Beware of manufacturers bearing myths.

They imply that rack-and-pinion steering and disc brakes are advanced technology and--hint, hint--special to their brand. Right. Name one car that doesn't come with disc brakes and rack-and-pinion steering.

Believe no brochure suggesting side-impact protection and crash-absorbing bumpers are gifts from safety-conscious car makers. They're built into cars because the U.S. government has so ordered.

And just as surely as the check is never in the mail, minivans do not ride like cars.

Until now.

Until this toy-box cutie called the Honda Odyssey that turns tight and quick, travels flat, and steers lightly without any whisper of roll, wallow or dive. Very much like a sedan and most unlike any other people-hauler, ancient or modern.

It even has hinged doors for rear-seat passengers, not a wrist-spraining hatch that slides with the grace of an airplane hangar's and ruins more fingertips than a student manicurist.

A perfect ride, of course, was the single quality that Honda had to build into the Odyssey. For it is a first-year rookie and unfashionably late to the game that Chrysler invented and the world has been pursuing ever since.

Dodge's Caravan and Plymouth's Voyager have dictated play for 12 years. They continue to claim the bear's share of the minivan market despite entrances by Toyota's Previa, Ford's Windstar, Mitsubishi's Expo, the Trans Sport-Lumina-Silhouette triplets from General Motors, Volkswagen's Eurovan, Mazda's MPV and a 17-player little league of hardballers.

All are step-upliving rooms with a view. Each holds six adults, a week's groceries plus Evian, two azaleas and a Rottweiler, all within the cubic footage of 15 refrigerators. Captain's chairs, benches that become beds, and bucket seats that can be unbolted and moved elsewhere--even outside to campsites--allow seating variations ranging from Hollywood Bowl to honeymoon suite.

Yet all minivans bobbed like rubber rafts.

And Honda--as it has done so many times in the past--refused to accept shortcomings as inescapable compromises, and took all the time needed to get it right.

Rather than chance anew chassis, engineers borrowed the fine, taut platform of the Honda Accord. Odyssey's four-wheel disc brakes, anti-lock system, four-speed automatic and 2.2-liter engine came from the same proven source.

Minivan tipsies generally are caused by the vehicle's high profile and its basic, cut-rate suspension system. This is, after all, a utility vehicle and not, ahem, a bloody Range Rover.

So Odyssey's roof line was built three inches lower than Mercury's Villager. That dramatically reduces the center of gravity and stabilizes the vehicle. It also takes a lot of the tiptoe stretch out of loading the roof rack. And a decreased step-down--the lowest of all minivans--further eases the day if Robbie Rottweiler needs to be drag ged out by his ears.

For the suspension, Honda turned once more to Accord and transferred its double wishbone setup to create the first fully independent rear suspension for minivans.

Hence the comfortable, predictable ride of a passenger car with the carrying capacity of a six- or seven-passenger van. Put another way: Imagine driving an Accord while sitting on a stool at Johnny Rocket's.


Unfortunately, Honda was a little under-selective in its borrowings. It should have extracted the 170-horsepower, 2.7-liter V-6 that now is an Accord option. Instead, it stuck the front-drive Odyssey with a 140-horsepower version of Accord's four-banger.

This little engine certainly can with one aboard and only a briefcase in the passenger seat. Acceleration is brisk with a reserve of lively, smooth power. But with Robbie and assorted lumber on-board and hills to climb, four cylinders just aren't enough. That's when Odyssey starts to whine and stress out

We don't think Honda is displaying the same stubbornness that kept a V-6 out of the Accord for so many years. We do think Honda is testing the water and a V-6 will be plugged in should its Odyssey become a successful journey.

Honda may also have slipped in the design of its gear-shifter. It's on the steering column, which is fine. But the feel is too light, detentes aren't heavy enough and grabbing the wrong gear comes too easily.

Gear-selector lettering is also a little undersized for those ready for their first reading glasses from Thrifty.

There certainly is nothing Homeric about the weight, girth or manners of Odyssey. Instead, it is chummy, friendly, easy on the senses, very much fun to drive and stuffed with reassuring amenities for a base price of $22,985.

The basement LX comes with anti-lock brakes, dual air bags, power steering, front and rear air conditioning, four-speaker stereo, cruise control, half a dozen cup holders, adjustable steering wheel, speed-sensitive steering and power doors--including a tailgate lock.

The Odyssey EX is a little pricier at $24,995, also fancier with alloy wheels, power sunroof, six-speaker sound system and remote-control entry included in the price of admission.


Honda has devoted some deep thinking to Odyssey's interior and the living space is positively cuddly.

Seating is two or three rows, bench or captain's chairs in any assortment for six or seven passengers. Most seats can be split, folded flat or unclipped and removed for increased cargo carrying. And rows are tiered, like Mann's Chinese, so youngsters can blow bubble gum over and not into the moussed curls of elders in front.

There are two glove boxes, door pockets, storage bins, and more places to hide things than a Senate subcommittee. Windows and windshield are deep for maximum visibility with neither look nor feel of an aquarium. Driver seating is high and imperial without being imperious.

And the Honda aura--the closeness of fit, the smell of value, the satisfying touch and click of controls adding to the sense of a superior mechanical anatomy--is everywhere.

Oh, in case you were wondering: Odyssey does come with rack-and-pinion steering.

1995 Honda Odyssey EX

Base Price: $24,995

The Good: A van that really does drive like a car. Well appointed, high-value package. Cozy, chummy, but thoughtful interior for six or seven people. No sliding doors.

The Bad: Engine that wimps out when worked hard.

The Ugly: Fighting the competition without a V-6.

Cost As tested, $24,995. (Includes two air bags, anti-lock disc brakes, power sunroof, front-rear air conditioning, cruise control, six-speaker sound system, power locks and windows, and alloy wheels.)

Engine 2.2-liter, 16-valve, in-line four developing 140 horsepower.

Type Front-engine, front-drive, six- or seven-passenger minivan.

Performance 0-60 m.p.h., as tested, 12 seconds. Top speed, estimated, 110 m.p.h. Fuel economy, EPA city and highway, 20 and 24 m.p.g.

Curb Weight 3,483 pounds.