Honda Odyssey Review

by Philip Greenspun, updated May 2011

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This review is based on the author's experience as the owner of a 2011 Honda Odyssey EX-L, purchased new in February 2011. This was the first model year of the fourth generation Odyssey.

The Odyssey is the un-SUV. It is styled carefully to look small on the outside, but in fact is huge on the inside. SUVs are styled to look huge on the outside, but have cramped interiors that would disgrace a rental car. The Odyssey is styled to look slow on the outside, but it runs 0-60 in 7.4 seconds according to Car and Driver magazine. That's the same number as the base model Porsche Cayenne SUV.

What are the actual numbers on interior room? The Odyssey's EPA Passenger volume is 170 cubic feet. Honda's outwardly enormous Pilot SUV offers 153 cubic feet; the Acura MDX SUV has 142 cubic feet. How about a $70,000 BMW X5 SUV? 102 cubic feet.

Could we destroy the planet and still have room to stretch out with the truck-based pavement-melting 11 mpg Chevrolet Suburban? The suburban offers "best-in-class" 137 cubic feet of cargo volume with all but the front row seats folded or removed. The Odyssey? 148.5 cubic feet. Government Motors says the Suburban offers seating for 9. Let's hope that most of them are under the age of 7.

Another great thing about the Odyssey compared to the SUV is that you can get the kid out of the car. I was with a friend in her Acura MDX. We pulled into a parking space and then discovered that there wasn't enough room on either side of the SUV to open the doors sufficient to stand next to the vehicle and extricate her child from the car seat. That was when I realized why minivans have sliding doors.

What the Odyssey Offers Families

Starting with the EX model, one up from the base, the Odyssey offers a middle-middle mini seat that comes forward and is just wide enough to hold a toddler in a car seat. This puts the kid within easy feeding/smacking range of a driving parent, who can also see what the child is up to via a "conversation mirror" that comes down from the sunglass holder/garage door opener area. The Toyota Sienna tries to do something like this, but fails miserably due to the mini seat being yoked to one of the outboard seats and due to a lack of LATCH anchors.

Parents buy minivans because they are the safest vehicles made. Unlike an SUV, they aren't prone to rolling over. At roughly 4400 lbs., a minivan has plenty of mass to hold its own against the teenage-driven SUV that is likely to roll over and into one's lane at any time. The minivan also has tremendous amounts of crush space. It is truly difficult to imagine how an accident could reach the center of the center seat, where the Precious One is sipping organic milk.

["Non-fatal and fatal crash injury risk for children in minivans compared with children in sport utility vehicles." in Injury Prevention, 15(1), February 2009, found that children in SUVs were twice as likely to be injured or killed compared to children in a minivan, even after adjusting for the age of the child, driver, and vehicle.]

What good is it to buy the safest vehicle made and then back up over your own kid in the driveway, breaking both of his or her legs? Most safety-conscious parents will therefore need to spring for the EX-L model, which has a standard backup camera.

Starting with the EX model, the Odyssey has gentle power sliding side doors. A manual minivan door requires a pretty good slam to close. This can be hazardous to kid fingers and dog tails. The EX-L adds a power tailgate, which a friend told me was a "must". I reminded her that I still had the use of both arms and couldn't figure out why opening a tailgate would prove an insurmountable challenge.

What the Odyssey Offers Outdoor Enthusiasts

Want to keep a mountain bike in the back of your vehicle and a surfboard on top, ready to go at all times? A minivan is for you. With an SUV, putting a bicycle inside the vehicle requires folding or removing all the seats except the front two. A minivan can take an upright bicycle, a bunch more luggage, and still seat four comfortably, five legally. The Odyssey is no exception.

If your main interest is carrying/camping capability, the base Odyssey LX plus a car dock for your Android phone should provide all of the capability that you need; the higher-end models will simply have more expensive upholstery to rip.

[See the "roof rack" section below.]

Locking Yourself Out

The average cost of an RFID tag in 2010 was around 12 cents (Walmart includes one with each pair of bluejeans). Suppose that you leave the sophisticated 6-button key/remote on the center console, open the door, lock the car using the door switch, and walk away. Is the car smart enough to read an RFID tag embedded in the key and recognize that the key is still inside? No. Unlike cars with "intelligent keys" (i.e., 12-cent RFID tags), the Odyssey will happily lock you out of your brand-new $40,000 vehicle.

How do you get back in? Can you call OnStar and have a helpful operator contact the car to let you in? No. The OnStar system is not available on the Odyssey. Since you've already paired your Bluetooth mobile phone with the Odyssey, can you use your phone and a PIN number to get back in? No. Can you call Honda Roadside Assistance and, after an hour or two, they'll come by and let you in? No. Honda does not include roadside assistance with the Odyssey.

Roasting Babies to Death

Suppose that you're a sleep-deprived mother. Your infant is sleeping in the middle row of seats and you've forgotten all about him. You go into a store and leave him to bake in the Odyssey's greenhouse of glass. The child starts to cry. The Odyssey has a sensitive microphone as part of its telephone Bluetooth interface. The Odyssey's computer system is always on, waiting for a radio signal from the remote control. The Odyssey has multiple interior temperature sensors for the automatic climate control system. Does the Odyssey's always-on computer have enough logic to say
IF child crying in interior 
   AND car is parked and off 
   AND interior temperature is above 100 degrees
   roll windows down
   send text message to owners
? No. In fact, the Odyssey's computer will happily sit there, with all of its sensors telling it "a child is being roasted to death", and do nothing.

CO Poisoning

If you want to experiment with carbon monoxide poisoning instead, Honda offers a remote start accessory for $481. It says "pre-wired and designed to interface with your vehicle. No cutting wires." It is unclear if the software is already in the car or if this necessitates plugging a small separate computer into a port somewhere in the car. Either way, starting the Odyssey while it is in a sealed garage should cure whatever ails you.

Gas Mileage

The EPA says that the 2011 Odyssey will get 18 mpg in the city and 27 on the highway. On a trip from Boston to New York City and back, mostly between 65 and 70 mph, the actual consumption was 24.5 mpg.


Make sure that you like the factory audio system that comes with whatever model Odyssey that you buy. You will never be able to replace it. This is not documented in the owner's manual, but the Odyssey has a system ("Variable Cylinder Management") whereby it shuts down 3 out of the 6 cylinders during light driving. So that the occupants don't hear the extra noise from driving a 3-cylinder car, the audio system, even if powered off, puts out sounds designed to cancel this noise (just like noise-cancelling headphones you might use on an airplane flight).

The EX models and above have some pretty nice features. Honda includes a powerful 2 GB flash memory (retail value $5.39, including shipping) onto which the stereo will rip the last 15 CDs that you've played. With the EX-L, the system adds the ability to play music from a Bluetooth-equipped mobile phone or MP3 player. It also adds a USB jack in the glove box and a little cubby that somehow cannot hold an iPod Classic. The stereo can play tracks from an iPod or from a USB stick. If you ever rent an Odyssey EX-L you can let your imagination run wild using the USB stick to change the wallpaper on the big display in the center of the dash. Any 1024x768 pixel JPEG or BMP will work perfectly.

As a good measure of the general decline in the ability of the United States to do anything new, the built-in-Alabama Odyssey cannot receive any of the 1900 HD radio (terrestrial digital) stations in the U.S. Honda didn't think that you'd want to listen to free digital radio at 100 kbps, but they were pretty sure you'd want to pay $204 per year to SiriusXM for 64 kbps streams (roughly the same bit rate as a landline phone call). Try it out during the three-month free trial. Switch between an MP3 playing from your mobile phone, or a standard FM station, and the XM satellite radio. See how muddy and flat the satellite radio sounds. That's because it is the same bit rate as a phone call. [For reference, the MP3s that you purchase from are 256 kbps, four times the bitrate of XM; "iTunes Plus" downloads from Apple are also 256 kbps; the home music lover might rip CDs at 320 kbps; the original CD is 1400 kbps, but encoded in a wasteful manner.]


Honda offers a navigation system that is greatly inferior to the free Google Maps application on your mobile phone. On the EX-L and above models, the navigation adds a $5 GPS chip and $10 map database to the existing LCD screen. What does Honda charge for the additional $15 of componentry? $2000.

How about using the $2000 to buy an Android phone and six years of voice and data service ($25/month unlimited data plus some voice on Virgin Mobile USA)? That works, but the accessory power outlets on the Odyssey are fairly low on the dashboard so the phone/display will be hard to see and/or you'll have to deal with an unsightly run of cable.

[The navigation system comes with a laughably puny hard drive for storing audio files, pictures, and other stuff. After the navigation database is stored, 15 GB are left over for the consumer. For reference, a 16 GB SD flash memory card was selling for $21 at at the time that the Odyssey was being introduced with its 15 GB of hard drive space. Apple was selling a hard drive-based iPod with 160 GB of space. The real question is How did Honda manage, in 2011, to find a source of 20 GB hard drives?]

Rear Entertainment System (RES)

Did you ever see a portable DVD player with a 9-inch screen at Walmart for $125 and think "that might be nice for the kids in the back seat?" If so, you'll be pleased to learn that Honda will sell you one for $1500. Unlike the $125 player, though, the Honda player will force you to handle the disks up front. It will also complicate the interface on your audio system.

Did your kids finish half of that Blu-Ray disk you rented from Netflix last night? They won't be able to finish it in the Odyssey. You paid $1500 in 2011 for a system that supports only the 1995 DVD standard.

The Odyssey includes two 12V outlets on the dashboard and one all the way in the back, in case you decide that it makes more sense to buy the kids an Android phone, a handheld video game system, a portable DVD player, an Android tablet, a Dell laptop, a few hundred hours of video, and a lifetime supply of disposable headphones, and still spend less than the $1500 Honda would charge you for the 9" screen player.

Climate Control

To Honda's credit, they include more or less the same thermostatically controlled climate control system on all of the models. On EX models and above, the driver and passenger have individual temperatures. The "dog air conditioner" in the back has its own thermostat.

Roof Racks

One of the great things about a market economy is that consumers have a choice of vendors. Want a roof rack from a Sweden? Thule is there for you. Want a roof rack with an American-sounding name? Yakima offers an alternative (actually the company was owned by Saudis and Kuwaitis until 2009 when it was sold to "Kemflo International, a Taiwan-based manufacturer of consumer durable goods").

What do these companies' products, combining the best minds of Sweden, Taiwan, the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait, have in common? As of February 2011, neither Thule nor Yakima made anything to fit a 2011 Honda Odyssey. Honda offers its own range of accessories from its Web site, including roof rails, cross bars, and bike/ski/surfboard holders. My experience with Toyota factory accessories is that they were junk compared to Thule and Yakima. It may be worth waiting for Thule and Yakima to tool up.

Leather or Cloth Seats

Leather is expensive and cold in the winter and hot in the summer. The Odyssey EX cloth seats actually seem more luxurious than the EX-L leather. To keep the driver and passenger from shivering in the winter, the EX-L adds seat heaters, but the seat-back heater is only on the driver's side "because of the sensors for the side airbag cutoff system" (to see if a young kid is in the passenger seat). The driver is going to be $3500 poorer after paying for leather; the passenger is going to be cold in the winter.

Small conveniences

The Odyssey EX-L and above has a central storage area underneath the dashboard that has its own air conditioning zone. Even if you're running the heater in the winter, pressing a button will turn on the A/C and blow cold air into the box to chill sodas and other obesity aids.

On the EX and above, sunshades pull up to filter the light coming through the sliding door windows.

Road Trips

One of the weaknesses of the Odyssey is high levels of interior noise. The brand-new Odyssey is noisier on the highway than my 1998 Toyota Sienna was after nine years of rattling over Boston's potholed streets. Conversation at 70 mph is difficult, especially between the front and middle seats.

The driver's seating position is more upright than in a standard car, which is kind of nice at first but the lack of legroom is fatiguing after two or three hours. A standard midsized sedan has more room to stretch one's legs.

Car Camping

Honda offers a 6-man, 10x10' tent that fits into the open tailgate of an Odyssey: Honda Tailgate Tent. If the economy slides any further, quite a few families may be calling this system "home".

Should the tent be insufficiently comfortable or weatherproof, the owner's manual says that with an automatic transmission fluid cooler added, the Odyssey can hold 4 adults while towing 3200 lbs. That's a 22' travel trailer.

My favorite parts of the owner's manual

Here are some poetic sections of the owner's manual:


As poorly conceived and executed as many of the Odyssey's electronic features are, the competitors in the minivan market aren't any better. The Chrysler minivans are not as mechanically sound as the Odyssey and, except when purchased used from rental agencies, aren't substantially cheaper. The redesigned-for-2011 Toyota Sienna is so ugly and cheap-looking inside, unless you spring for the $40,000+ models, that it cannot be taken seriously except for those who go skiing every weekend and need all-wheel-drive (the penalty for which is near-SUV levels of fuel consumption).

Where to Buy in the Boston Area

I bought mine for $550 under invoice at Boch Honda in Norwood, Massachusetts. Like other dealers, they tack on a $300 "documentation fee" (i.e., you get to pay their secretaries and clerks), so the real price was $250 under invoice. The high volume dealers apparently get back a lot of money at the end of the year from Honda so that they can still make decent money even selling a car for $250 less than their supposed cost.

Via email, I corresponded with Danielle Werman. In the dealership, my salesman was Dennis Young. I made one Sunday trip to the dealer to look at the car, agreed to purchase it, waited for what seemed like 30 minutes too long for paperwork to be prepared, and finally escaped having signed a variety of Registry of Motor Vehicle forms. My bank wired Boch Honda the rest of the money on Monday morning. Dennis Young delivered the minivan to my house on Wednesday afternoon, complete with license plates and inspection sticker.


The mechanical parts of the car are great, just as they were on the 1995 Odyssey. The level of interior noise on the highway is high, just as it was on the earlier Odysseys.

As far as the electronics and systems go, Honda got the small stuff right, e.g., the Bluetooth interface from your mobile phone to the audio system. Honda got all of the big stuff wrong. You can lock yourself out and there is no way to get back in. The car doesn't have any way of alerting you if a baby has been left inside. Even if you spring for the $2000 navigation system, the lack of an Internet connection means that the system can never be up to date like Google Maps, can't show you reviews of the restaurants nearby, can never warn you that the restaurant you're driving towards is closed, etc. The car can't call you if someone tows it away or steals it.

How much would it cost to add these features? The Amazon Kindle costs $189 and includes a bundled lifetime of Internet usage over the Sprint 3G network. The rest is just a little bit of programming.

Thus my advice would be not to buy the fancier Touring edition or even the EX-L if you can live without the backup camera. At trade-in time, the electronics on that $40,000+ Touring are going to seem absurdly clumsy compared to a $200 tablet. The resale value of what seem like fancy electronics now will be near $0.

A Hyundai with three docks for Android tablets, one dock for each row of seats, would be a much more useful minivan than a top-of-the-line Odyssey with the electronics features that the best minds of Honda were able to conceive.


Text and images copyright 2010-11 Philip Greenspun.

Reader's Comments

totally agree on the premium packages. I ended up getting the EX because the wife liked the power doors and the climate control but the price difference for the more expensive trim levels was totally unrealistic for what they offered.

here's a great resource for some of the other neat features Odysseys have. It is strange that they're smart enough to not let you open the driver side sliding door if the fuel door is open but they can't figure out how to keep you from locking your keys in the car.

-- Dave Pease, February 18, 2011

Almost totally agree. One thing about leather seats, though, is that they are very friendly to young children. If you don't intend to outlaw food, snacks, candy & drink from the van (or Family Utility Vehicle as we sometimes call it), leather seats will save much cleaning effort and prevent lingering odors and clinging foodstuffs.

Also, for our 2006 Honda Odyssey, we went with the Honda crossbars and later got a nice Thule carrier that locks on very well.

-- Rob Gunning, February 19, 2011

While all true, the review spends more time on things that all cars should do, but *none* do rather than on what stands the Odyssey apart. While it may not be as sexy as an SUV, the Oddyssey offers fantastic utility, unrivalled by any SUV or any other van available in the US. Dodge/Chrysler models offer substantially less practical space and seating, and Phil already talked about Toyota. I would also second the other comment -- leather is the way to go with young children.

-- Michael Teper, March 14, 2011
Most vehicles are not set up to use LATCH anchors in the middle seat position, only on the sides. Also, LATCH systems typically have a somewhat low weight limit... in my car it's 40 lbs. Since the middle seat is safest and a typical kid + carseat would be too heavy for LATCH by 1 year old, personally I don't think it's a very killer feature.

-- Jenn W, May 17, 2011
The minivan is the the perfect expression of a machine made to move more than two people over distance in comfort. SUVs are for chumps.

-- Bret Berger, August 30, 2011
The touring model gets an acoustic windshield that reduces ambient noise significantly.

We test drove the EX-L model and the Touring model back to back - on the same road and found a big difference.

-- Naveen Hiremath, December 30, 2011

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