Reviews

2011 Honda Odyssey Walk Around

The 2011 Honda Odyssey is longer and two inches wider than the previous generation but half an inch lower, so while the aerodynamics are said to be better by 5.5 percent, the net improvement based on the wider front is 3 percent. Better aerodynamics positively affect both fuel economy and noise levels, and since vans don't do the high speeds of sports cars they don't need the added stability of wings and deep front spoilers.

Van dimensions and a good deal of styling is dictated by the box-like architecture, so the Odyssey is plus or minus within two inches of its competitors in every measure and Honda has added a new element with a drop in the lower window line behind the sliding doors. They call it the lightning bolt look and, while it has nowhere near that shock value, it does break up the monotony and improves the view out from the third row.

The door handles are moved closer together and paired in a mild recess, loosely reminding one of the fixtures on a Rolls-Royce with rear-hinged rear doors. New for 2011, the power sliding doors can be opened with the brakes on, without having to shift to Park first, which better matches the way we live (though we recommend shifting into Park). As is often the case on vans the trim piece below the third-row window and above the sliding door track may not exactly match the color on the fender below it over time, and darker colors hide that track better than lighter colors.

Up front, a new grille and lighting for 2011 appear to be a cross between Honda's Insight and Civic and Toyota's Sienna. Here again, van shapes and function conspire to limit daring, as does the somewhat mundane mission of most vans. The Odyssey's shape is not unpleasant by any means, it just comes across as nondescript rather than bold.

At the rear the roofline echoes that of sister-brand Acura's MDX or Mercedes' R-Class, much like a tent pulled taut over a stake. Taillights use clear-lens signals with amber bulbs for some visual pop without the expense of LED lamps. A spoiler atop the hatch is standard on all, and the power tailgate (EX-L and above) has pinch-protection in both directions and can now be opened with the remote without first unlocking the van. Roof rails are a dealer accessory.

Touring models have a few distinguishing features, including small panels under the sides and revised mirrors to smooth airflow, and larger-diameter wheels. They also use a laminated windshield to minimize wind noise.

Interior

Honda has set up the 2011 Odyssey to carry seven (LX) to eight people (everything else) in total or six adults more comfortably than any SUV right up to Cadillac's long-wheelbase Escalade. Only a Sprinter van, bus or motorhome offers notably more interior space.

Odyssey uses cloth upholstery on lower models and leather on the others, with carpeting throughout and soft-touch panels above the muddy foot zone. Even the base LX doesn't feel like a commercial vehicle, while a Touring model is easily as luxurious as the nicest Accord. A slew of items will keep first-time buyers discovering useful bins, thoughtful design and more why didn't I think of that than it's about time moments. If you've never owned a van you may wonder how you ever managed without one.

The basic dash and control layout is conventional and the styling conservative; the Nike-like swoosh of woodgrain on a fancy Sienna's interior is more distinct and it has dual gloveboxes, but the controls aren't quite as logical or familiar and the glovebox lid seems flimsy next to the Odyssey.

Typical gauges are easily viewed through the tilt/telescoping steering column, and any of four display screens are top center shaded by a hood; we had no issues with polarized sunglasses and any of the displays. Center vents frame all the climate controls, including a sync button to match all the zones; the rear-seat climate controls are overhead where it's nearly impossible to spill anything on them. Audio/entertainment input is below that, and the lowest controls (still an easy reach for driver or passenger) are those for the navigation and car systems. Operation of all controls is reasonably intuitive, and if buttons annoy you, simply use the voice-recognition.

Every Odyssey has a power-adjustable driver's seat and with the adjustable column adjustable pedals aren't needed. Some taller drivers may find the shift lever housing an uncomfortable place to rest their right leg. The view outward is very good with moderate size pillars and low-profile headrests. The drop-down video screens take away some rear vision but not all of it; eight passengers will be more of an issue because the center shoulder belts anchor in the roof on opposite sides. Top-line models have parking sensors, multi-view rear camera and blind-spot warning, but we had no issues with blind spots.

Second-row seats have been redesigned and can be moved apart so that three child seats will fit, or you can have two child seats and still be able to move the third section for back-row access. The middle section slides forward for an easier reach for front-row occupants, or creates a large center armrest, and all can be removed for cargo. One lever will fold, tilt, slide or remove the seats.

Third-row seats set a new standard in legroom no minivan or SUV can match, with as much space as the front seats in Cadillac's Escalade or Odyssey's first two rows. It's three-wide for kids and two for adults, with headrests that will keep the tallest occupants protected. The wrap-over roof corners do make the pillars feel closer than on the Sienna. As before, the split-folding rear seat can be folded into the floor with one tug.

Gadgets and flexibility make vans, and the Odyssey does not disappoint. Though they vary by model, you can get a six-pack sized coolbox under the dash, purse and grocery hooks, fifteen beverage holders, four coat hooks, a trash bag holder behind the console, reading lights throughout, and smaller bins and cubbies scattered about. Indeed, these are great vehicles for six adults for a night out on the town.

On leather-equipped Odysseys you can get a conventional rear-seat entertainment system. The Touring Elite's entertainment system uses a 16.2-inch widescreen that shows side-by-side images or one panorama and has 650 watts driving 12 speakers in 5.1 surround to insure if anyone asks Are we there yet? you will not hear them.

The lazy Susan underfloor storage area of earlier Odysseys, which tended to store things long-term like a teenager's bedroom, now carries the spare tire. If you get a flat the flat tire will not fit in that space but is secured behind (or on top of a folded seat) the third row.

For big stuff the cargo area holds about 38.5 cubic feet of gear, just seven less than the biggest SUV. With the third-row folded it grows to 93 cubic feet and behind the first row 148.5 cubic feet, both more than a big utility. A 4×8-foot sheet of building materials will go flat on the floor and with the front console removed, 10-foot long 2x4s will go inside. The floors are closer to station wagon height than SUV, easing heavy-object loading but if it's really heavy fold the rear seat or you'll be lifting it out of the cargo well.

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