New Car/Review

The New Honda Odyssey, A new Standard in Minivans?

by Larry Weitzman

Honda
Honda Full Line factory footage (16:28) 28.8, 56k, or 200k

Being an also ran has been the name of the game that segment of the automobile industry known as minivans. It has been that way since the popularization of the product in 1984 by Chrysler. Everyone else has been playing catch-up. Just when a manufacturer thinks they one up Chrysler, the boys at Pentastar bring out a new product raising the bar another notch.

The first Odyssey wasn't sure if it was a station wagon or a minivan. It was small in size, only 187.6 inches long, 70.6 inches wide and a wheelbase of 111.4 inches. It had four swinging out doors and was (under) powered by a 150 hp 2.3L four cylinder engine. Just about every other minivan was bigger and offered a V-6 of three liters or more.

Chrysler and everyone else better start looking over their shoulder and get back to the drawing boards because they have just received some of the most serious competition ever in the new Honda Odyssey. This is a completely new design: new engine, body, size, and new, more rigid chassis.

First is the new body design. It is more angular than the jellybean styling of the competitors. Not that I don't like the competition, the Honda is just a little different. The shape is more defined, with a purposeful look. I like the new front end, which carries the Honda theme. The rear has large taillights and a very nice shape with a superb rear window. The large wheelwell flares add to its aggressive stance. I like the new design.

The new Honda has grown up. It is now rides on a 118.1 inch wheelbase with an overall length of 201.1 inches. Width is up over five inches at 75.6. Height is up 5.1 inches to 69.7 inches. This new size comes with a penalty of nearly 800 pounds of extra weight, now nearly 4300 pounds. It touts power left and right sliding rear doors. They can be operated from the driver's seat, the remote entry and by the door handles. They are trick and convenient.

The new jewel of an engine is a 3.5L, SOHC 24 valve VTEC (variable valve timing and lift, electronic controls) V-6 that pumps out 210 hp at 5,200 rpm and 229 lb-ft of torque at 4,300 rpm. This is the most powerful engine currently available in a minivan. And does it perform.

Even with a curb weight of approaching 4,300 pounds, it will scoot from 0-60 is 9.2 seconds (I had one run at 9 flat). Passing performance is also very quick with 50-70 acceleration times averaging 5.3 seconds and going up a 6% grade will only slow that time to about 7.5 seconds. This Honda is downright quick. Numbers like that are usually reserved for good performing sedans. Well, move over everyone, there is a new horse in town, and it likes to run with the thoroughbreds.

And the Honda does all this with some pretty tall gearing. With shift points at 6,000 rpm (redline is a lofty 6,300 rpm), the Odyssey will do nearly 50 mph in first gear and 80 plus mph in second. At 70 mph the engine is turning only 2,000 rpm. The four speed electronically controlled automatic is silky smooth with crisp down shifts. This is one of the best powertrains to be found anywhere, never mind in a minivan. It's rated to tow up to 3,500 pounds.

Fuel consumption is EPA rated at 18/26 mpg city/highway. During my several hundred miles of testing, I averaged between 18-19 mpg with my right foot buried in the carpet a substantial amount of the time. With its 20 gallon fuel capacity, it has a cruising range that will test the endurance of the hardiest (8 hours at 65mph). Pretty remarkable for a 4,300 pound vehicle with over 160 feet of cargo volume that does 0-60 in 9 seconds.

Honda is one of the only minivans to use four wheel fully independent suspension, with struts up front with control arms and double wishbone in the rear. The ride is very sedan like. There is no wallow, bobbing or weaving. It is supple, smooth and well controlled. Little harshness was encountered on Ponderosa Road with no rattles and no tin canning vibration that is so common place in some vans. Handling in the sharp corners exhibited no axle hop or sideways rear end movement.

Green Valley and Bass Lake Road could be traveled at the speed limit without any fuss, fret or fright. The steering is accurate with great feel and just the right amount power assist. This minivan can go around corners with some of the better handling sedans. With front wheel drive, standard traction control and full ABS, I took it up into Apple Hill after a snowfall. Larson Road had plenty of snow on it and it didn't phase this Honda. It track straight and true and the low speed traction control keep the drive wheels from spinning from too much power or slipping when hitting an icy spot.

Part of the handling can be attributed to the Honda's sharp looking five spoke 16X6.5 inch alloy wheels shod with 215/65 mud and snow radials. The Honda also exhibited a very tight 37.7 foot turning radius, which contributes to its maneuverability.

Stopping was confident. ABS is the greatest invention since four wheel hydraulic brakes. I could not get the Odyssey to slide out of control in the snow. It keeps its composure at all times under anything I could dish out (within reason). With front wheel drive, traction control and ABS this is about as close to four-wheel drive without being a true 4X4 as you can get.

Highway ride is smooth and supple. There is no tar strip or road noise intrusion. Quiet and comfortable is the order of the day for this minivan.

But minivans are about convenience and economy. The Honda comes with up to seven passenger seating in several configurations. The middle row of seats can be side by side or with an isle in the center. The three place bench rear seat can be folded easily into a floor well leaving room for nearly 100 cubic feet of cargo volume, a flat floor and four very comfortable passengers. Or one or two of the middle seats can be removed with the third seat up or down. The possibilities are endless.

The piece d'resistance of the Honda may be the dual left and right sliding doors. What is so exciting is that they are both power. They can be opened or closed by the remote entry system, the outside or inside door handles or by two rocker switches on the left side of the dash controlled by the driver, with an on/off switch which disables the handles for kids. If the doors are open, and you try to drive away, a mild warning horn lets you know something is amiss. They have sensors so they don't close on any limbs that may get in the way. I tried to close it on my arm to no avail. As in an elevator, it just reverses direction at the first sign of resistance.

The front seats are large and somewhat flat. They are well padded and comfortable. The eight-way standard power driver's seat made finding the right position easy. The front passenger seat has a drawer underneath. The second row seating is very similar to the front row with the ability to adjust for and aft and recline. Each seat has a left and right pull down armrest. They are as comfortable as the front.

The rear seat is a three-place bench with the center seat having a three-point seat belt as well as the outboards. The seat back also has several recline positions.

The dash is straightforward with ergonomics being key. The instrument pod contains a large speedo with a smaller tach to the left and a fuel and temp gauge to the right split by a gearshift indicator. Abundant supplies of warning lights are imbedded in the main gauges. To the right are the simple to use electronic HVAC controls for the front and rear. Beneath the AC is the sound system with a single play CD and six speakers. Below the sound system is a drawer with a couple of cup holders and storage area with a power port located just above the floor. The dash covering is serviceable hard plastic. I prefer a softer material, but this is utility. Ditto for the door paneling.

The materials throughout this minivan are tough and durable. The seats are upholstered in a thick, soft cloth and the door paneling is plastic and cloth. The way the door pulls are designed may cause an early soiling of the cloth door paneling. If you want a leather interior, you will have to add it yourself.

The Odyssey doesn't have a center console. It has a folding tray with four cupholders. Part of the reason for no console is the fact that the spare tire is located under the floor between the first and second row of seats. By doing this, is allows for the well in the rear for the third row bench seat to fold into. With the rear seat up, it gives over twenty five cubic feet of storage behind the rear seat. A worthy tradeoff.

Honda should be applauded for the pricing of this fine product. The price for the up scale EX model I tested is exactly the same as last year's smaller four cylinder model, $25,800. However they did raise the destination charge by $20 from $395 to $415. There are no factory options. There are some dealer-installed factory items that may be of interest such as interior bike racks, rook rack accessories and fog lights.

It gets even better. The lower priced, but very well equipped LX model is about a $1,000 cheaper than last year's model. By well equipped, I mean standard power windows, locks, steering, ABS, tilt, cruise, and illuminated vanity mirrors (for the power remote sliding doors, you will need the EX). The LX stickers for an even $23,000 plus $415 for destination. There is a downside and that is that Honda is only going to build 60,000 Odysseys this year. They are produced at their Canadian plant in Ontario. It has been rumored that next year they will double production, but I doubt that will satisfy demand.

If you are looking for a different kind of utility vehicle that will provide at least a few smiles in every mile, this Odyssey should definitely be on your short list.

 
SPECIFICATIONS

Price                           $23,415 to $26,215 (with destination)

Engine

3.5L SOHC 24 Valve,             210 hp @ 5,200 rpm 
VTEC V-6                        229 lb-ft of torque @ 4,300 rpm

Configuration

Transverse mounted 
front engine, front
wheel drive

Transmission

4 speed electronically 
controlled automatic

Dimensions

Wheelbase                       118.1  inches
Length                          201.2  inches
Width                           75.6   inches
Height                          69.7   inches
Ground Clearance                6.4    inches
Curb Weight                     4,288  pounds
Tow Capacity                    3,500  pounds 
Fuel Capacity                   20     gallons

Performance

0-60                            9.2    seconds
50-70                           5.3    seconds
50-70 uphill                    7.5    seconds
Top Speed                       Without a governor, well over 100 mph
                                Even in Montana, there will be new
                                speed limits, so the only place close 
                                by is the Black Rock desert in
                                Nevada, if you wanted to be foolish
                                enough to attempt something like
                                that.  It would be cheaper to call
                                Honda.
Fuel Economy                    EPA 18/26 mpg city/highway.  I would
                                estimate 20 mpg in El Dorado County
                                and 26 plus on the highway at legal
                                speeds 

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