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Car reviews - Honda - Odyssey - people-mover

Our Opinion

We like
Quality, style, performance, economy, versatility
Room for improvement
No middle-rear lap-sash belt, no V6 option

13 May 2005

SINCE the original Odyssey burst onto the scene 10 years ago, its mission statement has been clear.

If you don’t want a van but need at least six-seater capability if car-like driving is important to you if high resale and low running costs matter, if top-shelf quality is paramount… then the Odyssey offers something for you.

All these still apply for the third-generation model released in the middle of last year.

But now it’s thrown the value gauntlet down too.

Despite a myriad of improvements – including a more space efficient body, more powerful four-cylinder engine, an equipment level rise and improved refinement, safety and dynamics – the price plummeted $7200.

Unsurprisingly, sales almost quadrupled – from 649 in ’03 to 2129 by year’s end.

Plus, now it’s even less boxier than before, as the low-slung wagon styling makes plain and clear. It’s slick, broad shouldered and dynamic, aided by slim headlights and a bustle-back profile that recalls BMW’s 6 Series.

Conversely the low ride height and bonnet and deep side window line are reminiscent of Honda’s eclectic 1980s design bravura. The former also happens to be more pedestrian-friendly too.

Painted black the Odyssey looks mean. It could easily have come from the streets of East LA.

So while it’s no Halle Berry in overall size (a Chrysler Voyager dwarfs it), at least this generation isn’t Oprah Winfrey either. Let’s settle for Missy Elliot instead.

It’s no surprise then that there’s plenty of bling – or is that chintz – adorning the big O. In ‘Luxury’ mode chrome drapes the grille, bumpers, alloy wheels and side bump strips like an MTV award presenter.

Honda has also heaped it on inside, with an appealing combination of fresh style, quality finished surfacing and excellent ergonomics.

There’s a wrap-around two-tone dashboard with plenty of metallic accents “titanium-effect”, and an alluring blue-translucent-illumination analogue instrumentation. It’s Audi-meets-Tokyo Arcade Co. Japan.

Honda describes as futuristic and that’s spot-on.

The huge glass area all around adds light as well as aids vision.

Further plusses are the dead-easy and easy-reach switches and controls, obviously a development of the Accord Euro but arranged in an MPV-friendly way.

The same goes for the (auto-only) gear lever, tailored to fall to hand in both ‘D’ and Tiptronic-style tip-shifting mode.

The driving position is also faultless, augmented by armrests at both sides, handy storage spaces aplenty and adequate access to ventilation.

I never tired of it, and it has a big wow factor for Odyssey III virgins.

The sci-fi connection isn’t an illusion either, because Honda has created a true Tardis-effect as a result of some clever packaging.

Taking a leaf from the hyper-space efficient Jazz light car, its engineers have flattened the 65-litre fuel tank to 150mm high, liberating ‘new’ space for the middle row of passengers as well as increasing cargo room

Sliding inside the Honda is easy thanks to a lower floor and wide three-stage-opening side doors. Inside it’s also longer and wider, facilitating three-row seating in 2+3+2 formation.

The detailing is extremely impressive: the 60:40 second row has a single-operation double-folding mechanism so it stows flush with the floor.

Headrests don’t need removing and the seat slides 320mm for easier access to and from the third row, which also folds into the floor, much like before.

It operates electrically (except on rear inclines a gently push is needed) in the Luxury model which, by the way, also includes a powered driver’s seat, curtain airbags, heated front seats, leather trim and upholstery, a sunroof, wood trim, six-stack CD player and alloy wheels.

The base model’s mechanical seat folder is the definition of light ‘n easy operation.

All Odysseys include dual front and side airbags, four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock with brake force distribution devices, climate control air-conditioning, power windows, keyless entry, a CD player, power mirrors, cruise control and adjustable front armrests.

That’s the good news.

Appallingly there’s no middle-rear lap-sash seatbelt, so that passenger’s safety is severely compromised.

Honda’s defence that mostly baby seats are put there (since there’s a convenient anchor point on the ceiling) is disgraceful. It also says a fix is on the way provided that Japan complies.

Whether the 80mm-lower roofline’s effect in reducing effective “walk-through” cabin ability is another disappointment is up to the individual.

It’s partly offset by an 11mm deeper floor. This resizing isn’t really obvious unless you’re tall and relegated to the rear-most pew.

While the front and middle rows seem fine on bottoms, longer legs may tire of the slight knees-up seating approach. There just isn’t the room to splay if you’re much over 180cm in height.

Quietness and refinement levels have risen impressively, and are noticeable the moment the engine is fired up.

It’s stronger, safer (scoring a maximum six stars in the Japanese NCAP crash-test ratings) and less prone to noise and vibration.

Coarse bitumen did cause some tiresome tyre drone on the test route.

Mechanical noise is generally muted – until a foot-down scenario is required. Then the 118kW 2.4-litre engine (straight out of the base ‘big’ Accord) has to explore the upper reaches of its power band to harness the 218Nm of torque.

The Odyssey’s 1610kg weight (up 17kg) takes a moment to be overcome, but then the Honda quickly and efficiently picks up speed in a surprisingly swift manner.

Obviously it’s best with less folk on board, but there’s plenty of poke of you’re prepared to put pedal to the medal.

Assisting driver enjoyment is the location of the short and snappy five-speed automatic’s lever.

Not only is it convenient, there’s a satisfying feel between manual ‘tip-shifts’, while the transmission itself is a happy companion to the engine’s power and torque characteristics.

Compared to the old 2.3-litre model, things have definitely improved, and earlier Odysseys owners can journey forth with confidence and conviction.

This is especially true if they also happen to be keen drivers.

Because it is clear from the outset the Odyssey steers and handles more fluently than the disappointing ‘Big’ Accord that begat it. For one thing it rides with greater aplomb.

The overall sweetness of the dynamics puts it well ahead of the old model.

Honda has honed the steering feel (with a variable ratio that seamlessly aids parking effort while maintaining a good degree of high-speed stability and security), that makes the Odyssey no chore to chuck through corners.

Even on varying road surfaces the Odyssey tracked true, and should remain that way even with a full load. Interestingly, despite the very obvious lowered ride height, it never ‘bottomed out’ over bumps, although speed humps need to be traversed with care.

The brakes – 300mm discs up front and 305mm behind – pull up with ease, although some strong pedal pressure is sometimes needed for effective retardation.

Sadly, it isn’t all roses. The lack of a V6 will be sorry news for some because the old Odyssey’s was such a wonderful all-rounder.

The big ‘four’ just doesn’t have that creamy, powerful punch for instant take-off or effortless overtaking. Sadly the Japan-only Accord Euro-sourced 140kW/223Nm high-output 2.4 isn’t coming.

So how does the latest Odyssey rate?

If you need the seating capacity – and don’t require the middle row centre seat since it uses the inferior lap-only belt system for more discomfort and less safety – then it is clearly the best buy in the people mover market.

The ’05 Odyssey restores traditional Honda values like interesting design, progressive engineering and economical efficiency.

Lack of V6 option apart, existing owners won’t be disappointed – it’s more of the same, just better.

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