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Odyssey is key launch for Honda

Automotive News reports on the 2011 Honda Odyssey.

2011 Honda Odyssey
The 2011 Honda Odyssey is here to steal some of the Toyota Sienna's swagger.
2011 Honda Odyssey
Says designer and Odyssey owner Catalin Matei: We wanted to create a vehicle that got away from the conservative stigma applied to minivans. Honda

SAN DIEGO--After a series of not-so-scintillating product launches from Honda--the Insight, CrossTour, and CR-Z all received mixed reviews, at best--getting the Odyssey minivan right was more than crucial. It was essential.

The new Odyssey's seven lead engineers and chief designer were well suited for the task. They have owned a total of 27 Odysseys, so they knew firsthand what needed to be improved.

The basics: The redesigned Odyssey is 2 inches wider, an inch longer, rides lower, and is more aerodynamic than its predecessor. Under the hood it has a re-engineered version of its 3.5-liter V-6 engine, with variable cylinder management and estimated fuel economy of 18 mpg city and 27 highway.

As of now, the Odyssey is the only minivan with independent rear suspension. Combined with a more rigid body and subframe structure, that means more sensitive ride control and more precise handling. Honda made the brakes 1 inch larger in diameter and now claims best-in-class stopping distances.

In addition to improving performance and adding features, Honda also made the vehicle more stylish, with a signature lightning-bolt beltline. Honda says the vehicle will get five-star safety ratings in all measurements.

Notable features: The center console between the two front seats can hold a purse and is removable. Underneath the instrument panel is a "coolbox" that can hold a six-pack of soda.

As for seating, the second row can be fitted with three child seats but also can pivot outward by 2 inches so three adults can sit in comfort.

With 6 inches more legroom than the Toyota Sienna, the Odyssey's third row has enough space for three full-sizee adults and with seats that also recline. The cantilevered foldaway function for the third-row seats is now performed with a single strap pull.

With the seats removed, the Odyssey can accommodate a 4-by-8 sheet of plywood, three mountain bikes or 10-foot 2-by-4 studs.

The entertainment system features a 16-inch hi-definition monitor with split-screen capability for kids quarrelling in the second row. The "song by voice" telematics system replicates the iPod operating system.

What Honda says: "We wanted to create a vehicle that got away from the conservative stigma applied to minivans," said Catalin Matei, the Odyssey's chief designer, a father of three and owner of seven Odysseys.

Added chief engineer Art St. Cyr: "We had a hard time distinguishing minivans from across a parking lot."

Compromises and shortcomings: The slide rail for the second-row doors mars the sheet metal, but incorporating it into the beltline would have meant crimping 4 inches of shoulder room in the third-row seats. The third-row windows do not pop open for venting.

The base Odyssey has a five-speed automatic; higher trim levels get a more costly six-speed box. All-wheel drive will not be offered. Officials expressed doubts that a hybrid version will be added.

The market: The minivan segment is off 50 percent compared with the boom years. But unlike other categories, minivans may not be coming back to pre-recession numbers. The base price of the Odyssey is $28,580, including shipping.

The skinny: Although down on power compared to the Sienna's V-6, the Odyssey feels more nimble and accurate. The improvement in interior features, fitments, and tactile surfaces means the segment has a new mark to shoot for. Honda nailed this one.

(Source: Automotive News)