Ever since it debuted the second-generation Odyssey in 1999, Honda
's been setting the bar for minivan quality and performance. Last year, the company completely overhauled its family hauler, and this year doesn't see much change to the new platform. That's not a bad thing, however, as the 2005 edition brought a more powerful 3.5-liter/255-horse V-6, power side windows, and a host of technical innovations for the segment, such as available Michelin PAX run-flat tires, engine cylinder deactivation, and a noise-canceling audio system. The only major feature the Odyssey lacks compared with some of its competitors is all-wheel drive. Though it does feature front-wheel drive with standard traction control and electronic stability control.
A typically conservative Honda design, the Odyssey its sheathed in elegant lines wrapped around the basic minivan box, creating a suitably upscale appearance. You'll find no Nissan Quest-like swoopy lines or GM-style SUV snouts grafted on the front here, just a clean design that doesn't call attention to itself--perfect for a minivan. Large, reflective headlamps and a trapezoidal grille bear a family resemblance with Honda's popular car lines, reinforced by the prominent "H" badge. The PAX run-flat tire/wheel system on the Touring model has the ancillary benefit of filling out the wheel wells better than most competitors' smaller rolling stock. And you'd really appreciate those tall sidewalls if they kept you rolling 125 miles after a puncture, as they're designed to do. The Touring model also gets body-colored parking-assist sensors, which eliminate the bumper-wart look of the more typical black bumper sensors.
The Odyssey's interior is focused on flexibility. The third-row "Magic Seat" can split 60/40 and folds flat into the floor with headrests intact. The second-row captain's chairs can move fore and aft 10 inches, mount side-by-side to form a bench seat, and be removed. An optional seat for an eighth passenger disappears into the storage compartment between the first and second rows. There's even a lazy-Susan rotating storage tray hidden in that compartment on EX and higher models--about the only storage innovation remaining would be a dumbwaiter to send cargo up to the roof rack. Although Honda doesn't offer a foldaway second row like Chrysler and Dodge minivans, the payoff here is more substantial and supportive seats for the passengers in the middle row.
As you ascend through the trim levels, the Odyssey offers an increasing level of luxury options competitive with anything else in minivanland--and even some parts of luxurycarland. Included are a rear DVD entertainment system with a nine-inch screen and personal surround sound, power-adjustable pedals, a satellite navigation system, a rearview backup camera (standard with the navigation system), three-zone climate control, roll-down rear windows, power side doors and tailgate, and a 360-watt audio system. Like upscale Acura models, the Odyssey even offers voice-activated control for the stereo, climate control, and navigation system. If this level of amenities can't keep the kids happy on the way to soccer practice or even all the way to Grandma's, you might consider calling "Nanny 911."
Commendably, Honda includes the vast majority of the Odyssey's safety equipment--the run-flat tires being the notable exception--as standard equipment on all models. That roster includes dual-stage driver and passenger front airbags, front side airbags, and side-curtain airbags for all three rows. The latter are fitted with a rollover sensor to deploy in the event things get topsy-turvy. On the preventive side of safety, anti-lock brakes, traction control, and electronic stability control are included to help ensure those airbags don't get used. The Odyssey also earned five stars in NHTSA's front- and side-impact crash tests.
The Odyssey only comes with one powertrain: a 3.5-liter V-6 delivering a best-in-class 255 horsepower. EX with leather and Touring models get a slightly different version of this engine that can deactivate three cylinders at low loads (such as cruising on the highway) to achieve 28 mpg on the highway--three more mpg than with the regular engine. A light on the instrument cluster alerts you when the cylinders go to sleep, but otherwise the change is transparent. All models have a five-speed automatic transmission.
Behind the Wheel
The phrase "built for comfort, not for speed" comes to mind here. While power is generous, the engine has a lot of Odyssey to tow around. Like many Honda engines, this one has great midrange grunt, which meshes well with a minivan's mission. You won't snap your passengers' heads back off the line, but as you accelerate up that onramp, the V-6 responds to your urgency--nice when you have to merge with at-speed highway traffic.
The ride/handling compromise is skewed firmly in favor of comfort, with bumps squelched nicely. While Honda bills the Odyssey as offering the handling of a luxury-performance sedan, there aren't too many of those cars that are driven by their front wheels and weigh two-and-a-half tons, so take that claim with a grain of salt. It does, however, handle better than just about any like-sized SUV, by dint of its lower center of gravity and (compared with seven- and eight-passenger SUVS) relatively trim mass.
Odyssey driving dynamics are the equal to those of its chief rivals' and are significantly better than those of many other minivans (ahem, the domestics). It's somewhat surprising, though, given the Odyssey's ample techno goodies, that you can't get an adaptive cruise-control system like the one on the Toyota Sienna.
The Odyssey will appeal to buyers who want the space, utility, and comfort of a minivan, but don't want to drive something that wheezes onto the highway like a sickly cow or incinerates fuel like an F-16 on afterburner. It's also aimed at people who are honest with themselves about their driving needs: they don't need an SUV; they don't need a minivan that sort of looks like an SUV (GM's latest offerings); and they don't need a minivan with sporting pretensions (Nissan Quest). For those who want a quick, versatile hauler that drives like a car and holds its value better than some currencies, the Odyssey is the best choice. Only the Toyota Sienna and Chrysler Town & Country approach the Odyssey's level of refinement and all-around goodness, but they aren't quite as rich in features, power, or pizzazz.
As the BMW 3 Series is to small luxury cars, so the Odyssey is to minivans--it's the benchmark vehicle. And in its sophomore year, the third-generation model is still at the head of the class.
Completely redesigned for 2005, the 2006 Odyssey is carries over without significant changes.
The Touring edition with navigation sets out to forge new territory: the ultra-luxe minivan. To that end, it includes a nav system, rearview backup camera, run-flat tires, and the iVTEC engine with cylinder disengagement. However, you can get the thrifty-yet-powerful motor in the EX edition, too--if you opt for the leather interior.
Others to Consider
Chrysler Town & Country,Nissan Quest,Toyota Sienna