Thumbs Up: The coolest minivan I’ve driven yet.
Thumbs Down: The dash has a lot of shiny, hard plastic for the price.
Buy This Car If: You need a minivan and favor Honda over all others.
I’m a sports car guy, and lately it seems like I’m driving an awful lot of manufacturer supplied minivans, crossovers and SUVs. There are two reasons behind that: first, manufacturers don’t put as many “fun” cars into the press fleet as they do “bread and butter” cars. Second, manufacturers rely on sales of segment vehicles like crossovers and minivans to keep the doors open and the lights on. If you want a new Honda / Acura NSX, they’ve to to sell a bunch on Odyssey minivans and MDX crossovers to justify the cost of NSX development and production.
I’ve driven plenty of minivans, so I’ll admit to being less than enthusiastic when Honda offered me an Odyssey for the week. I don’t have kids, I don’t play in a band and I didn’t have any cross-country road trips on the calendar, and let’s face it: minivans excel at hauling kids, hauling cargo and hauling people across long distances. They’re spacious and comfortable, but don’t exactly offer a driving enthusiast much in the way of entertainment. If you like to drive, the purchase of a minivan is usually a compromise to practicality, made only after your significant other rejects every sport sedan ride you throw her way.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I didn’t hate the Honda Odyssey. The styling almost says “tall station wagon”, and the chiseled front fascia allows the Odyssey to look less feminine than most of its competitors. I wouldn’t call the styling cutting edge or even bold, but I particularly like the side and rear three quarter appearance. The blacked out B pillars and chrome window surrounds give the Odyssey a little more attitude than competitor’s minivans, and I like the look of the plunging beltline on the rear door. Out back, the blacked-out air dam almost disappears, giving the rear cleaner lines. I’m still not a minivan guy, but I’ll admit to liking the looks of the Odyssey more than any other van on the market today.
Inside, the cabin of my Odyssey Touring Elite was what you’d expect in a high end Honda product. The dash itself is a nice blend of curves, angles and textures, but Honda gets points off for the material used. Most of the dash is hard, shiny plastic, and I really expect better in a vehicle at the Odyssey’s price point. I didn’t hear a single squeak or rattle during my time behind the wheel, but the dash materials aren’t up to those of others in the segment. That said, the rest of the interior really is among the best in class. Honda deserves praise for not integrating everything into their infotainment display; redundant audio controls reside below the simple to operate HVAC controls. The radio station presets can be accessed via clearly marked steering wheel switches or buttons on the audio system. Maybe I’m just old school, but cars should make it easy for drivers to change the temperature or scroll through the audio presets, and Honda gets an A for both. I’d recommend you spend some time with the owner’s manual, since there’s quite a few controls on the dash and a dizzying amount of storage space, including an air-conditioner-cooled center console.
Front seats are built for all-day driving, and the driver’s seat gets an inflatable lumbar cushion. The seats are heated but not cooled, and both driver and passenger get captain’s chair armrests (which really do make a difference on long road trips). The leather used seems to be thicker than in previous Honda vehicles, which tells me it’s likely to wear well and last the life of the vehicle.
Rear seat passengers don’t get shortchanged, and get even more legroom than in previous Odyssey models. Outboard rear passengers get armrests as well, and their seat backs recline for added comfort. Second row passengers get their own HVAC controls, and the Touring Elite model comes complete with a wide screen DVD player with a separate HDMI input. Hook up an external player, and the two rear passengers can watch different movies at the same time, or one can play video games while the other watches a movie. Short of shooting your kids with a tranquilizer dart before a road trip, I can’t think of a better way to ensure domestic harmony. Surprisingly, rear seat passengers don’t get heated seats.
All Odyssey models come with third row seats as standard equipment. If you don’t need the passenger capacity, the seats fold down into the floor to increase cargo room. The second row seats can even be removed to give you a significant amount of space for hauling your gear, no matter what that may be.
Power comes from a 3.5 liter V6, good for 248 horsepower and 250 ft pounds of torque. Zero to sixty comes up in under eight seconds, on par with others in the category, and fuel economy is a reasonable 19 city, 28 highway, 22 MPG combined. In my primarily city driving I saw 21.5 MPG, which isn’t bad given the Odyssey’s size. If you need to regularly haul up to eight passengers in relative comfort, you’re not going to do much better for fuel economy.
On the road, the Odyssey feels more like a big sedan than your typical minivan. There’s not a lot of body roll in corners, and the van feels quicker than it really is thanks to a new six speed automatic transmission (standard in Touring and Touring Elite models only). The 2011 Odyssey is lighter than the outgoing model (by up to 100 pounds), yet the structure has been noticeable stiffened to improve handling. Brake disc diameter is up as well, which makes scrubbing off speed that much easier. It’s still not a “driver’s car”, but you’ll complain less behind the wheel of the Odyssey than driving most of its competitors.
The Honda Odyssey has a cult-like following among minivan buyers, and previous generations typically sold at or above MSRP. If you wanted an Odyssey, you paid the price; if you wanted a deal, you bought someone else’s minivan. If there’s one thing I don’t get about the Odyssey, it’s the price point and content mix. My Touring Elite had a sticker price of over $44,000, yet it came with a shiny plastic dash and no heated rear seats. On the other hand, Honda is the only manufacturer I can think of who uses noise canceling technology in their minivan, which makes it as quiet as a Buick sedan on the road. Things like the rear HVAC controls and the split screen DVD are nice touches, and in typical Honda fashion the Odyssey has a reputation for reliability. Maybe customers are still paying sticker or above for Odyssey minivans, but the competition has really ramped up their game and many offer similar content at a lower price point.
My Odyssey Touring Elite came as loaded as you can get a Honda minivan, and there are no options available at this trim level. Including a destination charge of $780, my tester had a sticker price of $44,030. By way of comparison, a similarly equipped Kia Sedona EX would sticker at $32,990, a comparable Toyota Sienna Limited would sell for $43,650 and a similar trim level Dodge Grand Caravan Crew would cost $35,400. In fairness, the Odyssey has a few more bells and whistles than the others (except perhaps the comparably priced Toyota), but that’s a big price gap to justify. Is the Odyssey worth it? That’s a judgment call depending on your personal preferences and your car shopping budget. I’ll say this: the Odyssey is very good, and it’s the only one of the bunch built by Honda.