The redesigned-for-2011 Honda Odyssey is longer and wider than other major minivans, but it's still tops in fuel economy.
With sleeker styling and lighter weight than its predecessor, the roomy, V-6-powered 2011 Odyssey with six-speed automatic transmission is rated at 19 miles per gallon in city driving and 28 mpg on the highway by the federal government.
For 2011, Variable Cylinder Management, which can automatically deactivate engine cylinders when they're not needed, such as when the van is coasting, is standard on all Odysseys. It previously was reserved for the top Odyssey models.
Best of all, perhaps, for everyone riding long distances in this van, the Odyssey has voice recognition commands for navigation and song selection as well as a 16.2-inch, ultrawide, split-screen-capable display that folds down from the ceiling aft of the front seats for good viewing by second- and third-row passengers.
The system has HDMI technology, too, and because of its wide, rectangular shape, this screen does not block a driver's view out the back of the vehicle. This rear entertainment system is on certain Odyssey models.
But all Odysseys still have the one-hand, fold-and-flip down, split rear seats that fit smoothly into a recessed cavity to make way for a flat cargo load floor.
Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, for the 2011 Odyssey is $28,580.
The test model, a top-of-the-line Odyssey Touring Elite with all available factory features already on it, was priced at $44,030.
All Odysseys come with a 248-horsepower V-6 and automatic transmission.
Competitors include the 2011 Toyota Sienna, which has a starting retail price of $27,270 with 187-horsepower four cylinder and $29,910 with 266-horsepower V-6.
Another top-selling van is the Dodge Grand Caravan with a starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $25,830 for a passenger van.
Minivans, as they're still called, waned in popularity in the last 10 years as families moved to sport utility vehicles, which have become increasingly car-like in ride and amenities.
But the Odyssey remains a consistent top seller, though quality ratings have slipped.
In the latest J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Study released in June, before the 2011 Odyssey was out, the predecessor Odyssey didn't rank among the top three minivans. Toyota's Sienna, the Kia Sedona and the Grand Caravan held those spots.
Still, it's easy to see why families — young and old — can enjoy this new, fourth-generation Odyssey.
Interior space is generous and pleasant, and this includes a noteworthy 42.4 inches in the third row seats. Indeed, thanks to the lengthened body, passengers in all three rows have at least 40 inches of legroom.
Middle seats — three separate sections in the test van — could move forward on their tracks by a decent 1.6 inches, so passengers can arrange seats so everyone shares good legroom.
And the new, extra-wide sliding door openings were a dream as elderly, less mobile passengers entered and exited without fuss. Everyone liked that the passenger floor is flat, too.
Passengers also commented about the nicely padded the leather-trimmed seats. They don't feel like thick, hard, foam but have some give in them as people sit down.
Plus, the Odyssey has the most anchor and tether points for installation of child safety seats of any normal production vehicle — five. So families with quintuplets will have no problem.
The wide front center console is well thought out. The covered storage area is large enough for most purses, and the top of the cover has a high enough lip to keep cell phones and other loose articles from tumbling out during turns. The console can even be removed entirely, if a driver needs to move from the front to the back seats without going outside.
The navigation screen in the dashboard is large, and letters and numbers are good-sized and easy to read.
The Odyssey is a tad bit lower to the ground now, so the step up is a bit easier to make. But everyone continues to sit up well above the road, and the driver and front passenger, in particular, can see above cars and down the road. And the ride is quite smooth. I felt only big road bumps a bit harshly.
To make the new Odyssey more aerodynamic, the windshield is more steeply raked than before, and the roof rack is gone.
So wind noise is reduced. Passengers still hear a good amount of road noise from the tires, though, and sounds from a loud diesel semi-hauler came through readily into the test Odyssey.
Driving the test van, I had ample power from the 3.5-liter, single overhead cam V-6 — no matter if I was merging into city traffic or passing on a highway.
Torque peaks at 250 foot-pounds at 4,800 rpm, and since the new Odyssey is about 75 pounds lighter than its predecessor, the vehicle moves right along.
Shifts from the six-speed transmission were smooth, and while I could hear the engine as it accelerated, the sounds were pleasant, not strained, even when the van carried six people.
Note that the six-speed is in Touring and Touring Elite trim level Odysseys. All others have a five-speed automatic, but even with that, the government mileage rating is class-leading among V-6 vans: 18/27 mpg.
The bright green letters "ECO" illuminate every time the engine cylinders are deactivated to conserve fuel. Honest, that's the only way a driver knows the van is saving fuel by using fewer engine cylinders.
All Odysseys come with the usual standard safety features including curtain air bags, antilock brakes and stability and traction control.