Are you tired of 7-passenger vehicles that can’t fit all your kids and cargo?  Sick of wagons and vans that lack features found in luxury cars?  Well now your troubles are over!  The rumours you’ve heard.  The videos you’ve seen.  It has arrived!  Hi folks, CPSDarren here, to tell you that the 2011 Honda Odyssey is the ultimate Family Truckster!  Hauling lots of children along with their friends and gear?  Want great seating flexibility with much better fuel economy than monster SUVs and full size vans?  Looking for safety and high-end entertainment possibilities?  Look no further!  The new Odyssey is now king of the carseat and kid cruiser category, usurping the role from the 2004-2010 Toyota Sienna 8-passenger models.  With the exception of the basic Odyssey LX trim level that lacks an 8th seat, every other model in the lineup has tons of convenient family seating solutions.

As seen on TV!  In the amazing new Odyssey, you can now easily fit most combinations of child safety seats 3-across in the second row.  Really.  On the right, I installed two Evenflo Titans and a Safety 1st onBoard 35 with plenty of room between.  Honda claims there is plenty of room even for larger carseats known to be problematic side-by-side and I can easily see that this is probably true.  They accomplish this with a few inches more width inside overall, a new “wide” seating mode and a much wider “Multifunction” middle seat.  This seat even features LATCH, the lower anchors and top tether anchors (circled, left) not present on the PlusOne middle seat of the previous Odyssey.

Yes, it’s true!  Three LATCH positions in the middle row for all EX and Touring models.  In the third row, there are two LATCH positions in the outboard seats (right) and a third top tether anchor for the middle seat.  All three top tether anchors for the third row are on the back of the vehicle seats.  So, that’s a total of 5 LATCH positions in the 8-passenger EX/Touring trims and 4 LATCH positions for the 7-passenger LX trim level.

Competition?  What Competition!  You have to see it to believe it!    Honda really took a page from what Toyota offered in the previous generation Sienna.  In the new 2011 Sienna that Heather recently reviewed, Toyota has gone to the more easily stowable 8th seat design like Honda did with the Odyssey back in 2005.  An unusual swap in design philosophy!  I love the stowable 8th seat in my 2006 Odyssey and it’s handy for older kids and teens, but it’s not very good for carseats!  With the other improvements in leg and shoulder room and seating flexibility, the new Odyssey may be the best family hauler around.  In Part II, you’ll see it does it with a lot more style to attract those who may not have considered a minivan in the past.  For the rest of Part I, I’ll focus on kids and safety.  Let’s start with this quick video of the fantastic second row seating array and Multifunction center seat!

Is that all, you ask?  No, that’s NOT all!  What does it offer over an 8-passenger 2004-2010 Sienna?  For starters, previous generation Sienna minivans that had the full size “Front and Center” 8th seat were not very common and only optional in lower trim level packages.  Today, the Odyssey matches that and maybe goes beyond, standard in most trim levels.  As for the third row seat, it isn’t much wider, but there’s a nice increase in both shoulder room and legroom.  That means a lot more space for adults, kids and carseats that get wider at the top.  Yes, you can fit 3-across back there, too, but it will still require careful selection of child seats.  The installation I tried (right) just barely fit.  With the added inch of legroom, even a rear-facing seat should fit fine and allow plenty of room for the passenger in the 2nd row, too.  Plus, access to the third row is easier, with over an inch more space for entry from the side when the 2nd row chair is moved forward.

My current vehicle has stubborn, fixed head restraints.  I can’t install my carseat.  Can you help me?  Yes!  As stated in the video above, all the head restraints can be removed.  That can be a big advantage compared to some new vehicles where they are fixed and pose problems with some child seat installations.  The new head restraints in the third row allow the seat to fold easily when down (right).  They also conform to new requirements that make them relatively uncomfortable when down, such that older kids and adults are more likely to move them up (left) where they offer protection from whiplash injuries.   You can also see the LATCH locations circled in red in the first photo.

See for yourself, the proof is in the photos!  Did I mention that all the lower and top tether anchors are relatively easy to locate and use?  Honda didn’t hide them deep inside the seat crack such that they are nearly impossible to find when installing a child seat and even worse to un-install.  My only complaint at all is that the plastic covers that attach to the new Multifunction seat (right) could be easy to misplace if you are like me.  I wish I knew where I put those floor anchor covers that came with my 2006 Odyssey, for when the PlusOne seat is not in use!   One other nice thing is that the center top tether anchor (circled, left) for the third row is no longer across the cargo area like it was on older Odyssey models like mine.  That means the tether strap won’t block your access when loading and unloading large stuff.

But wait, there’s more!  That new Multi-function seat is not only wider by about 4 inches and comes equipped with LATCH, but it also moves forward and back like the outboard seats.  That means you can move it forward to keep a child in a carseat a little closer to the adults in front, while giving the other adults or kids in the outboard seats a little more legroom.  The “wide” mode I mentioned is another key feature.  You can move the outboard captain’s chairs together to form a bench with the Multi-function seat, or tilt them forward and move apart by about an inch and a half.  Gone is the ability to move the two captain’s chairs together without the middle seat, but with the all the possible configurations available including the wider Multifunction seat, you probably won’t miss that feature!

Okay, okay, not convinced yet?  Take a look at THIS!  Carseats are hardly the only issue with keeping kids and family safe.  What about crash tests?  Well, for those you will have to wait, but I am told that Honda fully expects a “Best Pick” rating from the IIHS.  That is only awarded to vehicles that get top results in all their individual tests, including frontal offset and side impact crash tests plus their rear and roof strength ratings.  Honda also expects to receive the 5-star overall rating from the NHTSA.  As you may know, the overall rating is new for 2011 and includes tougher individual frontal and side impact crash tests, including a new side pole test in addition to the one using a conventional barrier.  Rollover risk is also included in the new overall rating.  Scoring both an IIHS “Best Pick” and a NHTSA overall “5-star” rating will be extremely impressive for any vehicles that accomplish it!

Mention this blog when you buy and take advantage of our BONUS offer!  The tires are included free!  That’s right!  Free!  There’s a lengthy list of other safety details.  I’ll get started.  Perhaps among the most impressive is Honda’s claim to best-in-class wet and dry stopping distance, 44.4 feet and 42.5 feet, respectively, provided in part by larger disc brakes and new rubber from Michelin or Continental.  They also claim the roof strength is 2.2 times stronger than before, presumably to perform well on the new IIHS rollover crush test.  They say they’ve made the new van 3.7 times stronger in terms of side impact protection, too.  I have no way to verify any of these numbers, but if they result in top crash testing results good independent road testing results, Honda has done a great job!  Crash avoidance?  Quite good.  In my extended test drives, I found the handling, emergency handling, braking and visibility to be at least as good as my 2006 Odyssey, if not better.  That’s saying something, because the previous Odyssey was pretty good already in those categories.

It doesn’t stop there!  Honda has added some other features for a limited time only!  Increased pedestrian safety is one.  An energy absorbing hood, hood hinges, wiper pivots and fender brackets all combine to help reduce the potential of injury to pedestrians.  Daytime running lights are now standard, as are features you’d expect like stability+traction control, dual-stage and multi-threshold frontal airbags, side curtain airbags with rollover protection, front seatbelt pretensioners and load limiters, ABS with brake assist, tire pressure monitoring and active front head restraints.  Honda has also added turn signal indicators on the rear-view mirrors along with a new blind spot indicator lamp, though unfortunately only on the top trim levels.  Head restraints and shoulder belts for all seating positions are still present, as they have been since 1999. Really, it would have been a lot easier just to note what is missing!  That isn’t very much. 

Sound too good to be true?  Well, for the sake of complete disclosure, Honda didn’t add a driver knee airbag, as seems to be the trend in new vehicles.  Really, this isn’t needed if the vehicle performs well in crash tests without one, as have all the Honda vehicles based on the light truck platform over the last decade.  I do think Honda should have made the blind spot warning system available on all trim levels and not exclusive to the Touring Elite.  I know that advanced safety features cost money, but they could be packaged to allow buyers to get them, especially if they don’t want all the advanced non-safety features!  I’d love to see them offered that way in the future, possibly packaged with a lane departure warning system and a collision detection system.  Those are notable important safety features absent on the new Odyssey, even though they are already appearing in some non-luxury vehicles like the 2010 Prius I reviewed a year ago.

For any minivan, SUV and pickup, a rear view camera or sensor system should be standard on all models.  With the new Odyssey, it is included on the EX-L and touring models only.  That means you have to pay for stuff like leather seats and a moonroof to get it, though an optional accessory backup sensor system can still be purchased for any model.  The safety of kids playing behind your van is just as important as those kids inside the van!  Also, runflat tires are also gone.   That one is debatable as a safety feature.  While blowout related crashes do happen from time to time, blowouts are pretty rare with quality, modern radial tires.  Changing a tire on the road is a danger mitigated by runflats, but of course a membership to AAA or other service provides another way around that for less money.  The compromise was that you might give up the improved traction, braking and cornering found on a top quality conventional tire, because there simply wasn’t a selection of runflats available.  Finally, I did find the dash in the NAV/RES models to be pretty distracting, though I suspect once you get the hang of voice control that is less of an issue.

So, how much would you pay for all this great information?  $100$50?  $29?  Before I answer, please take a look at some official Honda photos of the flexible interior that still fits a 4′x8′ sheet of lumber!

But don’t take my word for it!  You can find a lot more information at Honda’s main website and news website, including a ton of great videos about the 2011 Odyssey.  Every other media outlet will begin publishing their reviews today as well, but hopefully CarseatBlog has some insight you won’t find elsewhere in regards to kids and safety!  Am I biased?  Probably.  I have owned two Odysseys, a 2001 LX and a 2006 EX-L and I only had a little over a day with the new model.  So, we also hope to follow up with a full review in a few months, perhaps by Heather or Kecia who drive competitive models.  That will also allow us to test with a wider range of the larger and more popular child safety seats which were not available for my first look.  Plus, having a demonstrator for a longer period of time allows us to see what flaws might arise that you don’t notice on a test drive, even an extended one like I had.

So, NOW how much would you pay?  Well, all this information can be yours for the low, low price of three installments at just $19.95.  In fact, for the first 100 viewers, we’ll make this blog completely free AND will give you Part II for free tomorrow as well.  There, I will discuss everything else including the exciting video of my high speed drag race incident, followed by my brush with a number of police interceptors!  I’ll also touch on the Touring Elite and its entertainment system.  No more worrying about being a distracted driver because of screaming kids.  They will be in a trance of light and sound for the duration of every trip!  Plus, you will be completely wireless and hands-free for calls and music from your bluetooth cellphone.  Don’t wait!  Act Now!  They are already in production and should be available around the end of September, but will cost a bit more than $19.95 (shipping and handling extra)!

468x60_staticbanner

*The preceeding program has been brought to you by CarseatBlog.  Our test drive was provided courtesy of Honda Motor Corporation at a press launch event in August.  Please note, the opinions and content given are strictly those of CarseatBlog and were not submitted to us by Honda or any other entity, except as noted for certain photo content.  No compensation was accepted, beyond travel expenses to attend the media event.  Always read and follow manufacturer’s directions that come with your product(s). Always consult with your doctor before starting any exercise or diet program or taking any nutritional supplements. Results may vary.