First Drive: 2011 Honda Odyssey

That said, the Honda would still be our minivan of choice to drive on all but the straightest, smoothest roads. The Odyssey retains its independent rear suspension -- a rarity in the segment - and presses its ride and handling advantage with a stiffer unibody, softer bushings, and new bypass dampers that provide better body control over most surfaces but soften large impacts. It doesn't hurt that it's lost 50 to 100 pounds (depending on trim). Through mountain switchbacks and then an autocross course -- yes, an autocross course -- the new setup provided predictable, controlled, and creak-free handling along with a slightly more isolated ride than the old model. As for the steering, we were unable to discern any difference in feel and effort save for in parking lots, where it is slightly easier to maneuver. Everywhere else, it's still quick and precise enough to mask the vehicle's size during spirited driving. Mind you, the seventeen-foot-long Odyssey is no Civic Si. But should you venture off the highway and get lost on an undulating and winding road, the kids probably won't get carsick and neither will you.

If you're in an upper trim level Odyssey, though, you probably won't get lost-and the kids won't care where you drive. Whereas the last-gen model relied on the same compromised navigation system offered in a $20,000 Fit, the new Odyssey gets a much improved hard-drive-based setup that's easier to use and far better at scoping out points of interest. The 15-gigabyte hard drive can also store music from USB devices connected through a new port in the glovebox. In back, the optional flip-down video player can now display two movies on one wide LCD screen. Top-of-the-line Touring Elite models, essentially Acuras minus the badge, add a 650-watt surround-sound stereo and an HDMI input for the rear entertainment system. Aesthetically, the update is less ambitious. There are some more soft plastics-including a crucial piece atop the inner door panel -- and the whole dash takes on the functional, if somewhat busy, design of the current Accord. It's by far the most attractive, highest quality cabin you'll find in a minivan, but it doesn't try as hard to impress as what you'll find in most similarly priced crossovers.

Wow. The Pontiac Aztek reborn....
What's with the rear-of-the sliding doors cut and paste job?
Look very hearst-like to me.
Whoa, this is hideous looking van! It looks like one of those cars in disguise to hide from the press. The tail looks like an ugly, last minute, hearse-like, add-on, that doesn't even look like it belongs to the car. Who was asleep at the design table? Hard to believe the thing passed through layers of approvals and nobody said a word on its ugliness. I guess the polite Asian culture went amuck this time.

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