Due to the ever-growing popularity of crossovers and sport-utility vehicles in America -- there are about 90 currently for sale in the U.S. -- many automakers have chosen to drop minivans from their lineups, leaving only seven manufacturers to duke it out in the small but competitive segment. It's even more competitive now, since Chrysler, Honda, Nissan, and Toyota each introduced all-new or significantly revised minivans for 2011. After driving the all-new Odyssey last fall, we decided that it was an obvious choice to receive one of our ten coveted 2011 All-Star awards. The true test of a vehicle's fitness, though, is putting it through the rigors of daily life, and so we welcome a Black Cherry 2011 Honda Odyssey into our Four Seasons test fleet to see how it fares in a year of heavy use and tough scrutiny by our staff.
The Odyssey's sole engine choice is a carryover 3.5-liter V-6 that was mildly revised for 2011, increasing output to 248 hp. Despite the bump in power, standard cylinder deactivation combined with a new six-speed automatic transmission helps the Odyssey achieve a best-in-class, 19/28 city/highway fuel economy rating. We wanted to test this impressive rating in the real world, so the six-speed was a must on our Odyssey. This narrowed our choices down to the highest two trims. Since the top-spec minivan also added a few must-have features, we decided on the Touring Elite with the base price of $44,030.
Over forty-grand for a minivan could be tough to justify, but the Touring Elite comes standard with nearly every convenience and infotainment option available on the Odyssey. Topping the list of entertainment features is a 650-watt audio system that includes twelve speakers and surround sound and a rear-seat, 16.2-inch widescreen monitor that is capable of displaying video from two different sources side-by-side. The system also includes an HDMI input allowing cameras and even some gaming consoles to be connected. But rear passengers don't get all the goodies; those relegated to the front seat have an extensive list of electronics at their fingertips. An 8-inch multimedia screen displays turn-by-turn navigation, rear-view camera images, and, when linked to a Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone, caller information. The system can be operated in three ways: using a dial located on the central dash, steering wheel mounted controls, or through voice commands.
The system also includes a 15GB hard drive where up to 3500 songs can be stored and controlled via voice commands or through the central control dial. And should all that voice-commanding give driver or passenger a dry throat, a cool beverage is always within reach from the refrigerator located at the bottom of the center instrument panel. The center console between the front seats is also fully configurable or completely removable.
In fact, with seats that slide, flip, fold, or completely disappear, the entire interior of the Odyssey is infinitely configurable to accommodate up to eight passengers-including the ability to hold three child seats in the second-row, a class-first-or up to 148.5 cubic feet of cargo. And in traditional Honda style, no matter where those passengers decide to sit, there is a three-point seatbelt or a LATCH system (five total in the rear two rows), as well as a full array of front, side, and side curtain airbags to keep them safe. We look forward to a year stuffing the Odyssey with kids, dogs, and stuff and hitting the road to test its proficiency as a utilitarian and family-friendly vehicle. Won't you join us?