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New Car/Review

1999 Honda Odyssey LX Minivan

by Carey Russ

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

The original Honda Odyssey was a most unusual vehicle. Smaller than other minivans, and with four hinged, car-type doors, it was a typically innovative Honda solution to the needs addressed by a minivan. While it carved a small niche for itself, it was never a major contender in the minivan field. The minivan market is very conservative, and the first-generation Odyssey was, perhaps, too radical.

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. The all-new second-generation 1999 Honda Odyssey is very much a mainstream minivan in design, with all of the features deemed necessary for success. Even the "base- model" LX has dual sliding doors, a reconfigurable interior, front and rear air conditioning with micron air filtration and plenty of vents, power windows, mirrors, and doorlocks, and a plethora of cupholders and storage spaces. And innovative features of the first Odyssey, including the walk-through interior and folding, disappearing third-row "magic seat" continue as standard equipment.

Described by American Honda Executive Vice-President Dick Colliver as a "take no prisoners, no-compromise vehicle," the 1999 Odyssey is the largest, most powerful Honda ever offered for sale. All Odysseys are built in a new plant in Alliston, Ontario, Canada, near Toronto. Two trim levels, LX and EX, are offered. As noted, the LX is very well-equipped. The EX adds dual power sliding doors with anti- pinch protection, an eight-way adjustable power driver's seat, remote entry, automatic climate control, an upgraded sound system, alloy wheels, and more features as standard equipment. Sounds expensive? Not really. The base price for the LX is $23,000 - about $800 less than a 1998 Odyssey LX. The EX, with more equipment than a 1998 EX model, is priced the same at $25,800.

I had an opportunity to try both models of the Odyssey at the press introduction in the Toronto area. More recently, I had an Odyssey LX at home just in time for the Christmas shopping season. Its combination of accessible room, power, handling, and comfort made it the perfect vehicle for any task required. It felt like the world's biggest Honda Accord, and had more useful room inside than any similarly- sized sport-utility.

APPEARANCE: The new Odyssey is a very mainstream minivan in design and style. It looks like the box it came in, and is noticeably larger than the old Odyssey. It is less rounded at the corners and edges than some other current minivans, but there is a reason for this - increased interior space. The well-raked windshield and hood help aerodynamic efficiency. The angular, chrome-trimmed grille and character lines in the hood show a strong resemblance to the current Honda Accord. A creased shoulder line on the sides reduces slab- sidedness and helps hide the sliding door tracks. The LX model has steel disc wheels with full-sized plastic covers.

COMFORT: Comfort and versatility are the key features of the new Odyssey. A low floor height makes access easy and increases headroom. The synthetic interior trim materials used in the EX give it the look and feel of a mid-level Accord. A steering column-mounted gearshift lever means a flat floor, and the well-designed instrument panel features easy-to-use controls and plenty of useful storage spaces. The comfortable, fully-reclining front captain's chair seats are separated by a convenient tray that folds to give access to the center aisle. My test vehicle had the convertible second-row bucket seats instead of the standard bench. An inexpensive, worthwhile option, they can be configured as separate buckets or placed together as a bench, improving third-row access. Both are adjustable for fore-and-aft travel and seatback angle, and may be removed separately. The third-row seat has an adjustable back angle as well, and may be folded into the rear floor well for a flat cargo area. When the third-row seat is in use, the floor well increases cargo capacity, and keeps items like grocery bags from spilling their contents throughout the interior. The dual sliding passenger doors on the LX are manually-operated but slide easily; those on the uplevel EX are power-operated. The rear liftgate is counterweighted for ease of operation. A fast, efficient climate-control system makes for all-weather comfort.

SAFETY: The 1999 Odyssey is the first minivan with three-point safety belts and head restraints for all seven seating positions. Four- ring safety cage chassis construction, antilock brakes, traction control, and dual airbags are all standard equipment.

ROADABILITY: The '99 Odyssey may be the biggest Honda ever, but it's still a Honda. That means good handling, with flat cornering and a light but not too-light effort to the steering. Its rigid chassis and fully- independent suspension gives it handling and ride comfort that are among the best in its class, and it's as quiet inside as an Accord. Large, boxy vans can be a handful in the wind, but not the Odyssey. In strong Canadian prairie gusts, it tracked straight and true. Although it is considerably larger than to old Odyssey, and has a longer wheelbase, the new one has the same tight turning circle for easy parking and maneuverability. Antilock brakes with electronic braking distribution that compensates for varying loads ensure fast, controlled stopping.

PERFORMANCE: The new Odyssey's 210-horsepower V6 is one of the most powerful minivan powerplants. A single overhead cam, 24- valve design, it uses Honda's patented VTEC variable valve timing system for improved low-rpm torque, greater fuel efficiency, and lower emissions. Acceleration is very good for a minivan, and, with the optional towing package, the Odyssey can tow up to 3500 lbs. The four-speed automatic transmission uses Honda's patented "Grade Logic" electronic control for smooth, quick, intelligent shifting.

CONCLUSIONS: The 1999 Honda Odyssey is now a very serious contender in the minivan field.

         1999 Honda Odyssey LX Minivan 

Base Price               $ 23,000
Price As Tested          $ 23,615
Engine Type              single overhead cam, 24-valve V6 with
                         VTEC variable valve timing
Engine Size              3.5 liters /  212 cu. in.
Horsepower               210 @ 5200 rpm
                         (205 on regular unleaded)
Torque (lb-ft)           229 @ 4300 rpm
                         (217 on regular unleaded)
Transmission             4-speed electronically-controlled
                         automatic with Grade Logic
Wheelbase / Length       118.1 in. / 201.2 in.
Curb Weight              4233 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower    20.2
Fuel Capacity            20.0 gal.
Fuel Requirement         unleaded premium for best performance,
                         unleaded regular acceptable but reduced
Tires                    P215/65 R16 Firestone Affinity m+s
Brakes, front/rear       vented disc / drum, antilock standard
Suspension, front/rear   independent MacPherson strut /
                         independent double wishbone
Drivetrain               front engine, front-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed      18 / 26 / 20
0 to 60 mph                        est. 10 sec
Towing Capacity                    2000 lbs., 3500 lbs. with towing

               OPTIONS AND CHARGES

Convertible second-row bucket seats          $ 200
Destination charge                           $ 415