Even models without navigation have a 2-gigabyte flash memory that can swallow 18 CD albums so the owner can take a built-in supply of music on a trip. There’s also a three-way backup camera.
Though the Odyssey’s re-design is evolutionary, it has a new look. It is slightly lower, longer and wider for a sleeker profile, and the side view features a “lightning bolt” beltline aft of the rear doors, which provides better outward visibility for third-row passengers.
What all Odysseys share is their trademark great handling—considering the nearly two-ton weight and17-feet length. Thankfully, Honda’s engineers did not tinker with the previous model’s fine steering and suspension.
There is a slightly different handling feel between the EX and Touring models, with the latter delivering a more weighted feedback. But the Honda engineers credit that to the different wheels and tires.
All Odysseys share the same power plant: 248-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 with variable cylinder management that allows the engine to run on three, four or five cylinders at highway speeds to conserve fuel. But the LX and EX models get the power to the front wheels through a five-speed automatic transmission while the Touring versions get a new six-speed automatic.
Neither combination will win you many acceleration sprints. The zero-to-60 miles an hour time from a standing start is less than nine seconds, so the Odyssey can even feel sluggish if you’re in a hurry.
Where it shines is in its do-everything orientation. Playing off BMW’s slogan of the “ultimate driving machine,” Honda anoints the Odyssey as the “ultimate family vehicle.” And it is.
The split third-row seat folds with the pull of a couple of straps. Second row seats each can be moved sideways more than one and one-half inches to make space for a child’s seat in the center position. There are five LATCH kid-seat attachments. Bottles and cans can be kept cold in a refrigerated bin up front.