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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Review: 2011 Honda Odyssey

Technology Time Capsule

Want an x-ray snapshot of where technology is headed?

Juxtapose an earlier version of a time-tested product used by millions -- in this case, Honda's best-selling minivan, the Odyssey -- and compare it with the new-and-improved version, the just-released 2011 model.

Evolutionary, not Revolutionary

Faced with an increasingly long list of deferred maintenance on our warhorse six-year old Odyssey, my wife and I made the fateful -- and expensive -- decision to instead plow money into a new model.

A month into driving it, I can report that the changes seem to be mostly incremental, and that the theme(s) seem to be (even) more technology, plus added comfort.

Shades of "Wall-E"

So, now there are not only built-in cup holders everywhere -- but they all have Styrofoam-like petals that stabilize your beverage.

Which is actually brilliant, because Honda's designers have no way of knowing the diameter of your beverage.

The solution?

Make the cupholder big enough to accommodate the largest imaginable drink, but then add flexible Styrofoam to stabilize smaller drinks.

Similarly, the armrests not only adjust, but now they have intermediate settings, for added comfort and customization.

It all sort of reminds me of the Pixar movie "Wall-E," where humans of the future have morphed into sedentary couch potatoes with atrophied appendages, who move about on mechanized barca-loungers with built-in . . . everything.

Safety & Design

The most functional of the upgrades is actually quite useful: a backup camera that now superimposes, NFL-style, a grid of yellow lines to provide perspective.

The previous version showed you what was in back of you, but it was much harder to judge distances.

Meanwhile, the new headrests in the third row are conspicuously taller, narrower and set further apart -- presumably to improve rear view visibility.

However, the effect is a bit like looking through field goal uprights in football.

Carnivorous Grille

Finally, Honda's designers apparently felt the need to kick up the new model's "testosterone factor"; the result is a more aggressive-looking car, full of angles and a front grille that looks like it could bite you.

All of which fools . . . exactly no one.

Honda's minivan was -- and is --a very functional, family car that's well-built and very reliable.

Which is just fine by us.

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