San Francisco: When Honda brought out the
Odyssey it was a nice van from the start. But the second-generation model of 1999 pushed
it into the top tier of the minivan market. Honda knows how to give buyers a quality
vehicle at the right time.
For 2003 the changes are minor, but the Odyssey keeps its
frontrunner position, with lots of competition and only the Chrysler and Dodge entries to
worry about. New for this model year are intermittent rear window wiper with washer, power
windows with automatic up and down on the driver's side and a hard-to-copy two-sided key.
Honda has thrown in four new colors too, including Midnight Blue Pearl and Nighthawk Black
One of the first of the sharp-edged Hondas, the Odyssey is deeply
sliced from hawkish beak to slivered taillights in back. The folded look carries onto the
long side panels, with their upward tilt of the window line as it reaches the rear hatch.
Handsome rather than beautiful, the Odyssey looks exactly like what it is - a large box
perfect for shuttling the soccer team or backing up the Bekins men.
Inside, the feeling is more car like, with the ambiance of a tall,
oversized Accord. The dash and doors appear soft but are actually made of hard plastic, a
little disappointing perhaps, but surely durable in the long term. My testers gathered
leather door panels and seats added a small morsel of luxury.
I used my Havasu Blue Metallic test unit to help my friend Patrick
move some of his stuff. The commercial moving van had already transported the bulky
pieces, but I was able to stuff a couple of chairs and a generous assortment of boxes in
there with little trouble. The two middle seats detach and lift out. They have carrying
handles, but weigh more than I might have liked. The third row seat folds flat into the
floor, a delightful and much copied feature. The huge hatch lifts up to allow my 5-foot,
10-inch self to just slip under it.
Like most Hondas, the Odyssey comes in LX and EX models. Neither
vehicle is stripped, but the EX starts about $2,500 higher. For that surcharge you receive
numerous standard features of the type that you might not consider necessary until you
live with them for a while.
For example, in the EX the dual sliding doors are power assisted,
operated from a button next to each door, a driver control, or the remote keyless fob
(itself an EX-only feature). The EX gets a standard security system, automatic air
conditioning, a CD player instead of a cassette player, eight-way power driver's seat, and
heat-rejecting green glass.
With an EX, you can order optional heated leather seats, and either
a DVD entertainment center or a satellite-linked navigation system. Sorry, you can't have
both. My well-stocked tester came with the DVD entertainment center that plays your
selection through a drop-down screen in the rear ceiling. You can shift the sound to the
back if you don't wish to enjoy every nuance of the movie you can't watch and your kids
will be very happy.
Travel is a pleasure in this family-sized Honda. The Odyssey rides
on a fully independent suspension, unusual for a minivan, with MacPherson struts up front
and double wishbones in the rear. The seats are high and firm, and the view is tremendous.
There are pull out cup holders in the dash and on the fold-down tray between the seats.
You could store a latte or three just on the way to work.
Honda's minivan comes with one engine only - a 3.5-liter, 240
horsepower V6. The Odyssey I tested in 1999 had only 215 horsepower, so this is an
upgraded engine since then. It pulls the 4,400-pound Odyssey down the road with great
vigor, meets California's Low Emission Vehicle (LEV) standards and runs on regular gas.
Fuel economy is good for a minivan at 18 mpg city and 25 mpg
highway. This engine comes with Honda's superb five-speed automatic transmission. It is
just set-it and forget-it, and the fifth gear keeps highway cruising blissfully silent.
The Odyssey gets a quadruple five-star rating from the National
Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). That means it provides maximum
protection in both front- and side-impact collisions. Front and rear crush zones and a
four-ring safety shell body contributes to that extra peace of mind.
Odyssey prices start at $24,400 for the LX. Once you add $2,500 for
the EX, you can put in leather, and one of two special options and run that sticker up to
the $30,000 neighborhood. My tester, with the entertainment system, came in at $29,900,
plus $460 for delivery.
For nearly 20 years, minivans have had a big job to do. And once
again, there's Honda, in the thick of it, giving eager buyers what they want at the right
time for the right price.