Honda Odyssey Review

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago

Honda must know that "street cred" and "minivan" go together like "50 Cent" and "country club". The preliminary sketches for the updated Odyssey show a vehicle bristling with sporting intent. Unfortunately, the finished item is another boxy behemoth with no more sex appeal than a shopping cart. This time out, Honda indented the Odyssey's lower doors and creased the nose. The cinched waist fails to moderate the slab sides while the rhinoplasty makes the Odyssey look like a snake with a half-eaten Acura TL sticking out of its mouth.

To which the average Odyssey driver would reply "Yada yada yada". Minivanistas are no more concerned with their vehicle's narcoleptic appearance than they are with the color of their washing machine. In a 2003 survey, "looks" didn't even make Odyssey owner's top 10 reasons for purchase. Hondafarians see their minivan as nothing more than a machine for moving people and stuff from A to B back to A. Viewed from that utilitarian perspective, the Odyssey is as stunning as an Aston Martin Vanquish.

Where Aston's GT accelerates from 0 to 60 in less than five seconds, Honda's grand tourer seats one to seven children in less than two arguments. Obviously, the minivan market rates its whips according to this sort of family-friendly criteria. Equally obvious, the Honda Odyssey blows its competitors into the weeds. No other minivan made can match the Odyssey's endless practicality, cosseting ergonomics and commendable safety.

OK, granted; Chrysler's Stow 'N Go system is better at the old disappearing seat routine. But the Odyssey offers significantly more passenger space. That said, the Toyota Sienna has more passenger space. But the Odyssey's energy dispersing polygonal body frame and "airbags for all" ethos make it a safer place to shelter your genetic legacy. Still, a Volvo station wagon is safer yet. But the Odyssey's 17 cupholders make the Swedish load lugger a less suitable choice for desert treks. I think I'd better think it out again…

For real. If Honda's stats are anything to go by, minivanners are more brand loyal than prescription drug addicts. The company's press pack gleefully reports that sixty-two percent of existing Odyssey owners trade their old Odyssey for a new one. Assuming other minivan customers would rather swap husbands than automotive allegiance, rating the Honda Odyssey more worthy than its competition invites a conflagration of partisan flame mail. So let's try that again…

The Honda Odyssey is the most car-like minivan money can buy. There. That's the real reason I like the Honda Odyssey better than any other minivan. As long as the kids have a DVD to shut them up, I couldn't care less about under-floor lazy Susans, 60-40 seat splits, dual remote operated sliding doors, second row power windows, triple zone climate control or conversation mirrors with sunglass holders. I want to drive.

Or not. Having sampled all the popular minivans, I can report without hesitation that ten years' evolution has done little to improve the genre's driver appeal. No question: the majority of today's people movers move people with all the verve and grace of a wounded elephant. While I wouldn't choose an Odyssey for pure kinetic pleasure, it's the only minivan that doesn't make me wish I'd had a vasectomy.

Which reminds me: the Odyssey's got stones. More specifically, the 3.5-liter VTEC V6 sheltering in its stubby nose stumps-up 255hp, with a torque curve flatter than Ashlee Simpson. It's not enough motive power to distract the children from their pursuit of mutually assured destruction, but it's sufficient urge to propel the 4600-lbs. leviathan to sixty only 2.9 seconds behind the aforementioned Vanquish (7.4 vs. 4.5 secs.). Stomp on the Odyssey's gas pedal and there's even a bit of torque steer, as the front-wheel-driver attempts to reconcile fun and traction.

If you're mad enough to throw all and sundry into a corner, the Odyssey responds with a healthy dose of nose-first understeer and a full range of electronic countermeasures. At more sensible speeds, the Odyssey delivers both excellent ride quality and something not unlike actual handling. Well, at least it doesn't list. More importantly, the minivan traverses lumps and bumps with astonishing composure. Credit the rigid platform, independent suspension (with McPherson struts fore and a double-wishbone multilink arrangement aft) and a unique chassis subframe that isolates unpleasantness. The Honda Odyssey really does drive like a proper automobile, rather than a modified delivery van.

In fact, in a world based on political correctness, the Honda Odyssey would replace the automobile. It's space efficient, frugal and clean running. But until someone figures out a way to make the Odyssey and its ilk look sharp, minivanning will still be about as cool as driving a 70's station wagon. Sorry, but the bus stops here.

Robert Farago
Robert Farago

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  • Monteclat Monteclat on Oct 21, 2006

    This minivan drives very well indeed. here in the san francisco bay area every new minivan i see on the freeway is either an odyssey or sienna.

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