Minivans started out as inexpensive family trucksters. A 1984 Plymouth Voyager – the grand-daddy of them all – had a sticker price of about $8,200. Even adjusted for inflation, that’s still just over $17,000 in 2011 Fed funny money.
Today’s minivans have gone high-end. I just tested a 2011 Honda Odyssey – a van that can top $43,000 – not far off the base price of a Mercedes E-Class sedan.
To be sure, the Odyssey is a very nice minivan.
But – wow.
These things may still be family trucksters – but your family better have some serious means to even think about buying one.
WHAT IT IS
The Odyssey is a full-size/seven passenger minivan. Prices start at $27,800 for an LX and top out at $43,250 for a Touring Elite with amenities and features comparable to current mid-sized luxury sedans.
Competitors include the Toyota Sienna and Chrysler’s Town & Country (also re-sold by VW as the Routan).
WHAT’S NEW FOR 2011
The 2011 Odyssey is completely redesigned.
A surround sound-equipped, chill box-fitted, Hi-Def DVD-enabled luxury bus that’s nicer than some people’s condos – and nearly as roomy, too.
Wider cabin (by about 4 inches) means you can mount three child seats side-by-side in the second row.
It handles – really!
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
Can cost almost as much as a nice condo, too.
AWD not offered with Odyssey but is available in competitors like Sienna and T&C .
And for for less money, too.
UNDER THE HOOD
The 2011 Odyssey comes standard with a 3.5 liter V-6 that’s paired with either a five speed or – in top-of-the-line Touring versions – six-speed automatic transmission.
The 3.5 liter V-6 is shared with other Honda models like the Accord sedan but in the Odyssey it’s tuned down a little to 248 hp (vs. 271 hp in the Accord). Still, performance – for a minivan or otherwise – is very good. Zero to 60 takes about 7.6 seconds.
The Odyssey continues to be front-wheel-drive only – even though its primary competition (the Chrysler T&C and the Toyota Sienna) both can be equipped with AWD.
Another interesting counterpoint is that the Sienna can be ordered with a four-cylinder engine (2.7 liters, 187 hp) but even though it has two less cylinders and almost 60 fewer horses, the four-cylinder Sienna’s gas mileage (19 city, 24 highway) isn’t an improvement over the V-6 Odyssey.
Six-speed-equipped Touring versions get slightly better fuel economy (19 city, 28 highway) than lower-tier models with the five-speed transmission (18 city, 27 highway).
Max trailer towing capacity is 3,500 lbs.
ON THE ROAD
Minivans, like SUVs, have come a long way in 20 years. The Odyssey is as smooth, quiet and comfortable as an E-Class Mercedes . . . that seats seven people.
Honda uses “active” noise-cancellation technology (among other design features) to achieve this. It amounts to subtle, you-can’t-hear-it electronic emanations that feed through the vehicle’s stereo to counter unpleasant frequencies such as road drone that you might otherwise hear. It’s as dead calm quiet in the Odyssey as the stateroom of a luxury yacht – and that’s really what this thing is.
And – it drives a lot like a mid-sized sedan. Like an Accord.
Though it’s big (two inches longer overall than the Toyota Sienna) it doesn’t feel big. It has a shorter wheelbase – and the nose overhang is minimal – both of which help hide the size and also makes the Odyssey easy to park. The suspension is really good. Minivan or not, I was able to hustle the Odyssey up and down Bent Mountain at a faster clip than all the cars I passed. It did not lurch or heave. The stability control did not go frantic like that arm-waving robot from “Lost in Space.” I am guessing a lot of the reason for this has to do with the Odyssey being much closer to the ground (4.5 inches) than the Sienna (6.7 inches). Hunkering all that mass down low is a natural aid to handling and stability. Now toss in Honda’s typically excellent suspension tuning and precise steering gear… and you’ve got a winner.
I was really surprised – and, impressed. It’s weird to even think about saying “driver’s car” when reviewing a minivan – but I’m telling you straight that the Odyssey will work with you, if you want it to.
And there’s a real-world benefit to this able handling that minivan buyers should keep in mind: Passenger comfort. It is easy to get sea-sick in a Toyota Sienna because of the way it wallows around in the curves unless you drive it at a Granny-in-a-Buick pace.
The Odyssey is much more pleasant for the riders. Barf bags are not required.
The only thing I didn’t like about the Odyssey on the road had little to do with the way it drove. My issue is that it doesn’t like radar detectors. Something – I could not figure out what – was transmitting a K signal (one of the bands picked up by a radar detector) from deep inside the dash. Maybe it was the Blind Spot Warning system, or the back-up camera, or the GPS. I don’t know. But whatever it was, the Odyssey’s electronics made my V1 radar detector constantly go off, even though I know for sure there were no cops around for miles. (How do I know? I live in a very rural area, on several acres of land – and the V1 would chirp madly with the Odyssey just sitting in my driveway, a quarter mile away from the nearest road.).
It’s small thing and probably Honda (or your dealer) knows how to adjust/fix it – if you want to run a radar detector. But I wanted to let you know about it, before you take an Odyssey home.
AT THE CURB
The basic minivan shape is what it is. They’ve grown sleeker – and definitely fancier.
Minivans may have been conceived as utilitarian kid-haulers with hard plastic interiors built to spill things on, but vans like the Odyssey (and the Sienna and the T&C) are much more adult – and luxury – oriented. Even the base model Odyssey LX is frankly Too Nice For Kids – and the Touring and Touring Elite versions most definitely are. People with rugrats might want to look at something more abuse-friendly (and less costly) like a Kia Sedona.
The Touring/Touring Elite versions of the Odyssey are fitted out with things like a 16 inch widescreen high-defintiion entertainment system, retractable sunshades, beverage chill box, seat heaters, 15 GB music storage hard drive feeding a 650 watt, 12 speaker surround sound stereo… plus other stuff besides.
You don’t want juice boxes and Gummy Bears around such stuff.
Physically, the Odyssey’s a bit smaller than the Sienna – which can carry eight people vs. the seven for the Odyssey. But if you don’t need Partridge Family capacity, the smaller footprint and better road-manners of the Odyssey will likely win you over.
The optional refrigerated box is a neat feature – though in these politically correct times, you have to be careful about what you keep cool in there. The optional big-screen (16 inch) LCD entertainment system is money – much better than the Chiclet-sized units that are still typical and make even people with 20/20 vision feel like Mr. McGoo.
There are multiple power points throughout – including a high wattage outlet that can run an air compressor or ‘fridge or TV.
I like the toggle-style transmission shift lever that’s mounted high on the console, close to the driver. It is a very ergonomic design and much better than having it on the floor console, where it’s much easier to spill your coffee into the mechanism.
The scan/seek function of the optional high-end stereo’s satellite radio has a small bug. There are I think 200 channels on Sirius/XM and if you want to go from say channel 35 to channel 165 by rotating the tuner knob, you’re forced to go at its pace instead of yours. Turn the knob too quickly and it won’t keep pace. Each station has to show its ID on the display screen (“Talk 120,” etc.) before it lets you move on to the next channel. It can take a minute or more of patiently dialing that tuning knob at its glacial pace instead of yours to get to whatever station you want. Yes, I know, you can program in the stations you want and then, problem solved. Only not really. Some of us – well, me – still like to manually “surf” the channels – and the way this unit’s set up isn’t especially user friendly.
A small thing – but again, just FYI.
Cargo capacity is 38.4 cubic feet behind the third row (where there’s a deep storage well). This about the same as the Sienna (39.1 cubic feet) and considerably more than the Chrysler T&C (33 cubic feet).
Maximum capacity with the seats folded is 148.5 cubes – slightly less than the slightly larger Sienna’s 150 cubic feet but more than the T&C’s 143.8 cubic feet.
AWD has become a popular minivan (and crossover) option but it’s not available in the Odyssey, which may be a negative for some buyers – especially since you can buy an AWD-equipped Toyota Sienna XLE for $34,815 – or about $6,000 less than a FWD Odyssey Touring ($40,755).
My opinion here: AWD is over-rated.
Car industry PR has convinced many people it’s a must-have but the truth is a front-drive vehicle with decent tires (and a decent driver) will get you there as well as an AWD-equipped vehicle – and for less money up front, with lower down-the-road maintenance costs and better fuel economy, too.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The new and improved Odyssey’s almost too nice for kids – but just the ticket for a long-haul luxury bus.
Throw it in the Woods?
Used Honda Odyssey for sale
Bought a 2012 Touring Elite. We love it! Aren’t rich people but stepped up to the plate to make a long term investment. Only bad thing is severe motion sickness for my 6 year old and me. May have to return.
I’ll be reviewing the ’12 in a few weeks; recently I reviewed an Odyssey rival, the Chrysler Town & Country. It’s in the “New Cars” section.
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