Driving a vehicle around at a press introduction is one thing, but actually living with it is something else. That statement might not be more true than when reviewing a minivan.
1. The new 2011 Odyssey comes with a top-level Touring Elite trim that includes an Ultra-Wide Rear Entertainment System with a 16.2-inch flip-down screen and 12-speaker, 650-watt surround sound system.
2. A new Wide Mode seating arrangement allows the outside sections of the 2nd row bench to slide out to make room for three child seats side-by-side or two child seats next to each other with access to the third row.
3. All EX trim and up models come with power 2nd row doors that can be operated using the key fob.
4. Touring Elite models get 19/28-mpg thanks to a 6-speed automatic.
5. The 2011 Odyssey starts at $27,800 and tops out at $43,250 for the Touring Elite model.
Sure PR reps can tell you about a car’s features, but in a vehicle like the all-new 2011 Honda Odyssey, where most of the gadgets are designed to be used by kids or at least with kids, actually experiencing what is available is nearly impossible without a full-on family test.
So to really get a feel for what the new Odyssey has to offer, Honda lent us a top-trim Touring Elite model for over the Holidays to use, and abuse.
NEW ‘WIDE MODE’ 2ND ROW SEATS IDEAL FOR TWO OR MORE KIDS
First came installing two child seats, side by side, just like Honda says you can. It look a little fiddling, but I managed to slide apart the center bench into its three sections to make room for the carseats, even sliding the center portion forward for better access to my six month-old son on the four hour road-trip to the in-laws.
Next came packing the van, and when you’re playing Santa Claus and need to bring Christmas with you (and then back home again, adding in the excessive generosity of grandparents, aunts and uncles) the cavernous recesses of a vehicle come into play. Minivans will always carry a stigma, but when it comes to sheer interior volume, nothing short of a u-haul can offer the same. Smaller vans have their place and offer far more functionality than almost any crossover, but this holiday journey meant even our Mazda5 wasn’t going to do. The Odyssey doesn’t disappoint with 38.4 cu-ft available behind the third row.
We, however, would need every cubic foot possible, dropping the ‘magic seats’ into the floor to expand that number to 93.1 cu-ft and then filling it nearly to the roof with presents. Then just push the power liftgate button and walk away.
IT’S BIG INSIDE AND OUT
Finally on the road, the Odyssey feels its size. Sure Honda has done a great job in making it the most car-like van available (with the exception of smaller vehicles like the Mazda5), but there’s no denying its footprint. In fact, it’s one of the few times we’ve ever really used the backup camera on a press car consistently, needing to rely on the screen to get out of tight spots at the grocery store or even back out of the in-laws’ driveway. Driving a larger vehicle always takes some getting used to.
A Blind Sport information System, only available on the top-level Touring Elite trim, also proved incredibly useful for changing lanes out on the highway. Considering the Odyssey’s size, this really ought to be standard, or at least optional on every level.
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The Odyssey’s main competitor, the Toyota Sienna, might be wallowier in the corners, but arguably the softer ride is preferable for a vehicle that’s essentially a limo for your kids.
Parents feel civilized up front with all the amenities you’d get in a luxury SUV. Which is good because it costs like one. The Honda’s leather might be made for durability (a definite plus), but it feels a bit low grade when you’re spending $43,000.
This time on our journey (a trip our family makes every few months) the timing worked out perfectly and neither of the kids needed to stop. The Odyssey didn’t either thanks to a massive gas tank and what is easily the most fuel-efficient engine in a minivan on the market. In fact, Honda’s V6, when paired with the 6-speed transmission on the top-trim Touring Elite model, gets better fuel economy than the Sienna 4-cylinder at 19/28-mpg.
MASSIVE 16.2-INCH REAR ENTERTAINMENT SYSTEM
Contributing to our toddler’s willingness to be cooped up in a booster seat for 4 hours was the massive 16.2-inch rear entertainment screen. Even those opposed to TVs in cars will be forced to admit that on longer road trips it’s a blessing. From the driver’s seat, the surround sound of the Cars movie is impressive and the adults on board can even enjoy the soundtrack – which is good because the wireless headphones are too big for a toddler to use.
Another drawback of the system is that it’s hardly user friendly. We understand the inherent safety issues of allowing the video to play on the Nav screen at the front of the car, but if it could even just show the menu screen for the DVD so the front seat passenger could set up a video for the kids it would be much appreciated.
On kid-less drives we were able to fully test out the audio system and while the quality of the upgraded 12-speaker setup is impressive, in true Honda fashion it certainly doesn’t seem like 650-watts of power.
Our rear-facing 6-month old didn’t get to enjoy the movies (nor would we really want him to at this age), but we did notice one other advantage to being able to put the two child seats next to each other. They kids (they’re good kids) kept each other company, our daughter taking the occasional break from her videos to touch and talk to her brother and even report back to us when he was or wasn’t sleeping.
Having arrived at the in-laws, the van’s many features continued to come in handy. It’s easy to question why anyone with less than three children needs a vehicle like this, but if you’ve got to transport a highchair (plus a booster seat) from one set of grandparents to another, the space is not put to waste.
ADDED FEATURES COME IN HANDY
Over an extended period with the Odyssey, arguably the most used and most loved feature is the power sliding side doors. Just lift the handle slightly and the doors open or close completely, or better yet use the buttons built into the B-pillar, or the ones on the dash to effortlessly open and close the second row doors. You can even operate the doors via the key fob. Standard on EX trim levels, getting the base model LX is just slumming it by comparison.
And yet with the key-fob activated doors, noticeably absent on the Odyssey is a keyless entry system and the lack of a push button ignition, both of which are features any hands-full busy parent could use.
All Touring models come with GPS and while it wasn’t necessary on our trip, once we got there it did help find the hospital when our daughter came down with what turned out to be pneumonia.
Even handier was the Odyssey’s ‘cool box’ which when packed with a few ice packs kept her antibiotics cool on the drive home when it was finally time to leave Ma and Pa’s a few days later.
After a week out of town and a long drive home, we gave in to the temptations of the golden arches. At the press intro for the van a few months ago Honda had said how the center console will fit a drink tray. What they didn’t mention is how tight a fit it is, meaning that you’ll need to give a little extra effort to squeeze it in place, but that you’re drinks might just stay put even if you drive it like a Miata at an autocross.
There truly is no better way to properly experience what a car has to offer than to live with it, and our prolonged time with the Odyssey proved just what a well-rounded package it is and just how handy all that functionality can be. And that’s important, because we’d bet that if you look at a car’s true capabilities and how much those are really used, minivan owners are far more likely to demand the most from their vehicle on a daily basis. How often do Porsche owners hit the racetrack and how often to Jeep drivers tackle the Rubicon trail?
True, the Odyssey isn’t exactly a value proposition when you look specifically at the price tag, but when it comes to minivans, value is determined more by the features it has and how they make life easier. Combined with Honda’s reputation for building reliable and durable vehicles, if you need a minivan, the Odyssey might just be the smartest purchase you’ll ever make.