Some say this is the new benchmark.
by Mitch McCullough
Base Price $23,000
As Tested $26,415
Launched last year, the Honda Odyssey is a big minivan with innovative features and well-designed ergonomics that make it a joy to live with on a daily basis. It's as large as the Dodge Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country, the acknowledged benchmarks of the minivan, and it carries Honda's hallmark levels of design, engineering and quality.
A rear seat that quickly hides away, a deep well in back for loading groceries and optional power sliding doors all serve to make the Odyssey a superior vehicle for running errands while comfortably transporting four children. In the evenings, it can carry six adults in comfort. It's safe, it's roomy, it's convenient, it's easy to drive and it's a Honda.
Odyssey comes in two trim levels, $23,400 LX and $26,000 EX.
A 3.5-liter 24-valve V6 powers the front wheels, generating 210 horsepower when fed premium-grade fuel. (Regular unleaded can be used, but output suffers about 5 horsepower.) A four-speed automatic transmission comes standard.
The LX offers almost every feature most buyers want, including air conditioning, antilock brakes, cruise control, adjustable steering column, and power assists for windows, mirrors and door locks.
The EX adds power sliding side doors, automatic climate control, electronic traction control, upgraded sound system with a CD player, and handsome alloy wheels.
A new factory-installed navigation system that uses a satellite-linked Global Positioning System is available as an option that brings the price of the EX to $28,000. The DVD-based system generates an appropriate map and route instructions within major cities in the continental 48 states.
Safety features include dual front airbags and a three-point seatbelt/shoulder harness for each of the seven seating positions. NHTSA awarded the Odyssey five stars for occupant protection in frontal collisions, the highest government rating. Side-impact air bags are not available.
If you are familiar with the pre-1999 Honda Odyssey minivans then you need to forget everything you ever knew because this one has nothing in common with those except its name. Though not a bad vehicle per se, that first-generation Odyssey was an odd duck, small with quirky design features.
This new Honda Odyssey is among the biggest minivans on the market. It's about the same size as the Dodge Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country. It's a little larger than the Toyota Sienna, but slightly smaller than the Ford Windstar, Chevrolet Venture, Oldsmobile Silhouette and Pontiac Montana.
Honda took a safe, utilitarian approach to the design of its minivan. The Odyssey is neither as distinctive as DaimlerChrysler's minivans nor as anonymous as the Sienna. Honda has made an attempt to give it some corporate identity around the grille area, but the profile and rear view are decidedly ordinary.
Like its contemporaries, the Odyssey comes with four large doors plus a tailgate. The rear doors slide open, making it easier to get in at crowded shopping center parking lots.
A large, roomy interior is a direct benefit of the Odyssey's size. The floor height is relatively low, making it easy to get in and out. Large, comfortable outside handles make it easy to open the front doors from the outside, while easily accessible handles make it easy to open them from the inside. The rear hatch swings up, and a low lift-over height makes it easy to load cargo in back.
Power sliding doors that come on the Odyssey EX are easy to operate. Either door can be open or closed by pressing a button on the dash or key fob or by moving the inside or outside levers on the door. For safety, the driver can defeat the system by pressing a switch next to the steering wheel; the door cannot be opened when the vehicle is either locked or moving.
Space is plentiful by every measurement. There's lots of headroom and comfortable space for six passengers. You can fit seven, but only if three of them are small children who don't need a child seat. Front seats are comfortable. They don't provide as much side support as I like, but the flat seat bottoms make getting in and out easier, which is a benefit when managing munchkins. Driver visibility is excellent.
The third-row seat can be folded into a deep recess, leaving a completely flat floor aft of the second seat for carrying cargo. It is a relatively simple process, though the third-seat headrests must be removed and stowed in side pockets first. A large well is revealed in back when the seat is in place for carrying passengers. This deeply recessed well will prevent enough groceries to sustain an army from sliding around, a great benefit when driving home from a hectic shopping trip. Try that in a sport-utility. The back of the third-row bench seat is raked for comfort. Cup holders and a storage console add creature comfort. Front and center seats offer map pockets for storing magazines and coloring books.
The second-row can be converted from two bucket seats to a small bench with a bit of effort, though the main benefit of this appears to be improved access to the third row. Second row seats are removable, which, with the rear seats folded into the floor, turns the Odyssey into a carpeted cargo van. When you're in more of a hurry or away from the garage, the second-row seats can be folded down, leaving space for large, flat items -- a nice feature for those spontaneous stops at the home-improvement center. The second-row bucket seats are adjustable fore and aft, allowing optimum comfort for six passengers. Adjustable shoulder belts for the front and second-row seats add comfort.
Comfort for all passengers has been attended to: Temperature and fan controls are available for all three rows, along with fully adjustable vents. Cup holders abound. Materials are top-grade, and the interior color scheme is attractive.
Odyssey drives and rides like a minivan. While the Odyssey offers class-leading horsepower, this is negated by its weight. It accelerates briskly, as quick as many sport-utilities. Fuel economy is average. Honda's V6 is smooth and quiet, though it makes its presence known under full acceleration. The automatic transmission works well, though the column-mounted shifter feels a bit funky as it travels an elliptical path when manually shifting through the gears.
In most situations, the Odyssey delivers a smooth, comfortable ride. On a bumpy road into Washington, D.C., however, the suspension seemed to lack sufficient damping. Bumps could be felt as the wheels were pounded by potholes. Moreover, they could be heard as rattles emanating from the rear of the vehicle. Odyssey is easily maneuvered in close-quarters, better than most SUVs. Braking is reasonably stable, though there's more mass here than in an Accord wagon, and Odyssey's stopping distance is about average for a minivan.
Big, well-designed mirrors are easy to adjust and provide good rearward vision. The view from the inside mirror is obscured a bit by the rearmost headrests, which are removable. Sound quality from the premium six-speaker stereo is mediocre. It has difficulty reproducing tracks with a broad range, such as "Don't Cry For Me Argentina." Distortion occurs at higher volumes and the system lacks efficiency to reproduce low-volume segments well.
The Odyssey does not really raise the bar in its class, but it does equal the efforts of DaimlerChrysler and other competing minivans. Magic third seat aside, it offers little not found among its competitors.
Overall, the Honda Odyssey is a solid minivan, one that owners of other Honda products can trade into with confidence. It delivers a load of convenience and is easy to live with.
The Odyssey is an excellent vehicle for a family of five or six.
© New Car Test Drive, Inc.