10 years ago, minivans were everywhere. Just about every major automobile manufacturer had at least one version in their line up and they were generally regarded as the one of the most practical vehicle categories for families. Jump forward to today however, and the list of manufacturers still manufacturing minivans has shrunk dramatically. 7 or 8 passenger models now commonly take on the shape of SUV’s or CUV’s, presuming the manufacturer even makes a 3 row passenger family vehicle at all.
One of the stalwarts in the minivan category over the years has been Honda and its venerable and time tested entry into this category, the Odyssey. Since 1994 the Honda Odyssey has been a significant player in the minivan segment. With the 2011 model year, Honda has rolled out its 4th generation Odyssey and seems to be in no hurry to vacate a market segment that others seem to want nothing to do with anymore.
With the latest redesign of the Odyssey, Honda designers have created a minivan that upon first glance is both wider and has a lower roofline than its previous version. The overall effect is that to the eye, it comes off as more sleek and modern looking. It also gives itself a visual distinction from some of its remaining competitors such as the Dodge Grand Caravan and the Nissan Quest, who have created a much more vertical and boxy looking vehicle with their latest redesigns.
While the Odyssey is lower than previous versions, when you step inside one does NOT get the same feeling. Seating was spacious and comfortable for seven. Captain’s chairs made up the 1st 2 rows with a bench 60/40 split 3rd row. I was given the top line Touring model which came appointed with full leather trim and a host of other features. At one point I couldn’t help but wonder at just how far removed this version was from its very first incarnation way back in 1994.
Let’s be clear about something with respect to minivans. They are built and designed for comfort and practicality with respect to the needs of a typical family. They are not designed to get your heart racing, they do not come with 5 point harnesses for all occupants and they will not be found on any racing circuit (that I’m aware of) anytime soon.
Having said all that, at no time during my week in the Odyssey did I feel that the vehicle was under-powered or lacking in ability when considering what it’s designed for.
All versions of the 2011 Odyssey are equipped with a 3.5L 24 valve V6 engine. It puts out 248 hp and 250 lbs of torque. What I did find disappointing is the fact that there was not an option available for a smaller 4 cylinder engine should anyone need the passenger space but not the horsepower or torque and wanted to have a vehicle that was better on fuel. The Toyota Sienna offers a 4 cylinder version and my advice to Honda and others would be to consider this as well.
Fuel consumption for the Odyssey varies slightly depending on the version you have. All versions except for the Touring come equipped with a 5 speed automatic while the Touring comes with a 6 speed and offers slightly better fuel efficiency. The Touring version, with its 6 speed automatic has a fuel efficiency rating in Litres per 100 km’s of (City/Hwy/Combined): 10.9 / 7.1 / 9.2. The 5 speed automatic found in the LX, EX and EX-L versions offers a fuel efficiency rating in Litres per 100 km’s of (City/Hwy/Combined): 11.7 / 7.2 / 9.7. This puts it about on par with the Toyota Sienna (4 cyl) and the Nissan Quest and ahead of The Dodge Grand Caravan and Volkswagen Routan among others.
One of the factors contributing to the demise of the minivan is the fact that consumers are looking for vehicles that are good on gas given high fuel prices of the last few years and a concern for our environment. While automakers are making strides to bring more fuel efficient cars to market, I still don’t see enough work being done in this category or in any category capable of meeting the needs of large families like mine. I can certainly hope that this is an omission that is being worked on by all companies as I write this.
Both the suspension and handling on the Odyssey is firm and fair enough to provide the level of comfort and control that a family vehicle should have.
Let’s face it, if a minivan is not comfortable than it has no business being a minivan. The Odyssey does not disappoint here as seatin g i n all 3 rows is comfortable.
The driver’s seat comes equipped with an 8 way power adjustment and power lumbar support. The front passenger seat is equipped with a 4 way power adjustment. Both front seats are heated and legroom is generally ample for all.
My one big criticism with driving comfort comes from the fact that the left foot rest which is often found on all vehicles is pushed forwa rd well beyond what I found to be comfortable. I wasn’t able to stretch out my left leg for comfort unless I momentarily stretched it beyond the brake pedal (not advisable). I recognize that this has to do with the placement of the front left wheel well, but the shortness of space would ultimately make for a very difficult long drive, especially for anyone taller than about 5’10”.
GADGETS AND GIZMOS
Vehicles designed for families and comfort, are usually well equipped with various gadgets and gizmos and the 2011 Honda Odyssey is no exception.
It was not more than a few years ago that having an OEM built in DVD player was an uber-cool luxury. Nowadays though, especially where families and long drives are concerned they are almost mandatory. All versions of the Odyssey except for the base level LX have a DVD system as either standard or optional. The Touring version I had offered an upgraded version that had a 16 inch wide screen monitor which is great for watching movies that are almost always now designed for the 16:9 aspect ratio that is consistent with virtually all TV’s nowadays.
The audio system on the Touring edition was a monster 650 watt (my ears are still ringing) 12 speaker system with subwoofer and 5.1 surround sound. A huge 15GB HDD drive for storing more songs than I think I’ve ever owned comes on the Touring model, while a more reasonable 2 GB HDD is available on the EX and EX-L versions.
One feature that we found particularly cool (pardon the pun) was a Cool Box unit below the front centre console. It kept drinks cool for the Sunday drive our family took and while you wouldn’t use it all the time it was a nice feature. There were also 15, yes 15 beverage holders throughout to place any of the cooled beverages in place.
The GPS system that Honda uses tends to be one of my favourites. Information, directions and clarity of display are all very functional and easy to understand which can’t be sai d for the systems of some other manufacturers. The rear camera system on the Touring model came with a unique feature in that it offered not only a straight bac k rear view but a view from the top down, thus offering yet another vantage point to make sure nothing is there that shouldn’t be when backing up.
Despite having plenty of room for up to 8 passengers, there is still a healthy amount of storage space available in the Odyssey. The rear cargo area offers almost 1100 litres of space which we found more than ample when we did our weekly grocery shop for six. With the option of an easy fold down 3rd row, there is ample space for just about all applications one would expect to need cargo space for. I almost wish that I had decided to test the Odyssey this week as my family heads out for a couple days of camping and my wife and I are fretting about how to place all our stuff in our 2004 Montana.
The power Lift-gate is also a nice touch and a great convenience factor when hands are typically full and in not able to fiddle with latches or levers.
I have to admit that as a family man and a father of four, the minivan is a category of vehicle that still has great appeal to me. While I’d dearly love to see the advances made with fuel efficiency make its way to this category (Hybrid Minivan anyone?) I nonetheless have to deal with the reality that I will always require a vehicle with 3 rows to meet the needs of my family.
With that in mind, I have to say that the Honda Odyssey is a strong candidate in a dwindling category. While it’s disappointing to see fewer minivan models available, it’s good to know that those which remain offer solid technology, reliable comfort and convenience as well as appealing designs and aesthetics. The 2011 Honda Odyssey is a solid entry that should easily be able to maintain its market share and remain a minivan mainstay for hopefully years to come.
ENVIRO DAD’S Test Drive Ratings (Out of 5):
(MSRP as tested $46,990)
OVERALL RATING: 4.0