The 2011 Honda Odyssey has been thoroughly redesigned everywhere you can plainly see and re-engineered nearly everywhere you can't see. It's not an all-new model but clearly marks the next generation of one of America's favorite vans. These multipurpose vehicles aren't minivans anymore.
The Odyssey is all about function and making the business that is family life easier. It will carry two families of four and coolers and tents to supply them. It can tow a small trailer or a couple of personal watercraft. It can carry 4x8-foot materiel flat on the floor, and it can carry 10-foot long objects like 2x4s or lighting tracks inside. It is loaded with conveniences to simplify things and can be loaded with distractions to quell intra-family disturbances.
For most uses, the Odyssey makes a more logical, more compelling argument than a truck-based SUV and many full-size crossovers. It weighs less, is usually less expensive, gets better fuel economy, offers more passenger and cargo room, and greater flexibility in how the space is configured. Unless you need genuine off-road 4WD ability or tow a large trailer the Odyssey will serve better.
The 2011 Odyssey comes with a 248-hp V6 engine that leads the class in fuel economy. A 5-speed automatic transmission is standard, but Touring models get a 6-speed automatic worth a good portion of the price premium: Because of the 6-speed, the heaviest Odysseys are also the quickest and easiest on gas. Comfort and poise on the road are first rate, and we tried it empty and with six size large people on board. Six airbags including three-row side curtains, and electronic stability control are standard.
The new 2011 Odyssey's primary competition is the recently redesigned Toyota Sienna. Sienna offers a choice of four or six-cylinder engines, sports and all-wheel drive models, and optional active cruise control/collision mitigation braking, but Sienna does not offer eight seats on the top-line model nor the fuel economy of the Odyssey. Chrysler's vans and the VW Routan based on them are due for a redesign and are not fully competitive with Odyssey or Sienna top offerings. And buyers more concerned with luxury and fuel economy on a higher budget may consider the Mercedes-Benz R-Class.
Note we refer to the Odyssey and its class as vans. What were originally known as minivans have grown considerably and those shopping for a truly compact van should look at the very good three-row Mazda5 or Kia Rondo.