Long suffering from the stigma of being boring suburban family haulers, a symbol of a sedentary life, Japanese automakers are injecting new energy into the segment, turning the old minivan into a 21st-century living room on wheels. We recently spent time with a, got a sneak peek at the , and now have gotten our hands on a 2011 Honda Odyssey, in Touring Elite trim.
Although still relying on its 3.5-liter V-6 under the hood, Honda upped the power over the previous model a little bit, and went from a five- to a six-speed automatic. Bigger changes come in the cabin tech and the exterior styling, with some hand-me-down electronics from the Acura brand.
The look of the Odyssey uses a new angular styling for Honda that we first saw on the new. On the Odyssey, you can see it in the tight grille design, the lower intake, and the headlight casings. On the sides, the front and rear door handles come together with geometrical precision, and even the ends of the side mirrors are squared off.
But then we come to the rear of the Odyssey, where a kink in the side graphic makes it look like the back end is falling off. The designers may have been trying to draw attention away from the sliding door rail, a necessary evil with the side doors.
The third-row seats easily fold flat, creating a large cargo area.
We were very pleased with the functionality of the Odyssey's design. As with any top trim minivan, the sliding doors and rear hatch open at the touch of a button, a convenient feature. In the rear, the third-row seats fold very easily into the floor, creating a flat load space. The center console between the front seats can even be removed, making a clear path from front seats to rear.
The driver gets a commanding view of the road from which to maneuver the Odyssey. Drivability is a key attribute of minivans, and we found no difficulties with this car. At a touch of the accelerator, it promptly moved off the line with no hesitation or drama. Acceleration was smooth, letting us creep around parking lots or slog through traffic at low speed. Variable power steering made it easy to turn the wheel from a stop.
The Touring Elite trim benefits from a six-speed transmission.
Picking up the pace, the cabin suppressed road and engine noise well. The ride tended toward firm, but was not uncomfortable. The engine moved the Odyssey without strain, and it accelerated well when we stomped the gas pedal. Variable power steering gives the wheel more road feel at higher speeds, and helped to keep it centered.
The Odyssey's V-6 generates 248 horsepower and 250 pound-feet of torque, up from the previous generation's 241 horsepower and 242 pound-feet of torque. The engine features Honda's i-VTEC variable valve timing technology, but also uses a cylinder deactivation system to save fuel. This system runs the engine on three, four, or all six cylinders depending on power needs.
While driving the Odyssey, we never felt changes as cylinders powered up, a mark of good engineering. EPA ratings for the Odyssey Touring Elite give it 19 mpg city and 28 mpg highway. In city driving and heavy traffic, we frequently saw the trip computer give us around 17 mpg, definitely on the low side, and ended up with an average fuel economy of 19.5 mpg.
Impressively, the Odyssey earns an Ultra Low Emission Vehicle rating under California's emissions rating system, which tests for smog causing pollutants.
The Touring and Touring Elite trim Odysseys get the best fuel economy of the lineup because they come equipped with six-speed automatic transmissions, rather than the five speeds in the lesser trim vehicles, although the variance is only 1 mpg. The shifter in our Odyssey offered the basic options, with a single low range, but no manual gear selection. Its built-in Grade Logic feature works as a hill start assist.
Blind-spot detection is a nice safety feature for the Odyssey.
The driver benefits from a blind-spot detection system and a rearview camera to help keep the Odyssey dent-free. Although the rearview camera does not have distance or trajectory overlays, it does offer three different views, including a wide view and a downward view. We found it very easy to back right up to an obstacle or another car without making contact.
These views show up on the LCD, also used for navigation, audio, and the Bluetooth phone system. The arrangement of the various controls underneath the LCD is somewhat screwy. Underneath the LCD are the climate controls, followed by a set of audio controls, with the knob and buttons for using navigation and other onscreen controls way at the bottom. Although Honda's controls are fairly intuitive, having them closer to the screen would make them more usable.
iPod search lets you use voice command to request music by name.
The voice command system in the Odyssey allows for a lot of control without using the physical interface. As has become typical in new cars, you can dial phone numbers by saying a name in the car's phonebook, which can be copied over from a paired phone. Even better, mimicking functionality in Ford's Sync system, the Odyssey lets you request music by artist, album, track, and genre name. In trying various artist and album names, the system worked well, nearly always accurately recognizing our spoken command.
Audio sources abound in the Odyssey, from satellite radio to Bluetooth streaming to the car's onboard hard drive, where music shares space with the navigation system's maps. Our only complaint about the audio system has to do with the iPod and hard-drive music library interfaces, which use different styles for no obvious reason. The iPod interface varies from the general paradigm used throughout the different onscreen systems.
The real highlight of the cabin tech is the rear-seat entertainment system, a wide-screen LCD that can simultaneously show two video inputs side by side. Although we previously saw that technology in the Toyota Sienna, the Odyssey also brings in an HDMI input, allowing for modern video devices. Not only do we like this functionality, but the controls were very easy to operate. We didn't have to hunt through menus to figure out how to go to dual screen or choose different video inputs.
Even with multiple audio and video sources, the rear-seat entertainment system was easy to use.
With such an advanced rear-seat entertainment system, Honda did well to make the audio system match up. This unbranded system uses 12 speakers and a 650-watt amp to create surround sound. There are also wireless headphones for the rear seat, and the car lets you play different audio in front and back.
Listening to music, we found the audio quality very sharp from this system, showing a good balance in frequency response. Highs were clear and enjoyable with good detail, and vocals came through clearly. Bass was solid without being thumpy. It might not have quite the oomph to make realistic explosions from an action movie, but that might be a little distracting in the car.
The navigation system offers some fine features, such as Zagat ratings for restaurants and a special scenic-drive points-of-interest feature, which guides you to picturesque roads around the country. And the fact that the navigation system is hard-drive-based makes calculations rapid. But it does not show 3D maps, and although it shows traffic information, we found no evidence that it dynamically alters a programmed route around traffic jams.
Our main complaint about the 2011 Honda Odyssey involves some shortcomings with the navigation system, but all else is at least very good or excellent. We like the choice in audio sources and the iPod voice command system. The rear-seat entertainment system is some very tasty icing on this cake.
The power train and performance technologies do not look terribly advanced at first glance, but Honda has really refined its cylinder deactivation system. The steering and suspension combine to make a minivan that is very easy to handle.
We like Honda's electronics interface, which uses a consistent theme throughout for everything except the iPod library. The Odyssey is as practical a design as you are likely to find in a minivan. We particularly like how easy it is to fold down the rear seats. But the exterior may turn off some people, with the odd-looking back end.
|Model||2011 Honda Odyssey|
|Power train||3.5-liter V-6 with cylinder deactivation, six-speed automatic transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||19 mpg city/28 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||19.5 mpg|
|Navigation||Standard hard-drive-based with traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Disc player||MP3-compatible single-CD player, DVD player|
|MP3 player support||iPod integration|
|Other digital audio||Onboard hard drive, Bluetooth streaming, USB drive, satellite radio|
|Audio system||12-speaker, 650-watt system|
|Driver aids||Blind-spot detection, backup camera|
|Price as tested||$44,030|