First Drive: 2011 Honda Odyssey Page 2

September 9, 2010
Not all is perfect about the powertrain. Transmission behavior, as we've found in other Honda products, can be obstinate at partial throttle. If you're puttering around town, rolling through a stop sign causes a moment of hesitation as the slushbox debates about which gear to pick; the same thing happens in the higher gears when you're getting back on the gas out of a sweeping corner in Drive. There's no way to command individual gears, just the confusing combination of an 'L' mode as well as an O/D-off button on the selector. Of course, drive with your right foot mashed to the floor and the shifts are decisive, quick, and smooth.

Surprising poise

Although the Odyssey is much more closely related to the Pilot SUV, it really handles a lot like a V-6 Accord. We don't know how they do it, but the engineers manage to set this minivan corner with remarkable poise. The suspension, isolated with separate front and rear subframes, really works, omitting the sorts of queasy secondary motions that plague most of the SUV field, along with some minivans, while quelling road shocks. Part of the success could be weight control—Honda managed to actually cut about a hundred pounds from the loaded Odyssey Touring (or 50 pounds off the base model) versus 2010.

Steering remains excellent. The Odyssey has a variable-displacement power-steering pump that works splendidly, providing more power assist at parking speeds and less at higher speeds, with more effort and even a little feedback in tight twisties. Our only complaint was that Honda made it a little lighter above parking-lot speeds this time around.

We noticed very little difference in cornering feel between an EX test vehicle and a top-of-the-line Touring Elite, though the slightly harder-compound, taller sidewall tires that came with the EX were far more vocal. On a twisty road, we were left wishing for more lateral support from the front seats, along with more mid-back support.

A quiet living room on wheels

Active noise cancellation and active engine mounts, two of Honda's trump-card technologies that only made it to top trims of past Odysseys with cylinder deactivation, is standard equipment in all trims of this version. These systems help quell any of that powertrain roughness, as well as some road noise, electronically in conjunction with traditional noise abatement to keep the cabin quiet. And it's luxury-car quiet inside.

Although the basic footprint hasn't changed, the new Odyssey is a little bit wider and lower than the model it replaces, making it very slightly roomier inside. It's still a huge van inside—really, a living room on wheels.

And it's 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. Now, with a hand-held strap, you can fold either section of the seat into the floor with a single motion. Honda didn't bother with a power-folding third row arrangement, as all the ones that it tried took longer to deploy and were unnecessarily complicated. Honda's system is simple, elegant, and easy enough to do even with an arm of groceries. The spare tire has been relocated from beside the third row to under the floor in the middle space between the first and second rows. This not only helps keep a lower center of mass but also allows a wider third-row bench.

The second row is still a little more confining, for headroom particularly. While this 6'-6" editor fit well enough to be good for quick trips in the third row, I would have been happy all day in the second row.

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