2011 Honda Odyssey Touring ElitePosted on April 19th, 2011
Minivan offers 8-passenger seating and great fuel economy
By Nina RussinSitting behind the wheel of the all-new Honda Odyssey, I’m reminded of the movie, “Get Shorty.” John Travolta’s character, Chili Palmer, proves that minivans can be cool, assuming the driver has the right attitude.
Unfortunately, buyers tend to write off minivans as being stodgy and unsexy. In fact, minivans are among the best active lifestyle vehicles on the market.
To paraphrase a line from the movie, the Odyssey is the Honda of minivans: it epitomizes the automaker’s talent for thoughtful design and clever engineering. The 2011 models improve on features such as variable cylinder management and the third row magic seat, and add some appealing new technologies.
The 3.5-liter iVTEC engine is more powerful than the block it replaces, while a six-speed automatic transmission on the Touring grade extends gas mileage. The Touring grade rides on 18-inch alloy wheels, with four-wheel disc brakes.
A three-mode design for the second row enables parents to move the center seat forward for better access to a small child, expand the distance between the three seats, or convert the center seat into an armrest with a work surface and cupholders.
Although the new Odyssey is wider and longer than the vehicle it replaces, it’s also lighter. The Touring model weighs about 100 pounds less than the equivalent 2010 model.
The Touring Elite is the most upscale of five available models. Base price is $43,250, not including a $780 destination charge. Standard comfort and convenience features include leather upholstery, navigation with real-time traffic updates, a DVD rear entertainment system, XM satellite radio, Bluetooth interface, tri-zone climate control, a ten-way power driver’s seat with two-position memory, heated front seats, a 115-volt power outlet, power tailgate, and auto-leveling high-intensity discharge headlamps.
Variable cylinder management extends fuel economyAlthough the Odyssey is not a hybrid, it uses a technology found in many hybrid vehicles to boost gas mileage. When engine loads are low, the on-board computer cuts the fuel to three or four engine cylinders. In terms of performance, the transition is invisible to the driver. An “eco” light illuminates on the dash, indicating the shift.
As a result, the Odyssey averages 28 miles-per-gallon on the highway, according to the EPA. Combined city and highway gas mileage for the test drive was about 23 miles-per-gallon: slightly higher than the EPA estimate. Given that I tend to drive with a lead foot, that’s a pretty good figure.
The 248-horsepower engine develops a peak 250 foot-pounds of torque at 4800 rpm. While it might not be the king of the drag strip, the Odyssey has plenty of get-up-and-go off the line, and in the 20-to-50 mile-per-hour range for merging into highway traffic.
The new six-speed automatic transmission is seamless. There is no observable shift shock during normal driving.
A fully-independent suspension consists of MacPherson struts in front and a double wishbone setup in the back. The double wishbone design is compact, maximizing the Odyssey’s available cargo space. As one might expect, the ride is somewhat soft. However having taken several decreasing radius turns at a pretty good clip, I never experienced any loss of control.
Test drive in metropolitan traffic
Unlike most of my test drives, I wanted to spend most of my time behind the wheel in urban traffic, replicating what a typical owner might experience in the course of a normal week. I drove about 150 miles on city streets and highways in Phoenix and Scottsdale, paying particular attention to the Odyssey’s maneuverability.
Although visibility around the car’s perimeter is good, the rearview camera and blind spot monitoring system make a big difference in thick traffic, as well as for maneuvering around crowded parking lots.
The blind spot monitoring system illuminates symbols in the A-pillars when cars pass through blind spots in the car’s back corners. The rearview camera offers a top-down view as well as the wide-angle view to the back, making it easier to spot obstacles around the car’s exterior.
Steering feedback from the variable assist rack-and-pinion system is quite good, combining plenty of maneuverability at low speeds with decent on-center response on the highway. Drivers should have no problems maintaining control during an emergency lane change.
A 36-foot turning radius is excellent for a vehicle of this size, making it easy to weave through dense traffic, park on the street and perform the occasional U-turn.
Interior designed for active families
Minivans are first and foremost about the interior, which must accommodate the needs of multiple family members. I was impressed by the head and legroom in all three rows of seats, and the ease of access to the third row.
Honda’s navigation systems are among the best in the industry. The graphics are very easy to read, and the hard drive system can reboot and redirect the driver quickly if he gets lost. Designers wisely put a large hood over the center stack screen used for navigation and the rearview camera, making the images impervious to sunlight.
A mouse device controls the system, eliminating unnecessary clutter from buttons. The dual temperature controls up front are intuitive to operate. A separate digital display shows temperature and audio settings.
A digital display inside the gauge cluster includes information about average fuel economy, range, odometer and trip duration.
Redundant controls on the steering wheel include the information screen, audio system, Bluetooth interface and cruise control, limiting driver distraction. The steering wheel itself is relatively small in diameter, making it easier for women to operate. Two memory positions allow multiple family members to share the driving.
A standard sunroof brings additional ambient light to the first and second rows. All three rows of passengers have ample access to cup and bottle holders. Temperature controls in the second row and multiple vents throughout the car keep rear passengers comfortable in temperature extremes.
The 115 volt power outlet is located outboard of the third row seats, so kids can plug in computer games. With the third row seats in place, there’s plenty of room in a deep cargo well to hold the weekly groceries. The Odyssey easily meets our bicycle-friendly standards with the third-row seats folded into the floor.
The Honda Odyssey comes standard with front, side and side curtain airbags, antilock brakes, electronic stability control, daytime running lamps and active front head restraints. Honda builds the Odyssey at its assembly plant in Lincoln, Alabama.
Likes: A smartly-engineered minivan which offers seating for up to eight passengers, a large versatile storage area and exceptional fuel economy for a vehicle of its size.
Model: Odyssey Touring Elite
Base price: $43,250
As tested: $44,030
Horsepower: 248 Hp @ 5700 rpm
Torque: 250 lbs.-ft. @ 5800 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 19/28 mpg city/highway
Comment: *Towing requires optional towing prep package and electric trailer brakes.
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