2011 Honda Odyssey expert review

Minivan style is an oxymoron. But with the 2011 Honda Odyssey, it is appropriate, which is not a universally pleasing thing.

Some people hate the design. The front end slopes rakishly. The rear end, an appendage seemingly designed by a rap star, breaks away from the rest of the vehicle, a poetic riff in metal. It makes a statement of luxury and sport, declaring loudly that it is not your mother's minivan.

And many mothers, based on phone calls and e-mails I've received, resent that.

"It's awful," one woman said. "I looked at it and bought [a more conservatively styled] 2010 Odyssey instead."

Others asked in a collective refrain: "Why did Honda do this?"

My answer is that Honda knows what anyone who has ever watched TV or trolled the Internet knows: Not all mothers are the same.

You have your "Ozzie and Harriet" moms, a Main Street crowd whose values and lifestyles resemble those of the Nelson family in the 1952-66 ABC-TV comedy. You have ABC's modern take on domestic life -"Desperate Housewives." And if the latter group isn't spicy enough for you, there are the "real housewives" of various cities and "reality" TV situations and, of course, there is the Internet.

On the latter point, I'll say no more except that Honda has apparently discovered what the television networks and the Internet have long known: Sex sells.

Here's betting that, despite some vociferous opposition, Honda will take that discovery to the bank. Based on empirical observation, the number of men and women who love the new Odyssey exceeds those who hate it.

In the 2011 Odyssey, especially in the loaded Touring and Touring Elite versions, Honda has done what was once thought impossible. It has turned out a hot minivan. And that's "hot" with specific tangibles:

l Exterior styling is polarizing. (When have you ever heard that about a minivan?) But it's so different the new Odyssey is guaranteed not to be lost in a parking lot.

l Interior ergonomics are the best of any minivan available in the U.S. market, including the all-wheel-drive Mercedes-Benz R350, which has a base price of $50,240, compared with $43,250 for the fully loaded, front-wheel-drive Odyssey Touring Elite.

l "Fully loaded," when applied to the new Odyssey, means every safety feature (such as four-wheel disc brakes), electronic amenity (split-screen video for rear seat passengers; iPod, iPad, Bluetooth connectivity), and creature comfort (cold storage for soft drinks, leather-upholstered seats) found in more expensive luxury vehicles.

But all that would be meaningless if the new Odyssey were a road slouch. It isn't.

It sounds silly to say this. It seems especially ridiculous to say this in reference to a minivan. But it is what it is. And the new Odyssey is fun to drive!

Stop laughing long enough to go to a Honda dealer and drive the thing. The new Odyssey runs with a tweaked version of the 3.5-liter V-6 used in previous models, delivering 248 horsepower and 250 foot-pounds of torque, compared with 244 horsepower and 245 foot-pounds of torque in the 2010 minivan. The new engine is mated to a more fuel-efficient six-speed automatic transmission, compared with a five-speed automatic in the old.

The 2011 Odyssey is a tad larger than its predecessor - about an inch longer and two inches wider. The larger dimensions afford more interior passenger comfort. But the extra size can be a negative in crowded parking garages despite a backup camera, a proximity warning system and other parking assistance devices available with the new Odyssey.

The bottom line is that Honda has done well here. The company's stylists might have displeased more conservative customers with the new Odyssey's rakish exterior. But here's betting that it will profit from the little devil in all of us.

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