The new Honda isn't bad at all from the rear doors forward, and isn't so bad from the rear doors rearward, but combined -- what were they thinking? It's as if the rear one-third was designed by Committee A, and the front two-thirds by Committee B, and there was no communication. One of the reasons Nissan suspended sales of its Quest minivan was because it was simply too homely to sell until it was redesigned. Now Honda seems to have used that last-generation Quest as inspiration.
Under the hood, Honda has retained the 3.5-liter V-6, but it now has 248 horsepower, four more than last year. Previously, only the deluxe Odyssey models had the cylinder deactivation feature -- when the van is cruising and the engine is under a light load, the onboard computer can shut down two or three of the six cylinders, saving gas. As soon as you press the accelerator, all six cylinders snap to attention seamlessly. For 2011, all Odyssey models get this everybody-wins technology.
There are seven Odyssey models for 2011, beginning with the base LX, which starts at $27,800. They get more fancy, and pricey, as you work your way up to our test model, the Touring Elite, which starts at $43,250. With shipping, it's $44,030.
All models get an automatic transmission -- a five-speed for the first five models, and a six-speed for the Touring and Touring Elite. It does make a difference -- the five-speeds are EPA-rated at 18 mpg city, 27 mpg highway, and the six-speeds are rated at 19/28. I averaged just over 22 mpg, which is excellent for an eight-passenger vehicle. (The LX, incidentally, seats seven.)
Inside, Honda redesigned the dashboard and instrument panel to look more like other Honda models and even some Acuras. As you would expect from Honda, everything is logically placed and within reach. The leather-clad front bucket seats were very comfortable, and the middle row of seats spacious and roomy, unless you need to put three adults there. Theoretically, you also can put three adults in the rearmost seat, but the closer to the front you are, the happier you'll be. A consolation prize: The Touring Elite had a roof-mounted, flip-down, wide-screen video monitor that is easily visible even from the back.
As you'd figure from the $44,030 pricetag, the Touring Elite has everything you can imagine, including a 12-speaker, 650-watt sound system. That rear video screen, which is 16.2 inches wide, can show one picture on its theater-shaped screen, or two images, one on each side, or even a DVD on one side, a video game on the other. Thankfully for the driver, there are wireless headphones for rear passengers.
The Odyssey's seating, long the industry leader, has been improved: The third-row seat, as before, folds flat into the floor, but now that's accomplished by just yanking on a strap. The middle-row seat is wider than last year's, can be moved 1.5 inches from one side to the other, and can slide up or back 5.5 inches. There's a lot more it can do -- obviously, dozens of engineers have spent a lot of time on seating configurations.
On the road, the Odyssey rides and handles as well or better than any minivan. Though slightly longer and over 2 inches wider, it feels much like the 2010 model I tested earlier this year.
Given the staggering price spread of $15,450 from the base model to the Touring Elite, Honda is making the Odyssey available to a lot of different customers. Even those who get the entry-level LX will be buying an excellent minivan.
As for the styling? It looks fine from the driver's seat.
2011 Honda Odyssey
Base price: $27,800
Price as tested: $44,030
EPA rating: 19 mpg city driving, 28 mpg highway
Engine: 3.5-liter, 248-horsepower V-6
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Length: 202.9 inches
Wheelbase: 118.1 inches.
In a nutshell: Looks, fortunately, aren't everything..