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2011 Honda Odyssey Touring Elite Review

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2011 Honda Odyssey Elite Touring

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2011 Honda Odyssey Touring Elite

If you need to haul six to eight people on a regular basis, with the option to stuff your vehicle with stuff of varying size and shape, and enjoy the comfort of a car, there is really only one type of vehicle that will do the job.

A minivan.

The basic American minivan concept -- a one-and-a-half box unibody vehicle with a transverse front-engine, front-wheel drive drivetrain for maximum space utilization and sliding passenger doors for ease of passenger access in tight parking spaces -- has been around since the mid-1980s, and can be considered a proven design. Exceptions from that spec have proven unsuccessful.

Honda's original Odyssey, introduced in 1995, with four car-like hinged doors and a smaller size than the then-typical minivan, was more like a European multi-purpose vehicle (MPV) than an American minivan. It wasn't a spectacular success, so was replaced in 1999 by a much more standard-issue second generation. If you can't beat them, join them, and then beat them on standard equipment and refinement.

That Odyssey's distinguishing feature was the disappearing third-row Magic Seat®, which folded flat into a well to the rear for a flat load floor seat-down, or a convenient space to contain groceries that may slip out of bags seat-up. No lost fruit turning into science projects… and like all good ideas, it has been much-copied since.

After mostly evolutionary development, the Odyssey gets a major makeover for 2011. While still a standard minivan in overall design, it's longer (by less than an inch), a bit (0.4 inches) lower, and 2.1 inches wider on the same 118.1-inch wheelbase. No great change by numbers, but in the sheetmetal it looks completely different, and distinctive.

Suspension is still fully-independent MacPherson strut/multilink, and its redesigned platform is lighter and more rigid. Power is from a 248-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 with Variable Cylinder Management (VCM) to improve fuel efficiency. The front wheels are driven through a five-speed automatic in the entry-level but well-equipped LX and midrange EX and EX-L models, while the luxury premium Touring and Touring Elite get a six-speed.

"Press fleet spec" usually means top of the line, and that would be the 2011 Odyssey Touring Elite that's been my transportation for the past week. With leather, navigation and rear-seats DVD systems, upgraded audio with 5.1 surround sound, and blind spot information system among its standard equipment list, it seemingly had everything but the kitchen sink -- including "cool box" air-conditioned storage at the bottom of the console. As with previous Odysseys, the latest is stable and secure on the road, with all the comfort of a super-sized Accord. Decreased weight, improved aerodynamics, and the longer high gears of the six-speed transmission made for notably good acceleration into traffic and improved gas mileage at 20 mpg overall -- not bad at all for a 4500-pound vehicle. And if your budget or needs aren't at Touring Elite level, the "lesser" trim levels offer all of the necessities and most of the comforts in a very good package.

APPEARANCE: Where "longer, lower, wider" was once the motto for gratuitous styling change for the sake of change, and even space-inefficiency, it's good for the Odyssey. While still obviously a minivan, and not all that much changed in measurements, it is distinctive and unmistakable in both proportion and style. That's a good trick in a stylistically conservative and generic field. The new Honda grille and headlight treatment, as seen on the current Accord, cap the short hood for instant identification, but the most distinguishing styling feature is the "lightning bolt" zig-zag of the lower side window line behind the C-pillar. The highly-raked windshield and attention to underbody airflow improve not only looks, but aerodynamic drag and fuel economy as well.

COMFORT: A minivan is all about people first, then cargo and combinations thereof. So access, space, and comfort are important. No disappointment in the newest Honda Odyssey. At EX level and above the dual sliding doors are power-operated, ditto for the tailgate at EX-L and above. Step-in is as low as a car, with comfortable, high-eyepoint seating for all passengers -- even those in the third row. That's split 60/40 and has excellent headroom, with legroom depending on the fore-and-aft adjustment of the second row seats. It's cozy but possible for three adults. The second row is split 40/20/40, with all sections adjustable fore-and-aft. The center part can be moved forward, child seat attached, to put that child within reach of the front passenger, or the center seatback may be folded forward for an armrest. If fitted, the DVD player screen is in the ceiling above the front seatbacks. The second-row seats may be removed to convert the van to cargo duty, and in that configuration a 4x8 foot sheet of plywood can fit. Interior styling is clean and functional, with excellent space utilization and plenty of space to utilize, plus many storage spaces of varying size. And cup- and bottle-holders for all and then some. The front seats, power-adjustable in the Touring, offer very good support and comfort. The tilt- and telescope-adjustable steering wheel has audio, cruise, phone, and information display controls, and the shift lever is placed conveniently close by on the center console extension. The main instruments are easily visible in front of the driver. Climate controls are separate from the Touring Elite's navigation/trip/traffic/calendar/etc system inputs, which are controlled by a simple hybrid touch-screen/hard button interface. A large console box with cupholders and an open tray on top sits between the front seats; more storage, including the cool box, is in the lower part of the center stack.

SAFETY: Honda has designed and built the 2011 Odyssey to get the highest possible NHTSA safety ratings, results of which are not yet available. It is expected to also score high in IIHS crash testing. Honda's "Advanced Compatibility Engineering™" unibody structure improves passenger protection and crash compatibility, especially in frontal collisions. Four-wheel antilock disc brakes with brake assist and electronic brake force distribution stop quickly, and the Vehicle Stability Assist™ system offers further protection. There's a full complement of airbags, dual front with passenger detection, front seat side, and three-row side curtains with rollover sensing. The Touring Elite's blind spot monitoring system and the rearview camera in EX-L models and above further improve the driver's awareness of surroundings.

RIDE AND HANDLING: At 4300 to 4600 lbs depending on model and equipment, the 2011 is not a lightweight vehicle. But it is 50 to 100 pounds (again depending on model) less than the previous-generation equivalent, with improved structural rigidity as a bonus. Credit greater use of high-strength steel for that. As has been the case since the beginning, suspension is fully independent by means of MacPherson struts in front and a modified multilink double-wishbone system in the rear. Careful attention to spring rates and damping gives very good ride comfort and minimal body pitch and roll, always good with small children in the rear seat.

PERFORMANCE: Compared to the previous Odyssey, the decreased weight and better aerodynamics of the newest generation help improve both fuel economy and performance. The six-speed automatic in the Touring and Touring Elite offers further improvement. All models now have the latest version of Honda's 3.5-liter single overhead cam alloy V6, with i-VTEC variable valve lift and cam phasing, and Variable Cylinder Management to allow deactivation of up to three cylinders when cruising at steady speed for further improvement in fuel economy. Active engine mounts and a noise-cancellation system mitigate any change in engine noise or vibration in various modes. With all cylinders firing, maximum horsepower is 248 (at 5700 rpm), with the torque peak of 250 lb-ft at 4800. And plenty of useful low-end torque for dealing with traffic. If "minivan" means "slow" to you, think again. 0-60 time is around 7.5 seconds, just keep the kids strapped in tightly. Getting into fast traffic is no problem, and the blind spot system helps in merging. EPA fuel economy is 19 mpg city / 28 highway, up from the previous 17/25. In my week of mixed driving I got a 20 mpg average.

CONCLUSIONS: The redesigned 2011 Honda Odyssey is a formidable competitor in the minivan class.

2011 Honda Odyssey Touring Elite

Base Price			$ 43,250
Price As Tested			$ 44,030
Engine Type			single overhead cam 24-valve aluminum
				 alloy V6 with i-VTEC® variable cam lift  
				 and phasing
Engine Size			3.5 liters / 212 cu. in.
Horsepower			248 @ 5700 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			250 @ 4800 rpm
Transmission			6-speed automatic
Wheelbase / Length		118.1 in. / 202.9 in.
Curb Weight			4560 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		18.4
Fuel Capacity			21 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires				P235/60R18 102T Michelin Primacy mxv4 m+s
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc,
				 ABS, EBD, BA, VSC standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut/
				  independent multilink double-wishbone
Drivetrain			transverse front engine,
				 front-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		19 / 28 / 20
0 to 60 mph				7.5  sec
Towing capacity				3500 lbs with towing package

Destination and handling		$ 780