Vans are passe and I love a good minivan. There! I am on record as a card-carrying automotive enthusiast and journalist that loves a good minivan. They may be considered yesterday’s family carriers. However, there is nothing more versatile, fuel- efficient, comfortable, or convenient for a family than this form of transportation.
We have owned Toyota and Nissan minivans and I have driven all the rest. Fortunately, manufacturers continue to improve and update their minivan models (except Ford and GM who have committed to crossovers) and the 2011 Honda Odyssey is a premium example of this trend.
Honda wants to spice things up with some sweeping lines, 5.1 surround sound with 12 high definition speakers, and a wide-screen HD TV. This fourth-generation Odyssey represents a new Honda vision which they call the “ultimate in family transportation.” The exterior style is still unmistakably a minivan but the lightning bolt beltline is a dead giveaway that Honda wants to move the Odyssey towards a younger family- looking for a cutting edge van.
Uncharacteristic for Honda, they have updated the interior with entertainment features that rival a well-stocked family room. Honda did not even include an outside temp gauge until recent years and now they offer a 16.2-inch widescreen HD video monitor.
Optional goodies include a 15GB memory Hard Disk Drive (HDD)-based audio system with digital storage for more than 1700 songs. A new 2GB memory CD-Library digitally holds approximately 18 CDs and replaces the 6-disc changer in the EX and EX-Leather model. There is also an FM traffic data reader that works in combination with navigation- equipped Odyssey vans.
A refrigerated box keeps things cold and compliments the removable console, along with a built-in trash bag holder. To help the driver outside the Odyssey, Honda has included a rear-view camera with parking sonar, blind spot warning lights, and auto-leveling HID headlights so not to blind oncoming traffic if the van is loaded down (Touring Elite).
The new van is quieter due to an audio system-based Active Noise Cancellation™ (ANC) system and a chassis-based Active Control Engine Mount (ACM) system to cancel noise and vibration.
The all-new 2011 Honda Odyssey is safer and has earned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s best possible score of five stars. It is one of the first vehicles to earn five stars in each seating position for all three crash test categories. These come in the combined frontal and side crash safety ratings, with the help of new chassis engineering and a host of airbags for all three rows.
The interior has been completely revised- and it was pretty good to start with. With seating for 7 or 8, a new “3-mode” second-row seat expands laterally, along with a simpler-to-operate, one-motion, 60/40 split 3rd-row Magic Seat®.
The new “wide mode” supports third-row pass-through access from the side even with two child seats in the second row. Seat releases are easier but third seat legroom is still a little limited. I climbed into every seat in our test Odyssey and was comfortable while watching a movie. Why go to the theatre when your theatre comes with you on the way to somewhere else?
Available models include Odyssey LX, EX, EX-L, Touring and now, Touring Elite. All of these models include an updated 3.5-liter engine with Honda’s i-VTEC system. Horsepower is up by 4 to reach 248 hp. The 250 lb-ft. of torque is up by 10 lb-ft. as long as owners use premium fuel.
I appreciate that Honda has included their smooth six-speed automatic transmission as standard on Odyssey Touring and new Elite. EPA estimates the new Odyssey will get 19/28 mpg in the city/highway. Variable Cylinder Management (standard on all models for 2011) shuts down unneeded cylinders while cruising along so the van is more eco-friendly without complicated hybrid drive gear. Most report an average of 22 mpg on Odyssey Touring models with normal family trips to the store, the sports practice, and the occasional weekend trip.
Along with the aerodynamic shape and lower roofline, the wider track makes cornering a pleasure with power for some exciting performance. That’s right. This minivan is actually fun to drive. 2011 Odyssey vehicles utilize the Advanced Compatibility Engineering™ (ACE™) body structure.
ACE is an exclusive body design that enhances occupant protection and crash compatibility in frontal crashes. The rigid platform also allows for a performance sedan suspension that keeps the van flat in cornering without giving up pavement bump absorption. Honda’s Vehicle Stability Assist™ (VSA®) with traction control and ABS keep things going where you point this van so driving at higher speeds feels more confident and controlled.
The only drawback to the latest minivan offerings are price. Even the base models can run north of $30k without many options. Honda Odysseys are among the most expensive. Base price for the 2011 Odyssey begins at $27,800 and runs up to a huge $43,250 for the Touring-Elite.
Granted, this is a lot of vehicle for this price-range. However, today’s average family will look for a cheaper crossover rather than get the vehicle that will serve them best. On the upside, Odyssey is an American-made vehicle – designed, engineered and assembled in the United States. The Odyssey is produced exclusively at Honda Manufacturing of Alabama (HMA).