Truthfully, there are probably a hundred different reviews and blogs of the new 2011 Honda Odyssey all floating around the internet by now.  Two of them were written by our own fabulous Darren Qunell who had a chance to preview this 4th Generation Ody at a press event in La Jolla, CA this past September.  So, what sets this particular 2011 Odyssey Review apart from all the others?  Read on, my friends.  There are specific details here pertaining to kids, carseats and safety that you’re just not going to find anywhere else.  Guaranteed.  I mean seriously, only a nutcase would drag 20 different carseats & boosters home and then spend countless hours in the driveway (much to the amusement of her neighbors and random passersby) installing them in various seating positions just to give perspective consumers and our faithful blog readers as many specific details as possible on this vehicle. 
     
Now a little background info and some prerequisite homework for our readers.  First, a huge shout-out to Honda and to STI Fleet Services who so graciously delivered this vehicle and then picked it up a week later.  Additionally, since I have no desire to duplicate all of the numerous details in Darren’s original review – I’m going to urge you to read Part I and Part II of his review first if you haven’t already done so.  His impressive 2-part review covers the features, specs and options of this newest generation Odyssey.  Consider my review “4th Gen Ody 102″ as it will supplement and build-upon the things that Darren has already covered.

My First Impressions – the driver’s seat on the Touring model is so amazingly comfortable!  I need firm lumbar support in a big way and this seat definitely had it.  Unfortunately, the front passenger seat didn’t have adjustable lumbar support and was also limited in the number of ways it could be adjusted so I found that seating position to be a little less comfortable than the driver’s seat although I didn’t consider it to be uncomfortable.  That was a just a bit of a bummer because honestly, if I was purchasing a top-of-the-line vehicle then I would want to be equally comfortable whether I’m the driver or the front seat passenger.  Also, no adjustable petals in this vehicle so with my short arms (think petite jacket sleeve length) and my relatively short legs (I’m 5’4″), I did have to position myself a little closer to the steering wheel/airbag than I do in my 2005 Ford Freestar Limited minivan which has adjustable petals.  That really wasn’t a big deal as I could still position myself a safe distance away from the frontal airbag but it’s always a little disappointing when your 6-year-old vehicle has a handy and useful feature that a newer, much nicer, comparable vehicle doesn’t have.  I’ve been told that the previous generation Odyssey had power-adjustable pedals but Honda did away with that feature in favor of an adjustable steering column.  Personally, I like to put as much distance between my face and the airbag as possible and I’m not sure how an adjustable steering column helps me accomplish that.      

Also, this particular Touring Elite model didn’t have a roof rack (hello? how are people supposed to get their Christmas tree home?) nor did it have a keyless entry system which is a feature I love on my Ford Freestar.  Okay, I found info on the roof rails.  Apparently they are now a dealer-installed accessory, rather than being standard.  I guess I can live with that.         

     

On the upside, the technology in the Touring Elite model was nothing short of mind-blowing.  My time spent installing carseats in the vehicle was matched only by my time spent reading the owners manual, the technology manual and the navigation manual trying to figure out how everything worked.  By the end of the week I had a pretty good grasp on most of it but there were still a few things I never did figure out before my time with the vehicle was up.  On the last day (thanks to the owner’s manual) I figured out why the passenger’s sideview mirror automatically rotated down when I put the vehicle in reverse – apparently it’s a parallel parking assist feature!  I thought that was funny – don’t ask me why.  Maybe it’s because I always roll my eyes at drivers who can’t parallel park to save their lives.  One feature that did impress me was the BSI system – Blind Spot Information system.  It’s just a little indicator on both A-pillars (near your sideview mirrors) that lights up when it senses a vehicle behind you on either side.  I spent some time focused on it while driving and even though this vehicle doesn’t have a big blind spot area (if your mirrors are adjusted to their optimal position), there is that split-second when another vehicle is a few feet behind you and it’s totally invisible.  Of course, if you do what you’re supposed to do before changing lanes then you shouldn’t really need the BSI system but let’s face it – any technology that potentially helps you (or another driver) to avoid a collision is a good thing.  I’d love to see blind spot sensors become a standard feature in all future vehicles.  Crash avoidance technology is the new frontier in terms of saving lives on our nation’s roadways but ideally it should come standard (or at least be available as an option) regardless of trim level.             

My two boys (age 6 and 13) were also extemely impressed with all the features and technology in the Touring Elite model.  My 13-year-old used words like “sick” and “mad crazy” to describe how he felt about the ultrawide 16.2″ screen with HDMI, the “cool box”, and the wireless headsets that turn on automatically when you rotate the ear pieces to place them over your ears.  My little guy loved the built-in retractable sunshades, the moon roof, the 2nd row power windows and the fact that he could (if I turned on that feature) control the radio from the backseat.  Darren nailed it when he wrote that your kids will be “… in a trance of light and sound for the duration of every trip!” 

I have to say that I think Honda deserves huge praise for doing what we always thought was impossible – they made kids WANT to sit in the backseat!  Seriously, the front passenger seat in this particular vehicle is downright boring compared to the entertainment options that you have in the 2nd and 3rd rows of the Touring Elite.  

Additionally, the two captains chairs in the middle row are far superior in terms of comfort to the captains chairs in most other minivans and my teenager gave these seats 5-stars for comfort.  For the record, he wasn’t nearly as impressed with the comfort of the multi-function center seat or the 3rd row seats and I don’t allow him to sit in the front seat yet (there’s no reason for it so why increase his risk of injury in a crash for no good reason).  But those captain’s chairs… they were ethereal in his opinion and let’s face it when the kids are happy and comfortable on a long drive – that can make all the difference in the world. 

Here are a few pics of my sock-monkey-hat-loving 13-year-old in various seating positions. Although the head restraints in both the 2nd and 3rd row center positions don’t adjust as tall as their outboard counterparts  – they are tall enough when raised to provide adequate head support for both he and I.  The belt geometry for the multi-function seat in the 2nd row is less than ideal but I found that belt fit was improved if that seat was moved somewhat forward as pictured below.   

     

But enough of my opinions!  Enough with the pics of the sock-monkey-hat-loving-boy in shorts!  You came here for specifics!  You want to know things about certain carseats and installation tips that you’re just not going to find in any other review of the 2011 Honda Odyssey!  And it’s my job to provide enough details to satisfy your inner information-junkie!  So go grab a beverage of your choice and let’s get down to business… 

Darren did a great job covering all the active and passive safety features in Part I of his 2011 Odyssey review but I’ll add a few additional details as they pertain to child occupant protection.

Despite the presence of “smart” airbags – kids under the age of 13 (regardless of their size) should NOT ride in the front passenger seat if there is a rear seating position available for them to use.  If you must put a child in the front seat because all available rear seating positions are being occupied by other children – Honda recommends putting the oldest child up front and moving the seat back as far as it will go – away from the airbag.  Also make sure that you use a booster seat for optimal crash protection if this older child does not pass the 5-Step Test.  Based on how I fit in the front seats of this vehicle, I estimate that most kids under 5′ tall (60″) would probably still need a booster to fit properly in the adult seatbelt.   

All 3 rows of seats are covered by the curtain airbags which help to prevent devastating head injuries during side-impact and rollover crashes.  However, the curtain airbags can only offer protection to children who are tall enough to benefit from them.  Most younger kids will derive more of a benefit from the additional side-impact protection provided by their carseat or booster.  The direction that the carseat faces in the vehicle can make a big difference in crash protection as well.  Rear-facing carseats will, by the laws of physics and the nature of crash dynamics, generally provide greater crash protection in both frontal crashes (the most common type of crash) and side-impacts (the most deadly type of crash).  So keep those babies, toddlers and even your preschool aged kids rear-facing for as long as your carseat allows.  In this spacious, versatile vehicle it’s totally possible to have two or more happy, comfortable rear-facing kids riding at the same time.

Speaking of rear-facing issues – I know Darren was remiss in locating an acceptable rear-facing tether location when he had time with this vehicle so I made that exploration one of my first priorities. For those of you who are new to this practice of tethering rear-facing carseats – please be aware that currently this is only an option with Britax Convertibles (all models) and the Sunshine Kids Radian (all models).  For the record, I only tried the new Britax tether connector strap (aka the D-ring) and I have no idea if the connector strap that comes with the Radian models is long enough to wrap around this location.

    

 

2nd row seating in the 8-passenger 2011 Ody models

If you space the 3 seats apart so there is a gap between each seating position you probably have enough room to fit most combinations of carseats and boosters, even the really wide ones.  Especially if you stagger the seating positions by moving the center seat forward.  Just keep in mind that the multi-function seat is very narrow and won’t work for all carseat & booster models (more on that coming up).  

     

The driver and front passenger seats are spaced apart widely enough that you shouldn’t have a space problem with a tall/long rear-facing CR installed on that multi-function seat – even if that center seat has been moved all the way forward.  But again, just keep in mind how narrow that center seating position is and understand that not every carseat or infant seat base is going to install properly in that spot. 

   

As you can see from the pics above, front-to-back space isn’t likely to be an issue when installing a rear-facing CR on the multi-function seat.  The real issue is whether or not you can achieve a proper installation of your CR in that very narrow seating position.  In my trials, I found that some seats fit well and installed tightly and others did not.  The very narrow seating surface (only about 9″ of seat cushion near the bight and maybe 12″ total between the seatbelt anchors) was definitely a factor in most, but not all cases of incompatibility.  

 

For the record, the original Britax Marathon 65 shown in the video above did install quickly and easily and was rock-solid when I used LATCH to install it in the forward-facing position on that center multi-function seat.    

Besides compatibility issues, the other main concern with using the multi-function seat for a carseat is that, depending on the size and shape of the carseat, it may impede your ability to slide the captain’s chair forward to allow access to the 3rd row.

Below is a list of CRs that I installed in that multi-function center seat with the 3 seats spaced out, away from each other.  All installs in this seating position were done using the LATCH anchors.  I just physically couldn’t duplicate every install using the seatbelt and also the belt geometry for that 2nd row center seating position could make it problematic for achieving a tight install in some cases.  In my honest opinion, better just to stick with LATCH if you’re planning to install a carseat or infant seat base on that multi-function seat.  Unfortunately, the most current information we have from Honda is still to discontinue using the LATCH anchors and switch to a seatbelt installation after the child weighs more than 40 lbs – although this info is no where to be found anywhere in the vehicle owners manual.  Since a good number of the popular carseats that I tested in this vehicle are “higher-weight harnessed seats” (meaning they can be used with the 5-pt harness to weights beyond 40 lbs) this may pose a problem to consumers who want to continue using this center seating position for their child’s carseat beyond 40 lbs.  Honestly, if there was one thing that I could change in all Honda vehicles – it would be to dump these antiquated, arbitrary limits on the lower LATCH anchors and the top tether anchors.  Please, Honda – either get on board with the other vehicle manufacturers (Ford, Toyota, Chrysler, VW) who state a 48 lb child limit or just abandon the whole weight limit thing altogether and simply defer to the child restraint manufacturer for guidance on the issue.  Really, it’s not like Honda’s LATCH anchors are weaker than any other vehicle manufacturer’s LATCH anchors.  All LATCH anchors must meet the same federal safety standards and those standards were updated in 2005 to meet even greater strength requirements.   

<Climbing down from my soapbox now> 

With all that said, here’s the list of different CRs that I installed with LATCH on the multi-function seat and a quick comment on whether or not I was able to achieve an acceptable installation with a reasonable amount of effort using general installation tips and tricks. 

Infant seats installed on the center multi-function seat

   

 

Convertible seats installed on the center multi-function seat - Disclaimer: Due to the stiff leather seats in this seating position, I did need to put my knee (or sometimes even both knees) into the carseat when attempting a forward-facing installation. This technique allows me to use my weight to compress the CR into the stiff vehicle seat cushion while simultaneously pulling all the slack out of the LATCH strap.        

  • Original Britax Marathon 65 and other similar Britax convertible models with LATCH bars and dual lower anchor connectors (Boulevard 65, Advocate 65):  Rear-facing – NO (see video above) / Forward-facing – YES, very easily
  • Sunshine Kids RadianXT (results should apply to all Radian models): Rear-facing with new boot design – YES however there was considerable side-to-side rotation when the seat was otherwise properly installed / Forward-facing using recline position – YES
  • Graco My Ride 65: Rear-facing – YES / Forward-facing – ? (Didn’t try – sorry)   
  • Evenflo Symphony 65: Rear-facing with SureLATCH connectors- NO (couldn’t get it tight enough no matter what I did) / Forward-facing with SureLATCH- YES but with effort (vehicle seatback reclined, both knees in CR – rocking back and forth, then seatback returned to upright position) 

             

 

Combination seats (in 5-pt harness mode) installed on the center multi-function seatDisclaimer: Again, I probably put a knee (or even both knees) into these CRs when attempting to install them tightly in this seating position.  

  • Britax Frontier (original 80 lb model – results should also apply to newer Frontier85 models): YES
  • Graco Nautilus: NO – too wide to fit properly on such a slim seating surface (see pics of both support structures on bottom of Nautilus hanging over the sides of the multi-function seat).
  • Evenflo Maestro: NO – same issue.

   

   

  

Dedicated Boosters installed on the center multi-function seat

   

 

Is that enough information to satisfy you?  No?  Good, because I have plenty more. 

What if you’re certain that you’ll want to use that center multi-function position to install a CR but you also need to make sure that you’ll still have access to the 3rd row?  Don’t worry – I’ve got some sure bets for you!  Here’s what did and didn’t work when I had it installed in that center spot with the 3 seating positions spaced apart. Only seats that installed well using LATCH in the multi-function seat to begin with are listed.

YES – you’ll still have room to slide the neighboring captain’s chair forward with a….

NO – it’s just not going to work with a ….

Still want more?  You’re hard to satisfy, aren’t you?  ;)

As far as the Captain’s Chairs in the 2nd row are concerned – I really didn’t spend much time installing seats on them because they’re going to be compatible with almost every seat on the market.  The LATCH anchors are easy to access, the seatbelt geometry is good, they have switchable retractors, the head restraints are removable if they interfere with your carseat installation.  There’s nothing that I can imagine that will give you trouble besides maybe the slippery leather.  The SnugRide32/35 (aka the Teutonia t-tario) base that was very tippy when I tried it in the center seating position was fine (no tipping issues at all) when I installed it in the captain’s chair.  The Graco Nautilus installed just fine in the captain’s chair with both LATCH and seatbelt. And the Britax Frontier installed beautifully in the captain’s chair using the long belt path routing.

For the week that I had this vehicle my 6-year-old used a Clek Oobr  in the 2nd row captain’s chair and it was fairly easy to help him buckle up the right way each and every time.  I liked the stability of a LATCHed booster and he was happy, comfortable and appropriately restrained.  Doesn’t that photo capture Darren’s words perfectly?  “…in a trance of light and sound!”  LOL!     

I know many of you want to know specifically about the options for the 3rd row.  Truthfully, they’re going to be very limited. If you’re wanting to squeeze 3 kids, in seats, back there on a regular basis – good luck.  Darren has a picture in Part I of his 2011 Ody review showing two forward-facing Evenflo Titans with a Safety 1st onBoard Air 35 between them.  Most of the seats I had to play with were wide and I found very few options that would work realistically.  

These are a few options that I came up with for the 3rd row:  outboard / center / outboard

  1. FF original Marathon / Harmony Dreamtime or Recaro Vivo or Volvo HBB / Radian with LATCH (however, in reality that booster in the center will be nearly impossible to buckle & unbuckle)
  2. FF original Marathon / Harmony Dreamtime or Recaro Vivo or Volvo HBB / EMPTY SEAT for older kid or slender adult
  3. FF Radian with LATCH / FF original Marathon installed with seatbelt & tether / SafeGuard Go installed with LATCH (discontinued seat – don’t know if the new Dorel Go Hybrid model will work or not)
  4. FF Radian XT with LATCH / FF original Marathon installed with seatbelt & tether / EMPTY SEAT for older kid or slender adult 

My personal preference was for option #4.  Even though I’m not “slender”, I found it relatively comfortable to sit in the 3rd row outboard position next to a FF Marathon 65 installed in the center. 

The problem with the 3rd row isn’t just lack of space – it’s also the fact that there is only a tether anchor and NOT lower anchors for the 3rd row center seating position.  Also, Honda prohibits using non-standard LATCH spacing which means you cannot “borrow” the inner lower LATCH anchors to create a LATCH position in the center.  So, if you’re putting a carseat in that 3rd row center seating position – you’re going to have to get a good installation using the seatbelt.  Unfortunately, this center belt doesn’t have good things going for it – it originates from the ceiling, it’s detachable which means there’s an extra connection point down by the bight of the seat cushion, and it’s a very narrow seating position.  All of these things are working against you as you try to install something tightly in that center position. 

So what CRs *will* install in that 3rd row center seating position?  Well, the original Britax Marathon 65 installed forward-facing with ease and was rock-solid using the seatbelt in under a minute.  You should probably expect similar ease of installation with any old-style Britax convertibles that have a forward-facing lock-off (BLVD, DC, RA, Advocate).  Honestly, I think having a lock-off device on whatever CR you’re planning to put in that 3rd row center position could make all the difference.  The Graco Nautilus did finally install okay in that center spot with the seatbelt and it was “acceptable” but it put up a good fight.  It took a considerable amount of effort to get it to the point where it only moved 1″ from side-to-side and that was the best I could do.  The final install was achieved by putting the Nautilus into its fully reclined position, reclining the vehicle seatback, putting both knees in the seat (rocking back and forth!), then uprighting the vehicle seatback.  At that moment – I did wish I had a Nautilus Elite model with the lock-off because I honestly think that would have made this install go a little easier.  In this center position the Sunshine Kids Radian appeared to install tightly at first (less than 1″ of movement from side-to-side) but then it did that typical Radian thing where you check for tightness front-to-back and it moves like 6″.  Using a locking clip might have helped but I was exhausted by this point and my back was whimpering and I just didn’t feel like fighting with the Radian and the seatbelt.  (Sorry – no pics of any of these installs because by this point the sun had set and it was dark out.) 

Are you still with me?  I think this is turning out to be the longest blog review in the history of blog reviews.       

Okay, so the next day I was back out there again trying to finish up a few last tasks.  I really wanted to spend a little more time installing seats in that 3rd row.  Realistically, most families won’t need to put 3 CRs or even 3 people in the 3rd row of an 8-passenger vehicle all that often.  But many families will need to put one or two kids  (usually the older kids) in the 3rd row on a daily basis.  So, what can you realistically expect from the 3rd row?  Well, if your kids are using belt-positioning booster seats back there and the center position is empty then everything should be fine and dandy.  Access to the seatbelt buckle shouldn’t be a problem and the outboard head restraints are designed in a way that they shouldn’t push the top of the highback booster forward when they are raised up.  

If you’re using the 3rd row outboard positions to install a CR with LATCH – you should be able to install a wide variety of seats without much trouble.  However, since the LATCH anchors are only rated to 40 lbs (something we hope to see change in the future) and so many popular harnessed seats can be used to much higher weights – it’s likely that at some point many owners of this vehicle are going to have to switch to using the seatbelt to install their carseats in the outboard positions of the 3rd row.  All seating positions in this vehicle (except the driver’s) have seatbelts with switchable retractors that must be switched into automatic locked mode in order to keep a carseat installed tightly.  FYI – if your carseat has a lock-off device then you don’t need to worry about locking the seatbelt as long as the belt is clamped or cinched properly inside the lock-off.  

My limited experience with the forward-facing Radian in the 3rd row was that it installed quickly and easily in the outboard positions with LATCH when it was in reclined mode (I didn’t try installing it when it was fully upright) but that it was a no-go with the seatbelt in either the outboard or the center position.  IMO, if you really want to install a forward-facing Radian in one or both outboard positions in the 3rd row of a 2011 Honda Odyssey – get the SL (SuperLATCH) models and then just keep using LATCH.  To clarify, I don’t like recommending that you go against a limit set by the vehicle manufacturer but if you’re dead-set on using a forward-facing Radian in the 3rd row of this vehicle for a child weighing more than 40 lbs – this might be your best option.  Of course, it needs to be noted that just because I couldn’t get the Radian installed properly in the 3rd row with the seatbelt and the retractor switched doesn’t mean it can’t be accomplished with enough effort and patience (and perhaps the use of a locking clip).  I just didn’t have the luxury of spending a long time on any one particular installation.      

The Graco Nautilus wasn’t an easy installation with seatbelt either.  In both the center and the outboard 3rd row positions it put up a good fight.  But in the end, I was able to get it acceptably tight in both positions.  It definitely moved 1″ from side to side in both cases but we know that’s okay.  Just be prepared to work a bit at this installation and don’t be afraid to put a knee into the seat because unless you’re a bodybuilder, it isn’t going to install tightly with just the pressure of your hand.         

As I mentioned previously, the old-style Britax Marathon 65 model installed beautifully forward-facing in that center position with the seatbelt.  It also installed just as easily forward-facing in the outboard position with the seatbelt.  You can expect similar installation results from all the original Britax convertible models that have a forward-facing lock-off.  I wish that I had had a new Britax convertible  model to try but I didn’t so hopefully one of our readers will chime in and let us know how one of the newer Britax convertible models install in this particular vehicle.   

The final frontier… the Britax Frontier installed with long belt path routing.  I’m happy to report that you can get a very tight installation with the Frontier using the LBP seatbelt routing in the outboard position of the 3rd row.  Just don’t have any crazy notions about fitting anyone or anything in the center seat next to it.  I did use the reclining seatback trick but it went in tightly on the very first try.  Unfortunately, I didn’t try it in the center position of the 3rd row so I have no idea if it will work there or not.  However, the Frontier is definitely a good fit for either of the outboard positions back there using LATCH or the LBP routing.  I didn’t bother to try the standard short belt path routing because the seat I had (the original Frontier 80) has a slightly different beltpath from the newer Frontier 85 model and I couldn’t guarantee that the installation results would be the same for both models.  In the case of LBP routing, if it works for the Frontier 80 it should work just as well, if not better, on the new improved Frontier 85.  

         

Final thoughts and overall impression of this vehicle: 

Whether you have a large family, are expecting multiples, provide child care and transportation for several children or just need to transport a few kids and substantial cargo at the same time – the 2011 8-passenger Odyssey is definitely up to the task.  Really, it’s all about options and the 8-passenger models offer many, many options.  Need to fill up the van with camping gear?  Then put everyone in the first 2 rows (if possible) and you’ll have plenty of room for all your stuff with the 3rd row stowed.  Kids touching each other and bickering and generally driving you nuts?  Separate them and put one or two in the 3rd row.  Want to put 3 carseats in the 2nd row but still have access for another child to get into the 3rd row?  Stow the smaller portion of the 60/40 split 3rd row and use that as an easy entry point into the 3rd row from the cargo area.  Need easier, wider access to the 3rd row?  Consider removing one of the 2nd row captain’s chairs.  There are so many ways to tailor and maximize the space in this vehicle.

Even with the few incompatibilities that I encountered installing certain CRs on the multi-function seat – this is definitely the most “kid & carseat-friendly” new minivan currently on the market.  Now all it needs is a Top Safety Pick rating from the IIHS and good scores in the new NHTSA crash ratings to be crowned the ultimate champion of family vehicles!       

The End.  I hope all the information junkies have been appeased!  :D

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