During the height of minivan popularity during the 1980s and 1990s, one factor that kept Chrysler at the top of the pack was the introduction of new innovations and bold, new designs, but as the segment began to decline in the past decade, minivan makers began playing it safe when it came to styling. Looking to break that trend, Honda unveiled its new 2011 Honda Odyssey with a design that is easily one of the most stylish in its lineup aside from the Honda Civic Coupe and an interior that is loaded with plenty of cabin tech and clever interior packaging.
In recent years, most of its minivan rivals have died off, but the new Odyssey will still have some tough competition from the Toyota Sienna, Dodge Grand Caravan, Chrysler Town & Country and Kia Sedona. Although specific pricing was not announced for the fourth-generation Honda Odyssey, Honda showed off the new top-of-the-line trim level, the Odyssey Touring Elite, loaded with plenty of cabin tech and clever interior packaging. The new Honda Odyssey doesn't really break any new ground as far as innovations go, but it should offer enough interior size and options to please just about any family along with a powertrain that, in true Honda fashion, delivers an even dose of power and efficiency.
When it comes to minivans, the most important selling features generally revolve around the passenger, storage and cargo capabilities, and in the case of the 2011 Odyssey, Honda paid plenty of attention to the interior. The new Odyssey is 1.4 inches wider than its predecessor which helps to make quarters much less cramped for all eight passengers. Up front, the new bodystyle adds almost an inch more shoulder room. Other features include a hidden compartment for electronic devices such as phones and MP3 players, a 'cool box' that can hold up to six 12-oz beverage cans or four 20-oz bottles and a center console storage area big enough to hold a purse. This center console can be removed altogether to accommodate long cargo although exact dimensions haven't been released yet.
The driver and front passenger definitely get some of the cooler changes for 2011, but the second-row seating offers by far some of the more innovative new options for a row that will have to help keep the kiddies entertained. One of the first things Honda did was create more space for the middle-row occupants by providing seats that slide laterally, the 'Wide Mode' seating, to provide more space between the seats which essentially creates a row made up of three captain's chairs. Although the second-row seat isn't able to slide like the Toyota Sienna or tumble into the floor like the Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country, it does offer enough width that can easily accommodate three child seats abreast. The sliding seats can also be pushed together to form a bench seat, and the center seat can fold down providing an armrest with cupholders. Another option for the center seat is the availability to slide six inches closer to the front seats to make tending to infants in child seats an easier task. The Odyssey also offers a 'Trash Ring' which can use a plastic shopping bag to quickly become an in-car trash can.
Attention was also paid to the third-row seating to make it more comfortable by adding more width, more legroom and a center arm rest. Rear-seat legroom was increased by an inch, but the atmosphere was also improved by provided larger rear windows (thanks to the 'lightning bolt' design, and rear window sunshades for improved comfort and privacy. A gauge for family vehicles these days seems to be cupholders, and the 2011 Honda Odyssey offers almost two per passenger with 15 cupholders spread throughout the cabin. On higher trim levels, the Odyssey will also offer a 16.2-inch widescreen rear entertainment system with split screen capability and RCA and HDMI inputs. With the middle-row seats removed and the rear seats folded into the load floor, the new Odyssey can also carry plenty of cargo including 4x8 sheets of drywall or plywood.
Besides the interior, a well-balanced powertrain was also a top priority with the new Honda Odyssey carrying over last year's 3.5-liter V-6 but adding important fuel economy. On the Touring Elite model, and likely other top trim levels, the engine is equipped with Honda's Variable Cylinder Management (VCM) cylinder deactivation system that is expected to return impressive fuel economy estimates of 19 miles per gallon in the city and 28 mg on the highway. These are notable improvements over the 2010 Odyssey's 17 mpg city and 25 mpg highway for models equipped with VCM.
Based largely off the 2010 Honda Odyssey Concept that was unveiled earlier this year at the Chicago International Auto Show, the 2011 Honda Odyssey looks to inject a somewhat sportier styling into the minivan segment. One of the more interesting features that carried over from the concept vehicle was the aforementioned 'lighting bolt' belt line design. The roofline is actually lower than the outgoing Odyssey, but its new shape gives it a much more elegant shape similar to the Mercedes-Benz R-Class. On the top-of-the-line Odyssey Touring Elite trim level, features such as high intensity discharge (HID) headlights, 18-inch alloy wheels and a power liftgate will be standard equipment.
Aside from the spacious, tech-laden cabin, stylish exterior design and the impressive fuel economy expected from the fourth-generation Honda Odyssey, it seems that Honda's proudest aspect of the new minivan is the fact that it was designed by its United States-based design team and it will be built in Honda's assembly plant in Lincoln, Ala. The 2011 Honda Odyssey goes on sale this fall.