Performance on the Road

No matter how comfortable the kids are in back, Mom and Dad still have to drive — at least until little Bobby or Sue hits 16 and the gray hairs start coming in. The same V-6 engine from last year's Touring trim is found in all trims for 2011.

The V-6 moves the van — which has dropped 100 pounds from last year — with pep. The six-speed transmission is smooth, but even the five-speed does the job superbly. I recommend against making a trim-level decision based on the transmissions; there simply isn't a big enough improvement when moving up to the six-speed. If you opt for the Touring, it should be because of all its added gizmos and features.

The V-6 is the only engine offered and adds four horsepower, now rated at 248 horsepower but all have cylinder deactivation that leads to exceptional mileage: 18/27 mpg city/highway when teamed with a five-speed automatic. The Touring and Touring Elite models get a six-speed automatic and some aerodynamic tweaks to achieve 19/28 mpg. Both figures are tops in the class, even against the four-cylinder 2011 Toyota Sienna, which gets 19/24 mpg.

Most minivan driving is likely to be on suburban roads, which usually translates to city mileage. In two 35-mile routes of mixed roads, while pushing the V-6 pretty hard, the trip computer in the Touring I tested returned 23 and 21 mpg.

The power steering is designed so that it takes less effort to maneuver at low speeds in parking lots, while being firmer at high speeds. That theory proved true during my test drive, but at speeds around 35 mph the steering seemed a bit sloppy for a Honda. I took an EX-L trim for a shorter trip, and the steering seemed better-tuned. Perhaps it was an anomaly of the preproduction unit I was driving.

Braking was solid, but not as grippy as most Hondas, including the past-generation Odyssey. It has good linear feel, and the instant you start depressing the brake pedal the large van starts to slow noticeably. Minivans from Chrysler and Dodge take more effort to slow down, and we noticed the response is also somewhat delayed in the new Toyota Sienna.

Perhaps the most important driving characteristic for a minivan, however, is its ride. The Odyssey does an excellent job of muting rough roads (of which I traveled many during my test) and even severe disruptions like railroad tracks (of which I hit at least three).

The Odyssey has a slightly shorter wheelbase than its competition while being longer overall. It was hard to notice any type of flex in the large body during my time in it, which really is a tribute to its engineering.

While there was some road noise in the Touring trim with its 18-inch wheels and low-rolling-resistance tires, the 17-inch models were quieter, and overall neither road nor wind noise was overly intrusive.

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