It’s not easy to make a box look stylish or exciting. The box in this case being a minivan, which by nature tends to be function over form. But the automakers that remain in the minivan game are doing what they can to make the family haulers as stylish as possible.
Case in point is the 2011 Honda Odyssey. Long one of the most desirable vans on the market, this completely redesigned version is pretty sleek, at least from most angles. With its new shape and added features, the Odyssey moves back to the top of the minivan heap.
The most obvious change is to the overall profile, especially the silhouette of the front. Extra rake to the windshield helps to garner more aerodynamic efficiency, and the rearmost side windows take an artful dip toward their leading corners. Honda’s van definitely stands out among the competition.
Those new styling elements serve purposes too. The slippery new front end helps the Odyssey move through the air more efficiently, to the tune of up to 19 miles per gallon in the city and 28 on the highway. Pretty impressive for a large vehicle that can seat lots of people.
Speaking of that, Honda paid special attention to the interior and its configurability. The middle row of seats is split into three sections (on all but the base LX trim level) which can move fore-to-aft and side-to-side. With that, up to three child or infant seats can be secured, and there are a total of five LATCH positions (federally-approved anchors) in the second and third rows.
When you’re building a family vehicle, the seats up front are important too, as that’s where parents (or increasingly, grandparents) will be spending their time. I tested a top level Odyssey Touring Elite and there was almost every amenity you’d find in Honda’s upscale Acura vehicles.
The gizmos don’t stop at the rear seats, as the younger ones likely to ride back there can be treated to a new wide-screen LCD screen. It can show movies, display video game or camera outputs, or be split into side-by-side views to avoid sibling disputes. Optional automatic climate control keeps everyone at the right temperature, even if it’s different that what the folks want up front.
And one cool new item – literally – is tucked into the bottom of the dashboard below the audio and climate controls. It’s a compartment that Honda calls the Cool Box, chilled via the air conditioning system to keep drinks and snacks at palatable temperatures. It won’t make water or sodas ice cold, but it will make them much cooler than tepid.
This isn’t a lightweight vehicle, yet it scoots around nicely thanks to Honda’s latest 3.5 liter V6, now making 248 horsepower and featuring a 6-speed automatic transmission on the Touring models. (LX and EX Odysseys continue with 5-speed automatics and lose a little MPG because of it.). All models feature cylinder deactivation at cruising speeds to help save some gas when all six aren’t needed.
Prices start at $27,800 for the base LX version, but the better equipped EX is likely to be the more popular choice at a starting price of $30,950. From there you can climb up the price scale through EX-L (with or without navigation), Touring, and finally Touring Elite for $43,250 which pretty much comes with everything.
Honda is busy cranking new Odysseys out of its Lincoln, Alabama plant as I write this. A new minivan to go up against the new Toyota Sienna as well as Chrysler’s minivans, which get a power increase this year. All variations on how to reshape a box as much as possible.
I’ll see you down the road.
Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net.