Minivans, it seems, just aren't cool anymore. In the past decade or so, more and more shoppers have been avoiding the juice-box-and-diapers stigma by purchasing crossovers SUVs. But don't count the minivan out just yet. This is still the best kind of vehicle for larger families, and new models like the 2011 Honda Odyssey promise to make the minivan, if not hip, at least a bit less uncool.
The latest Odyssey is still very much a modern not-so-mini minivan, with seating for up to eight passengers, sliding rear doors, V6 power and a familiar boxy silhouette. But Honda has tried to spruce things up with a sleeker grille, more pronounced front fenders and a stylized rear beltline. On the inside, you'll find higher-quality materials and a new dash design that's slightly less busy-looking than before.
The new Odyssey also offers more comfort and practicality. Thanks to a size increase (it's about an inch longer and more than 2 inches wider than last year), the 2011 model has more legroom for second- and third-row passengers. The second-row seat is also more useful this year, with a center section that slides forward and a special configuration mode that's wide enough for three child safety seats. There's also a revised mechanism that makes the 60/40-split third-row seat easier to stow.
Under the hood, the Odyssey continues to draw power from a 3.5-liter V6, though Honda's fuel-saving Variable Cylinder Management technology is now standard on all models. More importantly, the V6 comes mated to a new six-speed automatic on top-of-the-line models to deliver snappier acceleration and better fuel economy. A reworked suspension is also new this year, giving the Odyssey a smoother ride quality while also maintaining the van's reputation for above-average handling.
Overall we like what Honda has done and think the Odyssey is still a fine choice for a minivan. Its main competition comes from the 2011 Toyota Sienna, which is also redesigned this year. The 2011 Honda Odyssey is a bit roomier, but the Sienna can be had with some features not found on the Honda, such as keyless ignition/entry, adaptive cruise control and all-wheel drive. The Odyssey is also a bit pricey compared to vans like the 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan and 2011 Kia Sedona. But all things considered it's a great choice for a family vehicle. And if people say it's uncool, well, they don't know what they're missing.
The 2011 Honda Odyssey is offered in five trim levels: LX, EX, EX-L, Touring and Touring Elite. The entry-level LX comes reasonably well-equipped with 17-inch steel wheels, keyless entry, automatic headlights, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a power driver seat, a 60/40-split-folding third-row seat, air-conditioning, full power accessories, cruise control and a five-speaker sound system with a CD player and auxiliary audio jack.
Step up to the midrange EX and you'll get 17-inch alloy wheels, power-sliding side doors, heated outside mirrors, tri-zone automatic climate control, a removable front center console, a multifunction second-row seat, retractable second-row sunshades, a conversation mirror and an upgraded audio system with 2GB of digital music storage, seven speakers and steering-wheel-mounted controls.
EX-L versions add still more upscale standard features including a power liftgate, a sunroof, leather upholstery, a power front passenger seat, heated front seats, a chilled storage box, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, Bluetooth, satellite radio and a USB audio input. The EX-L's options list includes a choice of either a voice-operated navigation system with 15GB of digital storage and a rearview camera or a rear-seat entertainment system with a 9-inch screen and a 115-volt AC household-style power outlet; the two systems can't be ordered together on the EX-L.
Move up to the Touring and Touring Elite models and you gain 18-inch alloy wheels, foglights, front and rear parking sensors, memory settings for the driver, retractable third-row sunshades and a fold-down armrest for third-row passengers and both the navigation and rear-seat entertainment systems as standard. The new Touring Elite model adds xenon headlights, a blind spot warning system, an upgraded rear-seat entertainment system with a 16-inch HD widescreen video monitor (with HDMI input) and a premium 650-watt, 12-speaker surround-sound audio system.
This new Odyssey's updated exterior may be the first thing that catches your eye, but the most significant changes are inside. The Odyssey's growth spurt has made room for a new second-row seat that's nearly 4 inches wider than the one in the outgoing model, a change that makes it roomy enough to fit three car seats side by side. The reconfigured seat's center section also slides forward 5.5 inches (except on the LX trim) to put little ones within easy reach of mom and dad.
The third-row seat also benefits from the new Odyssey's larger dimensions with an extra 1.1 inches of legroom. This 60/40-split bench still drops neatly into the deep well just inside the rear liftgate, but now the process is easier thanks to changes in the folding mechanism. Yanking out the second-row seats -- which are light enough for a reasonably fit adult to wrangle into the garage -- opens up a total interior cargo capacity of 148 cubic feet.
Honda designers have also added a handful of clever details, including a new removable center console with a handy flip-up trash bag holder and a "cool box" beverage cooler built into the bottom of the dash's center section. On the electronics front, the new "multiview" back-up camera offers three different driver-selectable perspectives on the area behind the rear bumper. Top-of-the-line Touring Elite models also get a new rear-seat video entertainment system that includes a super-wide high-definition 16-inch screen that can display two different program sources -- say, a DVD movie and a video game, for example -- at the same time.
Though it's been redesigned, the Odyssey's dash can still be a bit daunting. We counted more than 80 buttons and dials at the driver's command in the range-topping Touring Elite. Fortunately, most of these controls are logically grouped for easier operation, but we found their small labels hard to decipher at a glance.
The Honda Odyssey comes with a 3.5-liter V6 rated at 248 horsepower and 250 pound-feet of torque. The LX, EX and EX-L models send that power to the front wheels through a five-speed automatic transmission; Touring and Touring Elite versions get a new six-speed automatic. EPA estimates for the five-speed automatic-equipped versions are 18 mpg city/27 mpg highway and 21 mpg combined, while those fitted with the six-speed transmission post 19/28/22.
In testing, a six-speed Odyssey Touring Elite accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 7.9 seconds, which is essentially a dead heat with the Toyota Sienna's 7.7 seconds.
Considering it essentially uses the same powertrain as the previous generation, it should come as no surprise that the 2011 Honda Odyssey LX and EX models feel very familiar. Performance is more than adequate for most people's daily needs. Touring models are a bit more responsive thanks to their six-speed automatic transmission that executes shifts quickly and smoothly. Even though the Odyssey is outpowered by the Toyota Sienna's 266-hp V6, this new powertrain feels just as lively, with either minivan able to confidently merge onto the highway or pass slower moving traffic.
Complementing this extra oomph is a retuned suspension that delivers a comfortable ride and excellent handling. Part of the credit for this above-average drivability goes to the reworked body structure that's both more rigid and between 50 and 100 pounds lighter depending on the model. Larger brake discs result in improved braking ability, though the pedal does feel unsettlingly spongy.
On the inside, the 2011 Honda Odyssey is as quiet as a premium luxury sedan. Road and wind noise are nearly silent, as is the drivetrain. Honda's continuing use of active noise-cancelling technology contributes to the impressively peaceful cabin by emitting counter-phase sound through the speakers to eliminate much of the drone that passengers would otherwise hear.
The 2011 Honda Odyssey comes standard with antilock disc brakes with brake assist, electronic stability and traction control, active front head restraints, side-impact airbags for front seat passengers and side curtain airbags that cover all three rows. In Edmunds brake testing from 60 mph, the Odyssey required 129 feet to come to a stop, which is an acceptable distance among minivans. Even after repeated braking runs, this distance remained consistent with no sign of fade.
The 2011 Honda Odyssey has been completely redesigned. Highlights include sleeker styling, a roomier interior, improved fuel economy and new features like a chilled storage box and a rear-seat entertainment system with surround-sound audio and a high-definition display.