I'm not exactly a Trekkie... not truly. Sure, I've watched my fair share of The Next Generation (like, all of them), languished in the religious overtones of Deep Space 9, and endured a special love/hate relationship with Janeway's crew on Voyager, but I've never dressed up in some weird costume, nor fantasized about learning Klingon. But whenever I step up a minivan with the keys in my hand, I have this undeniable urge to ask it questions prefaced by "computer," and give my directional commands from the centre middle seat... and with no minivan more so than this.
I mean come on, look at the thing. Rolling out of its redesign looking the part of an Enterprise shuttlecraft, it's 100% Star Trek compatible, from its wraparound front end to its oddly stepped rear windows. Honda calls it a signature "lightning bolt" beltline, and the idea behind it is sound: to provide the typically unloved third row passengers with bigger windows so as to mitigate the cave-dwelling experience of the final row. However, from the outside it looks a little odd, especially given the straight lines that accompany the arrow-straight door tracks found on so many minivans' flanks. But, just as with the shuttlecraft it will assuredly inspire in a few decades' time, the Odyssey's shape isn't just the work of a flourishing artist; there's plenty of engineering to be found too. Using large quantities of high strength steel in areas where it benefits the most (which is an industry leading 59% of the time, apparently), Honda's engineers have managed to keep the Odyssey's curb weight down to somewhere between 4,337 and 4,561 pounds, depending on trim level and spec. Furthermore, all that high strength steel also keeps the big minivan's unibody architecture quite rigid, which, when coupled with the large amounts of sculpting and sound deadening used, can really quell obtrusive wind and road noise.
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Inside, the starship configuration continues, with one of the most heavily buttoned centre consoles you're liable to find in any vehicle, minivan or no. Honda's always preferred to festoon their creations with some of the wildest and most heavily utilized control interfaces on the market, and the Odyssey is no exception, even going as far as to add a few of its own controls to the busy cluster. Thankfully, each control cluster is reasonably well organized and separated, with HVAC and stereo controls living distinct from one another. But it's still quite the landscape for your fingertips to learn, especially when you consider that the HVAC controls include rear compartment controls, and that the steering wheel alone houses over a dozen switches alone, and that's not including the turn signal stalk! Over to the left are yet more controls, although those at least are clearly labelled and control the various rear door, hatch, and seat functions. And to top it all off, sitting dead centre as if in a place of honour, is Honda's knobby and vastly less intuitive homage to BMW's now-excellent iDrive. Frustrating at best and downright infuriating at its worst, the menu navigation and cryptic labels that you're forced to do battle with are absolutely atrocious and in desperate need of an update... perhaps a few touch screens, a tricorder docking station, and a voice command system that responds to "computer" in a pleasant female voice would be more in order. Then again, maybe that's asking a bit too much.
Interestingly, for all its space-age styling, perhaps the most advanced part of the Odyssey is that which you experience when it's underway. Floating a few inches above the pavement and seemingly only gripping it ever so tenuously, how precisely the big minivan manages to feel so disconnected from the road can only be the work of anti-gravity thrusters or the like. Oh sure, I know the steering wheel is actually turning the two front wheels from side to side, but the feeling you get is much more akin to that of a drifting spacecraft, desperately trying to manoeuvre it's way through an asteroid belt using only its thrusters to shove it this way and that. Of course, the pleasant upshot of this disconcerting feeling is a supple and smooth ride that's pretty comfortable on those longer orbits. Combined with the plethora of controls and features that ensure that each and every passenger has everything they need to be perfectly contented, and it's easy to see that this is vehicle well suited to the unique criteria of intersuburban travel, not inner city commuting.
If course, no one ever expects a minivan to be all that scintillating to drive, and with the exception of that one fly in the ointment, the Odyssey is a pretty good interpretation of the classic people mover profile: big, comfy, and well equipped. In fact, although it may cost a wee bit more than the perennial class favourite from Dodge/Chrysler, the Odyssey provides the market with a good middle of road vehicle that can provide would be Caravan buyers with a compelling argument to step up to the Honda, while still giving surprisingly expensive Sienna buyers an equally compelling reason to save a few sheckles. Now if you'll excuse me, I have some business to attend to on the bridge. Captain's log, stardate 201111.14...