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Honda is targeting younger Gen X and Gen Y families for the first time with the 2011 Odyssey, and it shows. While preserving the Odyssey's status as the perkiest-driving minivan, Honda has improved seating and interior space, made more provisions for child and booster seats, and added new connectivity and entertainment options that make this minivan a better place for busy parents and kids.
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.
The Odyssey's look is evolutionary, for sure, but its new lightning-bolt beltline is a bit controversial. While pictures don't always do it justice, we think the new cue, which drops the beltline a bit just behind the sliding door, adds style as well as function, with third-row passengers getting a bit more window space—and accommodating the slightly curvier roofline and thicker back pillar that's common to other Hondas like the CR-V.
There's not a lot of news regarding the powertrain or the way the Odyssey drives, and that's a good thing. The 2011 Honda Odyssey carries over the same 3.5-liter i-VTEC V-6 engine, here making 247 hp; top Touring and Touring Elite models of the new Odyssey get a new six-speed automatic transmission, while the rest of the line does just fine with a five-speed. Vans with the six-speed, however, are the best on fuel; they get ratings up to 19 mpg city, 28 highway, and all Odyssey models now have Variable Cylinder Management to save gas and active noise cancellation to bolster the Odyssey's already quiet and refined interior. Handling is top-notch, and you can drive an Odyssey on tight, twisty roads with the same verve as you would a sporty sedan.
The Odyssey is absolutely loaded with thoughtful touches. Three rows of seating are now even better for six adults, thanks to a new second-row configuration that allows the outboard seats to actually tilt and slide outward—changing the width of the second row depending on whether there are two adults, three, or a combination of child seats there (there are now five sets of LATCH connectors, for child seats). The third row gains an inch of legroom and in some trims an armrest, while its folding mechanism gets even better.
Connectivity is much-improved, with new iPod and USB interfaces now included with the top sound system, but a Bluetooth hands-free interface is still the exclusive domain of top trims. In typical Honda fashion, some of the top features, such as a blind-spot system, auto-leveling HIS headlamps, and a new hard-drive-based music system, are the exclusive domain of top 2010 Honda Odyssey Touring and Touring Elite models. The new navigation system receives free FM-based traffic updates, voice commands have been dramatically upgraded, and the stunning wide-screen entertainment system has a first-in-class HDMI input, to hook up media players or laptops.