2011 Honda Odyssey road test

By all accounts, the minivan market should be dead. The rise in popularity of the crossover, which blends the cargo-carrying capacity of a minivan to the rugged style of a SUV, was supposed to kill off the minivan.

Surprise, surprise, the minivan is alive — and well.

Today we drive the redesigned 2011 Honda Odyssey, which follows hard on the heels of the Toyota Sienna, which also got an update earlier this year. What do Honda and Toyota know that other manufacturers don’t?

Perhaps it’s because the minivan is still the best option when it comes to carrying the largest amount of people and cargo in a compact package.

We drove the EX-L RES model, the second from the top of five trim lines for the new van. The L means it is the luxury model, with leather seating. The RES denotes this particular vehicle has a rear entertainment system. It comes with a $40,990 list price.

For 2011 Honda has fiddled with the styling, giving it a “lightning-bolt” belt line and a sloping rear pillar. This gives the Odyssey more swoopy lines (like a crossover) while retaining a boxy body. Good try, but it still looks like a minivan. People who traditionally buy minivans won’t care.

What they do care about is the ease with which the rearmost seats fold into the floor cavity — the best in the class and without the need of a power option. They also care about the wider opening for the sliding doors for easier entry and exit. They care about the sliding rear seats that fold 40/20/40 — the centre seat can be folded down to serve as an armrest or tray, or removed entirely.

The second-row seats slide forward for easy access to the third row. A simple release strap is accessible to the rearmost passengers. Headroom and legroom is adequate for adults. There are audio and power jacks in the rear. The Odyssey is rated as a seven-passenger vehicle.

The only advantage the Dodge Grand Caravan still holds is the ability for the second-row seats to fold into the floor.

Our vehicle was filled with thoughtful features for occupants — a fold-out trashbag ring for second-row passengers, rear climate control, a centre console that can be removed, second-row sunshades on the doors, three

12-volt power outlets and one 115-volt. The power sliding doors and power tailgate can be operated by the door’s handle, remotely from the driver’s seat or via the keyless remote.

The driver has a heated power seat which is easy to get into. Apart from the speedometer and tachometer cluster, there is also a large central multi-function display that delivers continuous fuel-economy information, audio or user-loaded graphic images as wallpaper. It also serves as the display for the backup camera. Front and rear proximity sensors also aid in parking.

There is storage aplenty, with drawers and bins scattered around the front. One bin can now be cooled. There are 10 beverage holders scattered about the interior. Of course, as a people mover, the Odyssey also has a convex mirror — called a conversation mirror — that drops from the roof to help keep an eye on passengers. The driver also has the ability to allow or override the rear controls. Our tester had the overhead screen to watch DVDs or play games from inputs in the back. Wireless headphones are included.

The only engine is a 3.5-litre V-6 with a variable-cylinder management system that can see the Odyssey running on as few as three cylinders. It is mated to a five-speed automatic transmission.

Of particular note is Honda’s use of a double wishbone for the Odyssey’s rear suspension. This type of suspension is more expensive than a single beam or torsion-based rear suspension found on most vans. This sophisticated suspension gives the Odyssey an edge in handling. Larger, 17-inch wheels are now standard with 18-inch alloy wheels standard on the highest trim level. With this setup, the Odyssey is by far the best-handling minivan on the market.

Safety equipment includes stability control, traction control, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, electronic brake distribution and brake assist. There are front, front seat and side-curtain airbags with rollover sensor. There are seat latches for up to five child car seats.

With improved seating and interior space utilization, the 2011 model builds on the strengths of the previous generation. It has better provisions for booster and child seats, up-to-date electronic connectivity and rear-seat entertainment options. All in all, the new Odyssey is a happy place for parents and children alike.

Photograph by: Bob McHugh, For Vancouver Province