This year, Automobile Magazine choose the 2012 Honda Odyssey as one of its ten All-Stars, the only minivan to make the list. It's not hard to see why the Odyssey would be so honored, but it's actually my least favorite minivan to drive.
Top-notch powertrainThe Odyssey Touring Elite gets the best fuel economy of any minivan, at 19/28 mpg. (The LX, EX, and EX-L Odyssey models, which have a five-speed automatic rather than six-speed, are rated at a still-impressive 18/27 mpg). At the same time, and despite its 248-hp power rating being the lowest in the segment, the 3.5-liter V-6 provides peppy acceleration. The six-speed automatic works well. Chassis tuning is also pretty good, with no notable floatiness.
Bum steerSo what's the problem? It's the steering, which is just awful. It's ridiculously overboosted, imprecise, and really feels sloppy. Instead of building up as you wind on more lock, efforts actually decrease. The Odyssey steering is easily the worst of any minivan, and makes herding this van down the road a chore. It doesn't have to be this way; in fact, at one time the Odyssey was known for its superior steering. Those days are gone.
Lacking luxeSpeaking of disappointment, we also could have a word about the interior. Considering that my test example was a $44,000 top-of-the-line model, the workaday interior design and materials were a letdown. Gray plastic trim does little to enliven the massive dash, and it takes longer than it should to find what you're looking for in the sea of black buttons in the center stack area. Leather is standard (naturally), but it could almost pass for the fake stuff, and there's plenty of hard plastic on the dash and door panels.
Kid friendlyOf course, most minivan buyers get one because they have kids, and kids will love the Odyssey. The high-end version has an ultra-wide (16 inchs) flip-down video screen; even more impressive, it has split-screen capability, so siblings don't have to agree on what to watch. The Odyssey is one of only two minivans (the Sienna is the other) that offer eight-passenger seating, so one more friend can come along. The rear seats are quite comfortable, and third-row space is generous. Unlike Chrysler minivans, however, Honda rear passengers are denied seat heaters; perhaps the thinking is that sitting on cold seats builds character.
Does driving this bus also build character? Probably not, but it's definitely one more example of something parents only do for their kids.