First Drive: 2011 Honda Odyssey

September 9, 2010
Minivans are great for family duty, but their appliance-like ubiquity has come to be detested by certain types of parents.

Of course, most of these people who reject simply reject minivans, and probably mutter something about how they wouldn't be caught dead in one, probably don't know that most minivans actually drive better than SUVs—even, in many cases, midsize crossover utes. The responsive-driving and cleverly packaged Honda Odyssey has always been one of the best examples; climb behind the wheel, and you're quite likely to become a minivan convert.

Honda recognizes this, and thinks it has a good chance of increasing minivan sales in going after a new crowd. With the redesigned 2011 Odyssey, Honda is for the first time going after Gen X and Gen Y shoppers who, Honda says, have grown up to be a little more family-minded than their parents. Some of these shoppers will still reject the minivan outright, but a large portion of them are "hesitators," debating between a minivan and an SUV.

So to go after those younger families, and to convince them that the Odyssey is a better choice, Honda placed more of an emphasis on styling, while improving interior comfort, refinement, and features.

While the Odyssey's space-efficient, box-on-wheels intent is unmistakable, from straight ahead and behind, the Odyssey's look is surprisingly conservative, with strong influences from Honda's cars rather than trucks. From the side, it's more interesting; the Odyssey gets a sleeker look, with a slightly more arched roofline, brightwork accenting all around, and most notably, the "lightning bolt" hump along the rear window—complemented by a sculpted (aerodynamically functional) rear fender. While the Lincoln MKT has a comparable beltline rise, the Odyssey's drops down, to give the third row more glass. In front, the small front windows, ahead of the doors, are a functional cue shared with Honda's small cars.

Inside, the changes are evolutionary at first glance. Although materials are completely new, the instrument panel hasn't really changed much in structure. Honda kept to a "cool and intuitive" theme and aimed to make the Odyssey a little easier to operate. That, officials said, meant keeping knobs and buttons large, as well as high enough.

Better mileage, new six-speed

The powertrain in the 2011 Honda Odyssey is familiar—a variation of the same 3.5-liter i-VTEC V-6, here making 247 horsepower and 250 lb-ft of torque. The slight power and torque gains come via a new two-stage intake and cold-air intake system. While all Odysseys come with the same engine, top-of-the-line Touring and Touring Elite models get a six-speed automatic and the rest of the line gets a five-speed auto. Fuel economy ratings are improved by two to four miles per gallon—to as high as 19 mpg city, 28 highway—through aerodynamic improvements, improved accessory management, and an improved Variable Cylinder Management system, also featured across the line, that will run the engine on as few as three cylinders during coasting or low-speed cruising. Honda couldn't do any better with a four-cylinder engine, an official said, so don't hold out for a smaller engine. Considering the Odyssey's 21-gallon fuel tank, it should be good for at least 500 miles of highway cruising, if your bladder can make it.

There's no breaking from the minivan mold here. Acceleration isn't quick, but it feels fast enough; with the six-speed, the Odyssey can get to 62 mph in 8.8 seconds, according to Honda.

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