The Odyssey continues to evolve as part of Honda’s journey with its minivan. Until this year, the popular Odyssey was not available with the leather upholstery or built-in entertainment system found in some competitors, but that has changed.
Now you can have the full-luxury treatment if you like, and for a price that is more than competitive with other brands. Heated leather seats, side airbags for front-seat occupants and a built-in DVD rear-seat entertainment system are available on the EX for those who might have otherwise looked to a different brand for those features.
Upgrading the engine to 240 horsepower, installing a five-speed automatic transmission and revising the chassis for even better ride and handling merely sweetens the pot.
The Odyssey was first introduced in 1999. Changes have been evolutionary until 2002. With a 118.1-inch wheelbase and 201.2-inch overall length, it is dimensionally nearly identical to the Dodge Grand Caravan, Chrysler Town & Country or Ford Windstar. One of its shining features is a third seat that folds flat into the cargo floor. A seat like this is becoming increasing popular and other van makers are beginning to notice how handy it is.
The Odyssey is a sensible combination of carlike driving characteristics, room for seven and a 3.5-liter V-6 that gives it energetic acceleration. Prices start at $24,250 for the LX, $26,750 for the EX, $28,250 for the EX with leather, $29,750 for an EX with leather and a rear entertainment system, and $30,250 for everything including the navigation system.
I drove an EX with leather and the DVD player. It also had power sliding doors, remote entry, automatic air conditioning with rear controls, CD player, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, a HomeLink transmitter, alloy wheels and traction control.
While driving it on a 350-mile road trip, I was impressed with its lack of wind noise, quiet cabin, secure footing and the luxury items that now make it as comfortable as any upscale sedan. The added power of the silky 3.5-liter V-6 was not outwardly noticeable, but it handled passing chores on two-lane highways without an ounce of hesitation. The five-speed automaticÕs wider spread of gears provides just the right gear for any situation while maintaining good highway fuel economy. Traction control and anti-lock brakes are safety features that enhance performance in less-than-ideal weather conditions.
The fold-down table between the front seats was extremely handy because it can be flipped out of the way if you need to step through to the back seat. There is only one power outlet near the front seats, which is awkward if you are running two items that need to be plugged in. The buttons for the heated seats are located in the bottom front section of the door panel where they are not easy to reach.
The Odyssey’s handling is tops among minivans because it has a low center of gravity and fully independent suspension. Even though the seating posit ion is high, the Odyssey doesnÕt feel top-heavy in turns or crosswinds. Getting in is easy because the floor is low.
The leather seats and DVD player are great for families with kids. Spills clean up on leather whereas they might stain cloth. The DVD screen folds down from the rear ceiling and makes a road trip much more tolerable for kids. Wireless headphones and a remote control are standard. The instrument panel has large, simple gauges like those of a Honda Accord. After a six-hour drive I had no aches or sore spots, which is a testament to the seatÕs support.
The second-row seats are as good as the fronts. They can be moved together to form a bench or left as single buckets. Very clever. Each back seat has its own air vent and a reading light that was designed so its light would not distract the driver at night.
Aside from the power sliding doors that are standard on the EX, the Odyssey’s most endearing feature is a third seat that folds into the floor when extra argo space is needed.
The only thing that makes the third seat less than perfect is the fact that the headrests have to be removed before it can fold, but they stow quickly in a nearby net-covered bin.
Flexibility is what made minivans so popular in the first place, and Honda’s third seat is brilliant.
The optional navigation system requires a touch-screen layout for heating, cooling and audio. I would do without and save the money. Besides, knobs for those functions are preferable to a touch-screen.
Honda’s V-6 engine now has 240 horsepower. The VTEC (Variable valve Timing and lift Electronic Control) system broadens the power band for strong off-the-line response without sacrificing high-speed passing power. The engine is mounted on an aluminum subframe, and rubber insulators keep vibration out of the body. The electronically controlled automatic transmission has a Grade Logic Control that downshifts when the brakes are applied and holds the transmission in gear longer when climbing grades. It accelerates out of a corner better because the transmission has already downshifted.
@otx:The base price of our EX with leather and DVD system was $29,750. Destination charges brought the sticker price to $30,190.
Three years or 36,000 miles.
Point: The Odyssey is a delight to drive. Two-hundred-forty horsepower, a five-speed transmission and available leather are icing on the cake. It handles almost as well as a family sedan and the versatile third seat is extremely practical.
Counterpoint: Additional power outlets are needed in the instrument panel or near the center tray. Switches for heated seats are hard to reach.
Engine: 3.5-liter, 240-hp V-6
Transmission: automatic Front-wheel drive
Wheelbase: 118.1 inches
Curb weight: 4,317 lbs.
Base price: $29,750
As driven: $30,190
Mpg rating: 18 city, 25 hwy.