In Part I of my review of the 2011 Honda Odyssey, I covered the child seating and safety aspects of this new minivan pretty extensively.  This part will touch on some of the performance, electronics and luxury features.  Most of these aspects will be thoroughly discussed in mainstream media reviews and on other websites and blogs, so no need to go into boring specifications, tables and numbers.

I’ll also discuss my trip to the lovely Estancia resort in La Jolla, California, where I was able to preview the new Odyssey along with bloggers from various other parenting and mommy-centric websites.  My trip started on a Thursday evening with a “business elegant” dinner in a conference room where the new Odysseys were on display.  About 20 mommy-bloggers and I were present at this event.  Mainstream media attended the previous day, followed by international media the following day.  On Friday, we started with a multimedia presentation and Q&A session on the new Odyssey.  We then paired up and were given directions for an extended test drive around San Diego, ending at Qualcomm Stadium.  I partnered with Kacy, from Every Day I Write the Book and Design Mom.  Instead of following the rest of the crew immediately onto the drive route, we hung back a bit to take care of the most important aspect of a nice drive in the country. 

Tunes, of course.

Once we arrived at Qualcomm, we had a late lunch followed by runs through two courses that highlighted the performance and safety of the new Odyssey.  Accompanied by a professional driver who ran us through the course, we were then able to take the wheel and put the Odyssey to its performance and handling limits.  I took a second shot on that course but still got nowhere near the time of the pros.  In the next course, we tested the turning radius, emergency handling, braking, parking (using backup camera guidance) and other features.  We also had more time to play with the interior features.

So, what’s to like?  Like I said, I won’t bore you with all the technical details.  You will find that elsewhere described much better than I can do.  Here’s what I think the 2011 Odyssey’s got goin’ on:

  • Style.  I like it.  Honda likes to call it a “lightning bolt”, based on the contour of the glass.  Love it or hate it, you have to admit that it is distinctive.  A big plus when you are parked next to 50 other minivans at a school function, at least until the new Odyssey becomes ubiquitous.
  • Performance.  The acceleration, handling, braking and visibility are all very impressive for such a large and heavy vehicle.  Perhaps somewhat improved across the board from the current Odyssey, but quite similar.
  • Safety.  If they receive the crash testing results they expect, the Odyssey will remain as one of the safest vehicles on the road and one of the most flexible for hauling kids.
  • Quieter.  At least in the Touring model, road noise is much less prevalent.  Honda says it is “best in class over the speaking range”.  You can actually hear people talking to you when you are at highway speeds on concrete!  Road noise is probably the biggest complaint I have about my 2006 Odyssey.
  • Third row folding mechanism is easier and can be done with one hand now.
  • The high end navigation system is very nice.   Voice controlled everything.  Free FM traffic updates and routing for life.  Travel and restaurant guides.  High res screen.  You name it, you’ll find it and get there without getting lost.
  • The audio/video system in the Touring Elite is simply amazing.  Also voice controlled.  Easy pairing and streaming with your phone or other bluetooth device.  Cable connections for iPods/iPhones (so much nicer than the awful iPod accessory Honda sold me back in 2005!).  A dual zone widescreen in back so kids can watch separate programs, even ones fed from their home game console (a 150W AC plug in is provided), a notebook computer or movie player through A/V or HDMI inputs!  They get their own separate audio on wireless headphones while the adults can crank out their music up front.  A 15GB hard drive stores music and photos (Though really why not 100GB or more!). 
  • The Touring Elite also sports a 650 watt, 12-speaker audio system cranks them out in 5.1 channel surround sound.  Really, why buy a house?  Oh yeah, it has an 8.4 liter subwoofer enclosure in the side of the 3rd row loaded with an 8-inch driver.  It won’t overpower the cool kid in the custom-pimped Civic Si next to you at the stoplight, but it sounds a lot nicer than the Kelton Bassworks accessory subwoofer I have in my Odyssey!
  • The cool box is handy.  4 large bottles or 6 cans stay quite cool.  We tested it!
  • Handy trash ring to hold a small bag for all that stuff you accumulate in a road trip
  • Multi view rear camera on higher trims makes parking even easier with guide markers
  • The EX trim is now a very nice package.  It gets the 8 passenger seating setup including the multifunction middle seat.  You also get the fuel saving VCM (variable cylinder management) system that shuts off engine cylinders when they aren’t needed.  Before, you had to get the EX-L and add leather and a moonroof to get this.  You also get new stuff like 3-line audio display, 2GB music library storage with 7-speaker audio, removable front console, flip up trash ring, humidity control, 10-way power driver’s seat with power lumbar support.  Of course, you get the old standards like alloy wheels, power sliding doors, automatic climate control and more.
  • The outside power sliding door handle is much easier to use.  The door logic is improved and includes buttons in the rear.  That’s nice for kids like my 5-year old who otherwise try to rip the handle off!
  • Functional 3rd row sunshades in Touring models
  • Media drawer in the dash hold your phone or music player, but it could use a non-slip grippy surface inside!
  • Battery drain management turns off all interior lights and outlets if a low battery is detected!  This is great if you have kids who are always turning on rear lights when you aren’t looking.
  • Designed (California), developed (Ohio) and assembled (Alabama) in the USA.  I don’t know what the domestic content is on the 2011 Odyssey, but kudos to Honda for giving its USA operations a lot of independence.

Here is the official video with all the new features:

Dislikes?  Compared to my 2006 Odyssey, only a few mostly minor ones, beyond the omission of some safety features in low trim levels, as I noted in Part I -

  • Handsfree/Bluetooth should be standard or at least readily available as a dealer option on all trim levels.  Distracted driving is a real safety hazard, like impaired driving.  Anything to keep the driver’s attention on the road is something all auto manufacturers should consider to be a basic feature these days.
  • The dash is very busy, especially in top trim levels with all the goodies.  I’m sure once you get used to all the controls it’s not a big deal.  On a first test drive, I found it distracting and confusing.  Voice control and steering wheel buttons should help.
  • Fold down center tray is gone.  Personal preference on this one, as most will like that it has been replaced with a removable console that provides more storage, the new flip up trash bag ring and better cupholders
  • No cooled or ventilated leather seats, even on Touring trim.  The leather on my 2006 gets real hot and sweaty, a problem I never had with the cloth trim on my 2001 Odyssey
  • No ability to store the Multifunction center seat in the second row.  Until a couple years ago, you could store the PlusOne seat under the floor.  That comes in handy from time to time.  Not a big deal, you can put it in the cargo area in a pinch.
  • The 6-speed powertrain that offers improved fuel economy (19/28) is only available on Touring trim.  With no hybrid available, I’d like to see Honda set the trend and make this standard and maybe even give us a FlexFuel option.  Even 1-2 mpg is a nice increase and reduces pollution and gas consumption!  Still, 18/27 in the lower trim levels is still pretty good for a vehicle that is well over 4000 pounds.
  • Like every minivan, the exterior colors are muted and boring.  Okay, so I’ll never get my bright orange, yellow or lime green minivan.  I still wouldn’t mind a bright blue, candy apple red or anything a little different.
  • I’ve really come to appreciate not needing a key in our other vehicle.  Keyless, push-button start would have been a nice addition.

All in all, I think Honda engineers and designers really did their homework!  The 2011 Odyssey is a nice improvement in almost every way over the previous Odyssey.  It should definitely make current minivan buyers interested, as it really does stand out from the rest of the minivans on the market.  Heck, the 2011 Odyssey might even make a few current Odyssey owners envious!  It should make some non-minivan buyers take notice, too!  Unless you frequently tow over 3500 pounds (max for the Odyssey with the optional tow package), why would you pay as much or more for a big 3-row SUV that falls well short of the Odyssey in performance, convenience, fuel economy, safety, styling and available luxury features?  Just to get rid of the minivan-calling-card sliding doors so the kids can put dents into your other car in the garage or someone else’s car in the parking lot?  Seriously, dude.

Would I buy one?  The 2011 Honda Odyssey would definitely be a top consideration for me, if I was buying a minivan.  I only hold back a resounding “Yes!” until those crash testing results appear, even though Honda’s crash testing history with their light trucks is exceptional.  Like many consumers, what I really want is a hybrid, clean [turbo] diesel or alternative fuel vehicle.  The Odyssey offers none of those.  We were told that weight and cost make it difficult to produce a hybrid minivan.  I disagree.  I think there are plenty of families willing to spend the extra money for significantly improved fuel economy in order to reduce both pollution and dependence on non-renewable resources, especially if they don’t have to buy a Touring trim to get it.  Models like the GM full size SUVs and the Toyota Highlander Hybrid prove that this can be done with relatively good results on vehicles heavier and less aerodynamic than the Odyssey.  Granted, I don’t think anyone else has produced a hybrid or clean diesel van (other than perhaps the full size Mercedes Sprinter BlueTec), so I may well be wrong about the potential market.

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Sticker pricing starts at $27.8k for the Odyssey LX all the way up to a whopping $43K for the Touring Elite.  Even the nicely equipped EX trim tops 30 thousand, coming in at $30,950.  Of course, street prices will be lower.  You can find those at websites like CarsDirect.com

Who knows, maybe Honda will make me an offer I can’t refuse to stay in an Odyssey!  For full disclosure, I am a current Odyssey owner.  I own a 2006 EX-L and owned a 2001 LX prior to that.  The new Odyssey seems like a very nice improvement, but so are new models from the competition.  There are a lot of very safe and refined minivans on the road today and it’s hard to go wrong with a number of them.  The new Toyota Sienna we reviewed is a solid competitor and I understand the Chrysler vans are getting a nice refresh this year and the new Nissan Quest is to be introduced soon, also.  In case my review sounds like a Honda infomercial (okay so Part I really did sound like an infomercial!), we do hope to balance it and obtain a review model for a longer term with a second opinion from a mom who doesn’t currently have a Honda minivan.  Can’t blame me for going a little overboard about the safety features, though I think I’ve offered a little more criticism than most reviews I’ve seen so far!

And last but not least, those of you who actually read all of Part I to the end might be wondering about my little brush with the law.  In an effort to set myself apart from the 20 moms test driving that day, I decided to take the advice that one of the valets gave to Kacy: burn some rubber.

Okay, I know.  Epic Fail.  In my defense, I did manage to demonstrate some manliness by burning rubber a little later, after I remembered to turn off traction control, found a nice stop sign on a little uphill incline and revved up the motor just before letting off the brake.  No, you shouldn’t try this at home.  It attracts certain attention from law enforcement professionals…

Disclaimer: Travel expenses to the media launch event were provided by Honda.  No payment or other incentive was issued by Honda or any other entity for this review. Thank you to Honda and all those present for a fantastic event!  Some photo/video above provided by Honda.  You can tell which ones;-)  Also, please check out some other blogger reviews from the moms who attended the launch event with me.  You may find you share a lot more in common with these moms than with many mainstream auto reviewers!

Kari Aceto, Caryn Bailey, Ciaran Blumenfeld, Kacy Faulconer, Jodi Grundig, Alicia Hagan, Tara Hernandez, Nirasha Jaganath, Tiffany Noth, Kim Orlando, Elizabeth Peterson, Jamie Reeves, Jennifer Regan, Cheryl Rosenberg, Becky Scott, Renee Smith, Deborah Steenhagen, Kristin Varela, Aracely Worley and Christine Young.