Back in the 1960s and ’70s, the then-popular station wagon was the vehicle of choice for active families on the go.
That all changed in 1984, when Chrysler Corp. launched the Dodge Grand Caravan/Plymouth Voyager, thus creating the minivan category and forever changing the concept of family transportation.
Other automakers quickly followed suit, launching their own versions of the hot-selling people hauler. While Honda was late in the game with their debut of the first-generation Odyssey in 1995, it quickly became a favored pick among female minivan users, more commonly known as “soccer moms.”
Sure, sport-utility vehicles have taken a bite out of the minivan market over the past decade or so, but when it comes to shuttling multiple passengers and their personal belongings, minivans are the clear top choice.
Although the Odyssey had a rather humble debut 16 years ago, it quickly hit its stride once Honda came out with the second-generation model in 1999, which featured a spacious cabin and an innovative third-row seat that folded into the floor.
Throughout the years, the Honda Odyssey made a strong showing, usually earning top honors in every minivan comparison test out there. There are other minivans that rival the Odyssey’s family friendly features, but Honda combines those attributes with confidence-inspiring driving dynamics and a longstanding record of reliability, making it an allaround family hauler favorite.BEST HONDA ODYSSEY YET
Now in its fourth generation, the Odyssey continues to be one of the top minivans currently available in the market. It competes against the Dodge Grand Caravan/Chrysler Town & Country, the Toyota Sienna and the Kia Sedona, and, to a lesser degree, against the smaller Mazda 5 and the Kia Rondo.
For the 2011 model, the Honda Odyssey has been completely redesigned from the ground up, inside and out. Compared with the previous model, it has sleeker styling, a roomier interior, improved fuel economy and new features.
There are now five trim levels available: LX, EX, EX-L, Touring and the new top-of-the-line Touring Elite. Starting prices range from $37,000 for a base LX up to $54,000 for a Touring Elite.
The entry-level LX comes fairly well-equipped with features like a power driver’s seat, a 60/40-split folding third-row seat, air conditioning and a full-power accessories jack.
The EX adds items like alloy wheels, power sliding side doors, tri-zone automatic climate control, a multifunction second-row seat and an upgraded audio system. EX-L models offer further enhancements that include a power liftgate, a sunroof and leather upholstery.
The Touring and Touring Elite models will get you the latest navigation and rear-seat entertainment systems.PEPPY POWERTRAIN
All Honda Odysseys are powered by a 248-horsepower, 3.5-liter, single-overhead-cam i-VTEC V6 engine. The LX, EX and EX-L models come with a five- speed automatic transmission, while the Touring and Touring Elite models sport a six-speed for slightly better fuel economy and acceleration.
The engine’s Variable Cylinder Management (VCM) feature allows it to produce responsive power while maintaining high levels of fuel efficiency. Compared to the five-speed automatic transmission, the six-speed has lower gear ratios in first through fifth gears to enhance acceleration, and the sixth gear ratio is higher to enhance fuel economy.
EPA mileage estimates for the Odyssey models with the 5-speed automatic are 18 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city, 27 mpg on the highway. The6-speed-equipped Odysseys are rated at 19 mpg city and 28 mpg highway.
On the road, the Odyssey impresses thanks to its smooth but peppy V6 and relatively agile handling.
Inside, Honda’s minivan boasts tight build quality and spacious, comfortable seating areas. Compared with previous Odyssey generations, the current model is significantly quieter on the road. However, the cockpit remains heavy on the use of buttons, especially the center stack.VERSATILE INTERIOR
The 2011 Odyssey interior focuses on providing three rows of comfortable, adult friendly seating together with a large interior volume and plenty of storage space. Overall, the interior has been widened as more convenience and functionality features have been added to all three rows.
Nine fundamental seating configurations (EX and above) can accommodate between one and eight passengers (seven with LX) simply by adding, folding or removing the modular seating elements. Innovations can be found throughout the cabin, including such features as a new secondrow “3-mode” seating configuration and a third row that is more comfortable for adults.
Engineered for a quiet interior, improvements to body rigidity help to enhance the effectiveness of the vehicle’s sounddeadening material to betterisolate road noise. The end result is a quieter cabin at highway cruising speeds with less background noise, which helps make conversations from the front of the cabin to the rear more audible.
As before, a 4-by-8 sheet of plywood can fit inside the Odyssey’s cargo bay with the second-row seats removed, and 10-foot-long 2-by-4 studs can fit inside the vehicle with the available front console removed.
Numerous storage bins for every passenger are included, starting with generously sized door bins and a thoughtful storage area for purses or other similarsized items in the available center console. Meanwhile, the lid of the front-row center console (EX and above) is sized to accept four-cup beverage holders from take-out restaurants.
The 2011 Odyssey provides up to 15 beverage holders (10 with the Odyssey LX) throughout depending on the model, seating and console configurations.
The Odyssey offers a generous 38.4 cubic feet of storage behind the third-row seat, 93.1 cubic feet of storage behind the second row, and 148.5 cubic feet of storage behind the front seats—slightly more than the previous model.THE BOTTOM LINE
With its long list of features, the 2011 Honda Odyssey Touring Elite represents the most well-equipped minivan on the market. As such, it is also the most expensive. The wide range of trim levels with increasing levels of luxury allows you to select the Odyssey that best fits your needs and budget.
The Honda Odyssey has been the top pick in the minivan category for several years, and the new 2011 model keeps that standing intact.