From behind the wheel, the news is mostly good. Steering feels overly weighty at low speeds, making the van seem heavier than it is, but at speed it's just right. Touring models accelerate as briskly as the rival Toyota on hand for comparison. (The five-speed Odysseys feel noticeably slower, but by no means lethargic.) The brakes apply with a reassuring firmness, and the van corners with less roll than the Sienna or the 2010 predecessor and with surprisingly little fuss from its eco-friendly tires. As befits a minivan, no manner of Finnish-flicking or high-school horsing around with VSA off would provoke anything approaching a drift. She's a resolute understeerer. Its single greatest flaw: Neither transmission allows you to select gears manually. A button allows you to request D4 in the six-speed (D3 in the five-speed), and both have an L position that will suddenly and unexpectedly grab the next lowest gear with a lurch when the speed falls within range. Honda, as we've reportedly told Ford: This is unacceptable.
So could I recommend the Odyssey to my sister? Absolutely. Will she buy it? Nope. It's way bigger than her nuclear family needs; they're look-out-the-window people; the anticipated $28,000-$42,000 price is too rich. Besides, there's still tons of life left in their beloved '97. Of course, if someone totals it in three years...
The Little Van That Could
The only new car my sister has ever owned (a '95 Neon) was totaled in a rain-induced Southern California chain-reaction wreck in 2000. Her second call was to me. "What should I buy?" she asked. I prescribed the Honda Odyssey/Isuzu Oasis for its then-unique blend of tidy packaging (my nephews were ages 2 and 4), versatile people/cargo hauling, economy, and astonishing reliability. "Shoot for one with less than 100,000 miles," I suggested.