Last month, I was included in a group of bloggers invited to spend a couple of days in the San Diego area to take a look at, test drive and learn more about the brand-new Honda Odyssey minivan that is being introduced to consumers today. I’ve driven minivans pretty much exclusively for the past 8 years, but only from ‘American’ car companies. In fact, before this trip, I’d never driven any kind of Honda automobile at all. Being from Michigan (and raised in the Detroit area), we didn’t see a lot of ‘foreign’ cars on the roads really until the past decade or so. I remember being warned when I was younger to avoid buying foreign cars because they would be expensive to maintain and there wouldn’t be very many options for places (other than the dealer) that would be able to fix any issues that arose. Maybe that was the case back then (or maybe not, I’m really not sure). But I’m pretty confident, given the numbers of Honda vehicles I see on the roads around here nowadays, that it’s certainly no longer the case now. Besides, as I learned on this recent trip – the Honda Odyssey is not only 100% manufactured in the US, but it’s also completely designed and developed here as well, in Honda’s California, Ohio and Alabama locations.
Now I’m not a car expert by any means. Nor am I trained to test (or even really recognize many of) the features and specifications in any vehicle. But what I am is a mom, who drives a minivan by choice, and who loves the versatility, flexibility and basic roominess that driving a minivan affords to me, my husband and my kids. I have a great deal of information on technical specifications, engineering and such that I was given about the 2011 Honda Odyssey. I’m not going to spout off any of that here. If you’re interested, please ask – and I’ll provide answers in the comments (or in the post itself if warranted). But I’m going to talk about what I liked (or didn’t like) about the new Odyssey, purely from the vantage point of a consumer, looking at how it would fit my family and our lifestyle.
Minivans are an interesting vehicle to begin with. They’re eminently practical – to the point where many people hesitate to purchase one simply because of the image that they tend to portray. Of the ‘soccer mom’ or family-oriented lifestyle – not necessarily a vehicle that many consider to be ‘trendy’ or luxurious. Between the options of a minivan or an SUV, many choose the higher fuel economy of the SUV simply because they won’t even consider buying or driving a minivan. That’s hard for me to understand – I love minivans. I think they’re not only practical and functional, but fun as well. And perfect for hauling my family wherever we need to go, bringing a load of groceries home, helping a friend move, loading up home improvement supplies or carpooling. My personal ‘dream vehicle’ would be a fully-loaded minivan with every imaginable option out there.
Kind of like the 2011 Honda Odyssey.
I’ve seen current models of the Odyssey on the road very often – in fact, since arriving home from San Diego, I notice them everywhere. I hadn’t realized there were so many people already driving them! This new incarnation has been completely re-designed to not only provide things like greater fuel efficiency and the safety features that consumers demand, but to also attract those ‘hesitators’ who aren’t completely sold on the whole minivan concept to begin with. Inspired by airplane design, the new Odyssey is sleeker, more aerodynamic and distinctive. It’s also lower and wider, providing a vehicle that (to me anyway), isn’t immediately recognizable as a ‘minivan’ at all. It’s certainly nothing like my big, boxy van, for sure.
Outside of the Odyssey’s chic new style, it also comes with advanced family safety features, class-leading performance and the ultimate utility to meet consumers’ needs. We learned all about the whys and hows of the re-design, from the actual engineers themselves, while we were in San Diego. And much of the discussion was certainly over my head. But some phrases stuck out in particular – like “Best-in-Class” for fuel economy. And “5-star rating” for safety. The 2011 Honda Odyssey is targeted to have the highest possible ratings from both the NHTSA and the IIHS, the two organizations responsible for evaluating vehicle safety in the US (testing on the 2011 model hasn’t been completed, so actual ratings aren’t available yet). And the fuel economy is more comparable to that of a sedan than another minivan – the Touring Elite level gets a staggering 19 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway. And the lower trim levels aren’t far behind at 18/27 mpg respectively.
I could go on and on about the interior features, but suffice it to say that the 2011 Honda Odyssey is a minivan that provides 5 LATCH locations and 6 tether positions for car seat safety, and seating flexibility. And the outboard seats in the middle row adjust to make the row wider or narrower, so that you can either fit 3 full-sized car seats or seat 2 adults comfortably. Or anything in between. They’ve expanded the leg room for every row, but provided comfortable seating for 6 adults, or 8 total passengers. The engineers and designers have thought of just about everything – and as most of them are parents (and all of them are or have been Odyssey owners), they’re looking at the features that they and their families want. Things as little as putting in a small, fold-out hook at the front passenger seat floor to keep a grocery bag, purse or diaper bag from toppling over when you stop or turn. And including not only large amounts of cup holders, but differently shaped ones too, that can fit a juice box, or a snack carton as well as a sippy cup, can or other round container. All of the seats fold, tilt and/or remove, and the 3rd row can completely disappear into the van’s floor if you need the extra storage space in the rear. They even provided a simple, flip-up trash bag ring behind the main console that holds a plastic shopping bag in place. One of the coolest features (literally) is the ‘Cool Box’ cold storage compartment in the lower area underneath the center dashboard – it redirects cold air from the evaporator to keep drinks or snacks cool, no matter what the outside or cabin temperatures are.
And then there’s the user interface, which controls the vehicle’s information (GPS), convenience (heat/cool) and entertainment (music, video), all within easy reach of the driver or front passenger. With separate zones to minimize confusion, the layout is intuitive and easy to navigate. With a little bit of practice anyway. The highest trim levels include a VGA display with built-in navigation, plus features like a built-in hard drive for music storage and split DVD screens for rear passenger entertainment. There’s even a multi-view rear camera which not only shows what’s behind you, but also provides guide lines to keep you moving straight while in reverse and a sensor system that lets you know when you’re getting too close to an object behind you. Blind spot sensors also let you know when there’s a vehicle in your blind spot too. USB connections let you plug in your music player, transfer audio or photo files to the van’s internal memory, and control everything from the main user interface, steering wheel controls, and/or by using voice commands. Many of us bloggers were joking that we’d never have to leave the van – it’s a better audio/video system than many of us have in our homes.
So that’s a quick tour of the new 2011 Honda Odyssey. The most important question though, of course – is what did I think of this new vehicle. Well, I was certainly impressed. Very much so. Not just by all the fancy features and amenities, but also by the care and concern that the designers and engineers took to make this minivan not only stylish and chic in appearance, but also functional and practical – and most importantly safe. As safe as any vehicle can be when out on the road, anyway. Someone (sorry, can’t remember who) called the new Odyssey a ‘game changer’. And I can definitely see that being the case. They’ve tried to think of everything an individual would want, a family would need and society now demands. All in one attractive package.
Now, would I buy this van for my family? One hundred percent yes, absolutely – if I could afford it. I don’t know what the final prices will be, but we were told that they are trying to keep them in line with current Odyssey pricing. If I were looking to buy a new vehicle (which we can’t right now or for the foreseeable future), I would absolutely consider this one, if nothing else because of the fuel efficiency and safety ratings. All the rest of the features would just be a welcome bonus. I don’t know how this top-of-the-line Odyssey compares to its competitors (the ones mentioned to us were Toyota and Chrysler), but I’d say that it should certainly hold its own at an absolute minimum. The feel of driving this Odyssey was worlds apart from driving my van. For full disclosure – mine is a 2003 Dodge Grand Caravan, very bare bones in terms of features. We’ve also owned ‘sport’ versions of a 2001 Dodge Grand Caravan and a 1998 Pontiac Transport/Montana over the past 8 years. None of those come close to equaling the 2011 Odyssey – even simply in areas like cabin noise, steering and handling and comfort. I’m constantly yelling to my kids in the back of my van and then not able to hear them from back there. In the Odyssey, I could carry on a conversation at a normal voice level (albeit with someone else up front), and I’d imagine that it wouldn’t be much different than talking back to the 3rd row.
I’m short (5’2”) and one reason that I like driving minivans is that I feel like I get ‘up’ over the dashboard in them. I was very comfortable in the new Odyssey – especially after I figured out how to tilt, slide and adjust the steering wheel out of my way. We were treated to the opportunity to have a professional driver take us on a performance course in the 2011 Odyssey – and to drive the course ourselves afterward. I have never taken curves at such speeds in my entire life – and was amazed at the ability of this vehicle to handle them. Easily. We also went through a course designed to show us things like the vehicle’s turning radius, stopping distance and parking ability. Let’s just say I could easily have driven this van all day. Or home, for that matter. Just kidding. Sort of. I pretty much figure that maybe in 5-10 years we might be able to afford to buy one of these used. Because realistically, given our current financial situation, that’s about as close as we’re ever going to get. Sigh.
Here’s part of a video that I shot with my personal flipcam during the second ‘elements’ course – it’s a bit jumpy, but gives you the general idea. The longer driving route we were given also showed off how easy (and downright nice) this minivan is to drive – and it included some amazing scenery as well, of the ocean and in the hills (see photos just above). I drove with Alicia from The Mommy Insider and we had a wonderful time. As I did with Tiffany from Bloggy Moms on the return trip as well. They were nice chances to really chat and get to know each other. The whole experience was extremely well organized by the amazing Honda PR folks and I’m so glad to have been invited along for the ride.
My travel expenses to the Honda Ride n’ Drive event were covered, but no additional compensation was received to post about the event or the 2011 Honda Odyssey. Posting about the event or vehicle was encouraged, but not required. All specifications, data, safety or fuel efficiency information or other technical information given here was taken directly from information provided by Honda. All opinions given here are solely my own or those of my family, as always.