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First drive: Honda Odyssey prices skyrocket

Safer: At last, the Honda Odyssey gets a full list of safety features, including electronic stability control.

Honda’s significantly improved people-mover returns to a premium price position

6 Apr 2009

COSTING about 10 per cent more than its highly successful predecessor, the new Mk4 Honda Odyssey is returning to the premium price point of the first and second-generation models sold in Australia from 1995 to 2004.

Available now, the base model seven-seater people-mover kicks off from $43,990 (up $4700), while the Odyssey Luxury – expected to account for around 60 per cent of sales in the first year – soars $4200 to $49,990.

This means that the latter model – sharing the same four-cylinder engine as the base Odyssey – now costs as much as the Mk2 Odyssey V6 on its demise in mid-2004.

The automatic gearbox has also lost its sequential shifter – a cost-saving trend among Japanese importers that started with the current Mazda2 in 2007.

“Unfavourable exchange rates” are mostly to blame for rocketing prices, says a Honda Australia spokesman.

Nevertheless, the latest Odyssey is a significant improvement in many areas.

Active and passive safety takes the biggest stride forward, with the Honda gaining electronic stability control (ESC), along with lap/sash seatbelts for all occupants, standard curtain airbags and thinner A-pillars that greatly improve driver vision.

Until now, ESC was unavailable on any Odyssey, but now both models have it, while in the Mk3, the second-row middle passenger faced a journey using only a lap-only seatbelt, raising the ire of the press, safety advocates and the public alike.

15 center imageThe Mk4 Odyssey is not an all-new vehicle.

Instead, it uses a stretched variation of the Mk3 models’ previous-generation Honda Accord sedan-based front-wheel drive platform, as well as many of its drivetrain components.

But the body and interior are fresh interpretations of the low-slung wagon theme that proved a hit with buyers in Australia and Japan – the only two countries that receive this specific ‘Japan domestic market’ Odyssey.

Exterior changes include a less slab-sided side view, a nose reminiscent of the Mk2 Insight Hybrid revealed at last October’s Paris motor show, the aforementioned thinner pillars (with a BMW ‘Hofmeister kick’-like kink in the D-pillar), the elimination of a quarter light ahead of the front doors, more pronounced wheel arches and bumpers, larger and longer tail-lights and a deeper rear window.

Again, there are four conventional doors and a lift-up tailgate, as well as three rows of seats set in a ‘V pattern’ from front to rear (the middle rear seat is 25mm further inboard) which, according to Honda, improves vision for all occupants and creates more of a space buffer in a side impact scenario.

Like before, the first row has two reclining bucket seats, the second row has reclining split seats for three people, and the third row is a two-seater bench that tumbles back into a space under the floor to increase luggage room and turn the Odyssey into a cargo-cavernous five-seater wagon.

Thus, the retention of the old Odyssey’s signature low-floor design continues to bring packaging and centre-of-gravity benefits, with the latter aiding driving dynamics.

As in the old car, a long and flat fuel tank is under the second row, helping Honda’s engineers to achieve their desired seat-folding arrangements.

Here are the main dimensions compared to the Mk3 Odyssey:Length: 4810mm (up 30mm) Width: 1800mm (same) Height: 1545mm (down 5mm) Wheelbase: 2830mm (same) Front and rear track: 1560mm (same) Cabin length: 2850mm (up 60mm) Honda has applied the same ‘Maximum-Man/Minimum-Machine Interface’ thinking from the GE-series Jazz light car for its latest people-mover.

As a result, the powertrain, suspension and other mechanisms have been made more compact, and the cab-forward body is now more space-efficient and user-friendly, even though the Mk4 Odyssey sits even lower than before.

Like the Jazz, the A-pillars have been slimmed (by 30 per cent in the Odyssey), but are stronger since they feature ultra-high tensile steel pipe and hydro-shaping technology to form precise yet slender shapes.

Skinnier windscreen wipers (now of conventional – rather than clap-hand – movement) and less-obtrusive sun-visors are further driver-vision enhancing measures.

Honda has restyled the dashboard, mounting it slightly lower than before as yet another vision-enhancing measure.

The company claims that the new fascia offers “... instant recognition and intuitive operation that enhances driving pleasure”, with all trip information grouped within the instrument pod.

Other cabin highlights include front seat cushions that use low-resistance urethane for low fatigue and ‘an outstanding hold’ due to their greater rearward slope angle, and tilt and telescopic steering wheel adjustment.

Functionality and comfort improvements also abound for the latest Odyssey’s rear seat occupants.

The larger rear doors (as a result of 40mm-thinner C-pillars) are designed to aid third-row passenger access, as are the single-action seat levers besides each door that tilts and slides the second-row seat forward.

Modifications to the floor under the second-row of seats liberate about 40mm of legroom for those behind another 20mm of knee space also materialises due to the reshaping of the second-row seat there is now a sliding facility for the 40/20/40-split second-row bench, with each backrest being independently foldable and outboard second-row occupants can recline the front-row backrests down flush with their seat base to create a sort of aircraft-style extended leg cushion lounge.

Moving to the back, the tailgate is slimmer and reshaped for more efficient space utilisation, but the opening itself is significantly wider in the lower area to make loading bulkier items easier.

Luggage space is now rated at 259 litres (up 15 litres) with all seven seats in situ, and 708 litres (previously 672 litres) when the Odyssey is used as a five-seater wagon.

Increases in body rigidity are the upshot of improved joint efficiency, Honda says, benefiting driving dynamics, as does the use of the high-tensile steel for increased body strength.

Honda says the Odyssey’s body has been crash tested to meet the highest possible standards, while pedestrian-impact trauma is reduced through redesigns to the bonnet, wipers, bumpers and mudguards.

All are part of Honda’s Advanced Compatibility Engineering (ACE) body design that helps disperse crash energy away from the occupants.

This also has a positive effect on refinement, while more strategic placement of sound deadening also helps to reduce noise, vibration and harshness properties. The pillars, for instance, boast urethane foam to decrease road sound intrusion.

Wind noise, too, been cut, thanks to minimised panel gaps, those thinner wiper blades, an optimised design for the bonnet’s rear edge and aerodynamically enhanced door mirrors.

A significant mechanical overhaul also sets this Odyssey apart from the outgoing model, thanks to a revised 2354cc 2.4-litre twin-cam 16-valve four-cylinder petrol engine equipped with Honda’s i-VTEC technology, which combines variable valve timing and control with variable lift control.

Euro IV-compliant and 91RON standard unleaded petrol tolerant, it features higher compression ratios to raise power by 14kW, to 132kW at 6500rpm (from 118kW at 5500rpm), but torque output remains static at 218Nm at 4500rpm.

Honda claims that new friction-reducing and combustion-improvement measures contribute to better fuel consumption figures: 8.9L/100km instead of 9.4, while the carbon dioxide emissions rating is 212g/km, compared to around 220g/km for the old Odyssey, due to measures such as a more efficient exhaust system.

This is in spite of weight rises of between 35kg and 65kg (Luxury).

Sadly, Honda has dropped the sequential-shift for the heavily revised five-speed automatic transmission in lieu of a ‘D3’ button that holds third gear, and a ‘D2’ and first-gear slot under ‘drive’.

Drive-by-wire components help deliver smoother changes, while new electronics sense when the Odyssey is being driven on winding roads and so limit unnecessary gear changes.

Sedan-levels of handling and a comfortable ride are Honda’s stated goals.

To that end, the Mk4 Odyssey continues with the old model’s space-saving double wishbone front and rear suspension system, but a more rigid chassis and improved suspension geometry have brought progress in both areas, according to Honda.

New to the series is ‘Motion Adaptive’ electronic power steering, replacing the old hydraulic set-up. It works in conjunction with the stability control system to provide greater steering assistance when needed, and helps keep the minimum turning radius down to 5.4 metres.

Large disc brakes are fitted all around, measuring 320mm up front and 305mm in the rear. These are backed by ABS anti-lock brakes, electronic brake assist, TCS traction control and the ESC system that Honda dubs VSA.

Also on safety, a new side-curtain airbag system helps to provide protection for all three rows of outboard-placed occupants.

Equipment levels rise along with the price. Full-length curtain airbags, ESC and traction control, alloy wheels and auxiliary input MP3/WMA CD radio audio join the standard features list, while the latest Luxury model’s gains include tri-zone automatic climate control that also includes a humidity sensor and HID High Intensity Discharge headlights with auto-levelling low beam and washer.

All models make do with a temporary spare wheel.

Honda Australia senior director Lindsay Smalley said that while the Australian dollar’s performance against the Japanese yen put upward pressure on the Odyssey’s cost, the sizeable increase in standard safety specification would be worth it for many buyers.

Honda states that more than 90 per cent of the latest Odyssey is recyclable. Polyvinyl chloride content has been cut significantly, along with heavy metals such as lead, mercury, cadmium and hexavalent chromium.

Australia is unique in having access to this otherwise Japan-only Odyssey, as the vehicle with the same name sold in North America is almost Toyota Tarago in size, while Europe’s FR-V is a smaller people-mover altogether.

Honda is aiming to sell around 100 Odysseys a month, split 60/40 in favour of the Luxury initially, and then swapping that figure around as the Mk4 ages.

A Modulo kit featuring a dedicated body kit and other additions will also be made available, to tap into the surprising number of people who slammed the outgoing Odyssey.

More than 22,000 examples of Honda’s people-mover have been sold in Australia since 1995, with the Mk3 model’s sub-$40,000 pricing prompting around 13,000 Australians to take their own Odyssey since June 2004.

2005 was its best year, with 3543 sales, followed by 2006 and 2007 with 3002 and 2626 units each respectively.

Honda’s new premium pricing position means that it expects sales of the Mk4 Odyssey to settle to around 1200 units a year this time around.

2009 Honda Odyssey range pricing:
Odyssey (a) $43,990
Odyssey Luxury (a) $49,990

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