Car reviews - Honda - Odyssey - range
Sheer value-for-money, design, comfort, refinement, dynamics
Room for improvement
No middle-row centre-seat lap-sash seatbelt, no V6 option
10 Jun 2004
THE third-generation Odyssey is really a return to more traditional Honda values.
Out go van-like styling, a V6 engine option and size for the sake of size, and in comes smaller and more sophisticated shapes.
Taking a page out from its successful Accord Euro, Honda has now moved Odyssey away from the previous model’s American market focus.
Its low-slung styling (the first such Honda since the 1991-1995 EG Civic influenced by a flounder) leaves little doubt that this box is out of Japan. A black panther is said to have inspired this Odyssey.
Yet there’s a modern 21st Century look in the broad shoulder, slim headlights and bustle-back profile – the latter recalling the flavour of recent Renaults like the Megane as well as controversial BMWs like the new 6 Series.
Conversely the low ride height and bonnet and deep side window line – always a trusty aid to driver’s vision, by the way – are a welcome return on a Honda, evoking the futuristic 1987 Prelude’s striking sveltness. It’s also apparently friendlier on the pedestrians and smaller vehicles it may hit.
But will female-focussed "versatile families" Honda says will make up the primary buyer group for Odyssey, care about this stuff?
Well, they’ll appreciate the wide-opening doors and low-step cabin entry. Those big windows and windscreen add light as well as vision, exposing the classy dashboard design with its Audi-inspired rings and VW-like instrumentation lighting.
Further plusses are the dead-easy and easy-reach switches and controls, obviously a development of the Accord Euro but arranged in a van-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.
Whether the sheer cornucopia of (often-conflicting) materials, angles, shapes and colours that make up the Odyssey’s fascia is actually tasteful depends on the beholder. Artist Cher, for one, would find much to inspire her here.
And Cher’s ‘80s bouffant hair-do would have trouble clearing the 80mm-lower roof, despite the corresponding 11mm deeper floor. You don’t really notice it sitting down, though, except for taller adults 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.
Owners of the last Odyssey will recognise the third row stowing mechanism in the base (but nicely equipped) model and marvel at the simplicity and ease of the Luxury’s electrical operation. This isn’t the biggest advance here – the fact that no head restraints need removing is a very appreciated advance.
On the other hand having no centre-lap sash seatbelt for middle-row passengers is a disgrace. Honda says that position is mostly used for baby seats since there’s a convenient anchor point on the ceiling.
But that’s no respite for the poor passenger sitting there. That also makes a bit of a mockery of Honda’s other core buyer profile, the "active practical couples" – outdoorsy pre-children types. No doubt they’d appreciate conveying their friends in equal comfort and security occasionally.
Honda Australia director Lindsay Smalley is obviously very aware of safety and security in people-movers, having sampled many of the Odyssey’s rivals. He told GoAuto that he is in discussion with Honda HQ for a solution here, but cannot comment if or when it will occur.
The Odyssey’s quietness and refinement is noticeable the moment the engine is fired up.
Honda says it’s stronger, safer (scoring a maximum six stars in the Japanese NCAP crash-test ratings) and less prone to noise and vibration, and on a couple hundred of kilometres of varying country roads I’m inclined to agree.
Only a small section of coarse bitumen caused a degree of tiresome tyre drone to invade the interior. It also created a shimmy through to the steering wheel and seat.
Mechanical noise, generally, was muted – until a foot-down scenario was called for. Then the 118kW 2.4-litre engine (straight out of the base ‘big’ Accord) had to explore the upper reaches of its powerband 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 if you’re prepared to put pedal to the medal.
Aiding 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 buyers of older four-cylinder Odysseys can journey forth with confidence and conviction.
But the bad news is this engine is no substitute for owners of the outgoing Odyssey V6.
It simply doesn’t have that creamy, powerful punch for instant take-off or effortless overtaking. Honda’s V6s are musically gifted, so there’s also a whole veneer of mechanical refinement missing.
Sadly there are no plans for one in this generation, while the Accord Euro’s 140kW/223Nm high-output 2.4 isn’t on the horizon either.
Mr Smalley suggested to us that Odyssey V6 owners might consider the Canadian-built seven-seat MDX 4WD. Surely, this is anathema to the type of buyer who’d consider the efficiency virtues of today’s smaller Odyssey? Anyway, that’s a big jump from $48,950-to-$53,990-plus for the old V6 to $69,990-plus for the MDX.
Happily, keen drivers are in for a bit of a treat.
Even though the Odyssey wasn’t driven back-to-back with the current ‘big’ Accord, it’s soon pretty clear that it steers and handles more fluently, while riding with a greater amount of aplomb. And 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, the drive program revealed no ‘bottoming out’ undercarriage bumps or scrapes. But no speed humps were traversed either.
The brakes – 300mm discs up front and 305mm behind – pull up with ease, although the surprisingly strong amount of pressure needed might alarm some: I found it nicely progressive but my co-pilot complained about its sponginess.
So how does the latest Honda Odyssey rate?
If you need the seating capacity and can avoid the middle row centre seat since it’s lap-only belt makes it not as safe or comfortable as the others’, then it’s clearly the best buy in the people-mover market.
It restores traditional Honda values like interesting design, progressive engineering and economical efficiency, seemingly ending Honda’s decade of design dictated by at-times conflicting American demands.
The fact that getting into a new Odyssey is $7200 cheaper now, and that it’s also that much cheaper again against most of its seven-seat rivals, makes it a must on any family-car purchase short list.
And that’s true even if you don’t have big families or an active lifestyle.
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