The Honda Odyssey got longer and wider in its 2011 revision, resulting in good aerodynamics. It's still plus or minus a couple inches of its competitors in every measure. The grille and headlamps appear to be a cross between the Honda Insight and Civic, and Toyota Sienna. Odyssey's looks are somewhat daring, but boxy minivan architecture, function and mission all conspire to limit styling. Touring models have aero rocker panels and mirrors, and larger wheels.
One distinctive visual feature is the drop at the bottom of the window line, behind the sliding doors. They call it the lightning-bolt look, a bit of an exaggeration, but it does break up the monotony and improves the view from the third row.
The front and rear door handles are paired in a mild recess, almost reminiscent of a Rolls-Royce with rear-hinged rear doors. The power sliding doors can be opened without having to shift to Park first, sometimes useful but not a good idea to do so, especially with kids.
The roofline looks something like a tent pulled taut over a stake, similar to that of the Acura MDX, or even the Mercedes R-Class. Taillights use clear lens signals with amber bulbs for visual pop, without the expense of LED lamps. A spoiler atop the hatch is standard, and the power tailgate (EX-L and above) has pinch protection. Roof rails are a dealer accessory.
The Odyssey LX seats seven, and all other models seat eight. We found it roomier and more comfortable than any SUV including a long-wheelbase Cadillac Escalade. Only a Sprinter van offers more interior space, until you get to buses and motor homes.
With all three rows of seats up, the cargo area is 38.5 cubic feet, just 7 less than the biggest SUV. With the third-row folded it grows to 93 cubic feet, and with the second row down there's a breathtaking 148.5 cubic feet. A 4x8-foot sheet of plywood will go flat on the floor, and 10-foot-long 2x4s will even fit, between the front seats when the center console is removed. The floors are lower than they are on SUVs, so loading is easy. The Lazy Susan-like cargo area under the floor carries a spacesaver spare tire.
High-quality cloth upholstery is used in the LX and EX, leather in the other three models, with carpeting and soft-touch panels above the muddy foot zone. The LX doesn't feel cheap like a commercial vehicle, while the Touring model is as luxurious as the nicest Accord. The Odyssey is full of useful bins and good ideas. If you've never owned a van, the Odyssey makes you wonder how you managed without one.
The dashboard, center stack and controls are conventional, and the styling is conservative. The Toyota's swooshy woodgrain interior is fancier (and it has dual gloveboxes), but the controls aren't as simple or logical as they are in the Odyssey, and that's a big thing.
The major gauges are easy to see through the steering wheel, which can be tilted and telescoped. Four small displays at top center are shaded by a hood, and we could see them even wearing polarized sunglasses. Center vents frame the climate controls, including a sync button to match all the zones, while audio and navigation controls are lower. Operation of all controls is reasonably intuitive, and if you don't like buttons there's voice command.
The rear climate controls are overhead, where only a kid could spill a milkshake on them.
A power driver's seat is standard. Adjustable pedals are unavailable. Tall drivers might find their right leg resting sharply against the center tunnel.
The Odyssey chassis uses active noise cancellation and active engine mounts to minimize vibration. A laminated windshield reduces wind noise, in the Touring. In the middle row, any noise comes from the sliding door, and in the third row it comes from the rear tires. We found it is easy to carry on a normal conversation at freeway speeds.
The view out the windshield from the rear seats is very good, with tidy pillars and front headrests. Of course, if the passengers are watching a movie using the available entertainment system, the drop-down screens take away visibility both directions, but that's how it goes, it's worth it. Having six passengers in back will be more of an issue, because the center shoulder belts anchor in the roof on opposite sides. Upper models have parking sensors, multi-view rear camera and blind-spot warning, but in the rearview mirror, the driver can see through the right rear anyhow, unlike some SUVs with thick pillars.
There's a whopping 40.9 inches of legroom in the second row. The seats can be moved apart so that three child seats will fit, or you can have two child seats and still be able to move the third section for back-row access. The middle section slides forward for an easier reach for front-row occupants, or creates a large center armrest, and all can be removed for cargo. One lever will fold, tilt, slide or remove the seats. We love it all.
Third-row seats set a new standard in legroom, with as much space as the front seats in a Cadillac Escalade: 42.4 spectacular inches. It's three-wide for kids and two for adults, with good headrests. Like the second seat, the split-folding wayback seat can be folded into the floor with one tug.
If gadgets and details make the minivan, the Odyssey does not disappoint. Besides that removable center console, you can get a six-pack coolbox under the dash, grocery hooks, 15 beverage holders, four coat hooks, a trash bag holder for passengers, and bins, cubbies and reading lights throughout. Indeed, the Odyssey is a great vehicle for six adults out on the town.
On Odysseys with leather, for $1600 you can get the rear-seat entertainment system with a 16-inch widescreen that shows side-by-side images or one panorama, using 650 watts driving 12 speakers in 5.1 surround sound. So in the unlikely event anyone asks, "Are we there yet?" you won't hear them.