Friends don't let friends buy minivans. That's what I thought until my gearhead buddy got married, had a couple kids, and announced that he finally succumbed to the minivan. He bought a used Honda Odyssey.
Had I failed as a friend? An opportunity to road test the 2011 Honda Odyssey helped shed some light on the benefits of this oft-derided genre.
Equipped with a base price ranging from $27,800 to $43,250 (excluding a $780 destination charge), the 2011 Honda Odyssey's EPA estimates measure between 18 mpg city/27 mpg highway and 19 mpg city/28 mpg highway. Let's drive.
The 2011 Honda Odyssey is available in no fewer than seven variants: LX ($27,800), EX ($30,950), EX-L ($34,450), EX-L with Rear Entertainment ($36,050), EX-L with Navigation ($36,450), Touring ($40,755), and Touring Elite (43,250.)
All models except Touring and Touring Elite (which receive 6-speed transmissions) mate a 5-speed auto to the VTEC-equipped 3.5 liter V6 that produces 248 horsepower and a 250 lb-ft of torque. Though essentially a carryover of the outgoing engine, this powerplant receives mild tuning that adds 4 additional horsepower and between 5 and 10 more lb-ft of torque.
The restyled exterior incorporates a "lightning bolt" themed beltline for a distinctive profile and better outward visibility for rear passengers, with a lower roofline and a wider stance. The interior gains more storage cubbies, Bluetooth audio streaming on EX-L levels and above, and a removable front center console. On EX trim levels and above, the second-row seats are now configurable so the distance between seats can be widened by up to 1.5 inches, and the middle seat now moves forward for easier child seat access. The second row also enables third row access without removing two child seats, and the so-called third row "Magic Seat" stows flat more easily via nylon straps.
Also available for 2011 is available 15-gig Hard Disk Drive-based audio system, an ultrawide 16.2 inch screen and HDMI port, a multi-view rear camera, and a blind spot warning and auto-leveling HID headlights.
In the Driver’s Seat
With so many trim levels to choose from, your experience behind the wheel of a 2011 Honda Odyssey will range from bare bones to well appointed. Though the Honda aesthetic of straightforward instrumentation and no-frills functionality reigns supreme throughout the Odyssey lineup, soft touch surfaces have been added to the cockpit for a slightly more luxurious feel. However, there's no confusing Odyssey with more elaborately finished minivans like the Toyota Sienna, which adds matte wood-like textures and more fashion-forward interior color combinations.
But Odyssey is more about how it works than the way it looks, and the new functionality of the 2nd and 3rd row seats makes them even easier to configure, while thoughtful new features like a flip-up trash bag ring (on EX models and above), and a cool box beneath the center stack on EX-L trims and above makes this minivan an even easier place to travel with kids… not to mention fully-grown adults. A class-leading five LATCH positions are available on EX and higher trim levels, guaranteeing that the whole brood can come along for the ride, while no fewer than up to 15 cupholders ensure they'll be hydrated (and begging for bathroom stops) on the road.
And lest you suspect that the most important perch in the Odyssey about the driver seat, consider that 38.4 cubic feet of storage reside behind the 3rd row seat, 93.1 are behind the 2nd row, and a staggering 148.5 cubic feet are available behind the front seats, making it quite the volumetric beast of burden.
On the Road
Less a vehicle than a rolling living room, the 2011 Honda Odyssey trundles down the road as an impressive exercise in spaciousness. A dash-mounted shifter frees up room between the two front seats, and the driver gets a view of easy-to-read analog gauges and a pleasantly laid-out center stack. Digital goodies include available traffic and Zagat Survey information on the nav system.
Not that passengers don't have plenty of amenities to enjoy; our Touring Elite tester featured RCA and HDMI inputs, rear climate controls, and plenty of leg room, with the 3rd row gaining 1.1 inches over the 2010 model. The Ultrawide screen on the Touring Elite model offers a 1,600 x 480 pixel view, and can simultaneously display two inputs, side-by-side.
As for the driver experience, the thrust from Odyssey's V6 offers reasonable acceleration, with the 6-speed in Touring and Touring Elite models feeling slightly less strained thanks to the extra cog. Handling is stable and secure despite this minivan's bulk and curb weight, which exceeds 4,500 lbs on the most loaded up model, and well-damped ride quality makes it easy to eat up the miles in the Odyssey. A large scale autocross course at the vehicle's press launch revealed the capability of surprisingly neutral high-speed drifts with stability control switched off, and back on the highway, new insulation ensures more quiet across the cabin at higher speeds. When it's finally time to pull over, power-operated sliding doors open to reveal easier egress and ingress into the third row.
If you're comfortable with calling yourself a minivan guy or gal (or if you grow into it, as my aforementioned friend did after several conflicted years), it's key to note that the Honda Odyssey leads the field when it comes to amenities, practicality, fuel efficiency, and reliability. And several weeks into ownership, my buddy now calls Odyssey the "largest, most comprehensive appliance [he's] ever owned," also admitting that its thoughtful details are "hardly heartbeat-quickening stuff, but stuff that when you experience it, you thank God and Soichiro Honda for endowing designers' minds to implement it."
Though the interior—as feature-laden as it may be in upper trim levels—sometimes feels a bit bland in contrast to the flashier Toyota Sienna, the copious improvements Honda has engineered into their 2011 Odyssey makes it excel even further on a number of levels. Say what you will about minivans, the Honda Odyssey is one impressive vehicle that's sure to make short errands or long road trips comfortable for up to eight passengers.