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'99 Honda Odyssey

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SAN FRANCISCO:  Honda, master of the compact and subcompact sedan, wizard of the affordable sports coupe, introduced its first minivan in America a few years ago. The Odyssey was a good practice swing, but it didn't quite hit the ball out of the park. So Honda studied minivan customers and the competition and brought out the second generation Odyssey as a 1999 model.

Some people felt the old Odyssey was too small. So, Honda made this one huge, in fact, it is the largest car Honda has ever produced. It stretches 13.6 inches longer, 5 inches wider and 3.9 inches taller than the 1998 version, atop a 6.7-inch longer wheelbase. Even the track is 6.1 inches wider in front and 5.3 inches wider at the back.

With all that growth, weight has gone up about 800 pounds, but that's no problem, since the Odyssey boasts the most powerful engine in its class. A bulked-up version of the popular Accord's engine, the new 3.5-liter V-6, with Honda's variable valve timing (VTEC) and 24 valves, puts out a lusty 210 horsepower. It drinks premium fuel, but gets 18 miles per gallon in the city, and 26 on the highway, not bad for a more than two-ton conveyance. Nothing significant is left out of either of the two versions of the Odyssey.

My LX model, in Emerald Green, offered sliding doors on both sides, which is expected in a minivan today. The uplevel EX equips them with power, which can be controlled from the dash or by the remote. All Odysseys come with power windows, locks, and mirrors, and dual-air conditioning with micron filtration. Things like illuminated vanity mirrors are included too; as are an AM/FM/cassette with 4 speakers, lots of storage spots and a gaggle of safety items like airbags, anti-lock brakes, and three-point seatbelts and headrests for every passenger.

Versatility is built in, too. You can fill the Odyssey with up to seven people, or carry 4 x 8 sheets of plywood or masses of boxes for the flea market. Watch out! Your friends will now select you to help them move. The middle seats fold down halfway to allow long items to lay on top, or can pop out completely. As before, the "magic" third seat still offers its disappearing act, storing completely under the floor.

Driving the Odyssey is natural and pleasant -- it feels like a 120 percent scale Accord. The instrument panel resembles the Accord's, with its perfect placement of gauges and controls and high quality of assembly and materials. The extra height lets you open a door and just slide right in. The Odyssey behaves like a car, thanks to its four-wheel independent suspension, which banishes "truckish" sensations, and its stiff body structure, which controls vibration.

This new minivan is designed for the 21st century. Now the Honda looks fresher, with the trendy edges and corners just making their way into production. The Odyssey's face peers intently into traffic, its grille in a perpetual smile. Character lines are streaked along the flanks. Minivans may convey "family" but this one definitely does not project "Brady Bunch."

My test unit had no options, yet still felt complete. Its price tag was $23,615, including destination charges. For an additional $2,600, the EX model adds the aforementioned power doors, a traction control system for extra safety in foul weather, a keyless entry system, alloy wheels, power driver's seat, automatic day-night mirror, CD player, automatic climate control, and a few more bits and pieces.

Three of the major auto magazines have named the Odyssey the best minivan on the market. I would agree. And to underscore that, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) awarded the Odyssey a five-star safety rating, its highest, for occupant protection in frontal collisions. Now that's a family value. By Steve Schaefer AutoWire.Net - San Francisco

Honda Home Page

Byline:  By Steve Schaefer AutoWire.Net - San Francisco
Column Name:  Designed for the 21st Century
Topic:  '99 Honda Odyssey
Word Count:   650
Photo Caption:  '99 Honda Odyssey
Photo Credits:  Honda PR
Series #:   1999 - 48 

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