Redesigned Honda minivan worthy of long, long test drive

Redesigned for 2011, driving the new Honda Odyssey has me rethinking my take on the traditional minivan.

And the more I drive it, the more I like it. While I had the chance to log seat time in one of the lower trim levels earlier this year, this week I had a chance to test the top-of-the-line Odyssey Touring Elite.

Wow. It is so nice, it’s hard to believe this is a minivan.

First of all, my hat is off to the Honda design team that came up with the rear-tapered monovolume shape and “lightning-bolt” belt line that really sets the Odyssey apart from the “box on wheel” perception of minivans.

This is not your average people mover.

Not by a long shot.

Although it comfortably seats eight passengers (seven in the Odyssey LX trim level), this is an impressive vehicle designed to meet a multitude of transportation needs.

With a base price starting below $28,000, consumers have their choice of five Odyssey trim levels for the 2011 model year — LX, EX, EX-L, Touring and Touring Elite.

A 3.5-liter V-6 engine with variable cylinder management to help improve fuel economy powers all Odyssey models.

Delivering 248 horsepower and requiring regular unleaded gasoline, it is mated to a five-speed automatic transmission — with the exception of the two Odyssey Touring trim levels, which are mated to a six-speed automatic transmission.

Rated as an Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle, it has an EPA fuel economy rating of 18 mpg city, 27 mpg highway (19/28 respectively for Touring trim levels).

Standard safety features include 2-point safety belts for all seating positions, dual-stage multiple-threshold front airbags, front side airbags, three-row side curtain airbags with rollover sensor, driver and front passenger active head restraints, Advanced Compatibility Engineering body structure, anti-lock brakes, electronic brake distribution, vehicle stability assist with traction control, brake assist, tire pressure monitoring system, daytime running lights, side-impact door beams, LATCH child seat anchor system and child-proof rear door locks.

It has achieved the highest possible overall safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

It is also loaded with new features.

One of the many highlights includes the new “3-mode” second-row seat design that expands laterally, along with an easy to use 60/40 split third-row Magic Seat. Other new available features include a 16.2-inch ultra wide split-screen display and an auxiliary high-definition multimedia interface video input, an “intelligent” multi-information display with customizable wallpaper, integration of FM traffic data on navigation models and a 15GB memory hard disk drive-based audio system.

Performance on the road is exceptional. I only wish this model was available before our kids grew up and moved away. We really could have used it.

For those in the market for a minivan, the 2011 Honda Odyssey is highly recommended for the test drive list.

Neal White has been covering the automotive industry for more than 20 years and is affiliated with the Texas Auto Writers Association.

MODEL:

2011 Honda Odyssey

7- or 8-seat minivan 

Front-wheel drive

Trim packages:

LX, EX, EX-L, Touring, Touring Elite

PRICE RANGE:

$28,000-$45,000

ENGINE:

3.5-L V6 (248 hp/250 torque)

TRANSMISSION:

5-speed automatic

6-speed automatic

EPA: 18/19 mpg city, 27/28 mpg highway (5-speed/6-speed)

FUEL: Regular unleaded

TRACTION CONTROL:

Vehicle stability assist system with traction control

BRAKES: ABS

LENGTH: 202.9 inches

WHEELBASE: 118.1 inches

WIDTH: 79.2 inches

HEIGHT: 68.4 inches

WEIGHT: 4337-4560 lbs.

TRACK: 68.1/68.2

(front/rear)

FUEL TANK: 21 gallons

TIRES: 17-, or 18-inch

MADE AT: Honda Manufacturing of Alabama in Lincoln, Ala.