Honda Odyssey (1999)

A Car we loved

You might remember the former incarnation of the Honda Odyssey. It was supposed to be a minivan...but, in fact, it was more like (and we don't mean this in a bad way, really) a Dodge Colt Vista--a tall, rectangular wagon with four regular doors. We never really liked that old edition of the Odyssey. There was nothing wrong with it mechanically, but it was too small to be considered a real minivan; it was, like, a *really mini* van.

The new Odyssey, however, is a whole different story. Honda, in our opinion, has leap-frogged the competition and joined the minivan market in earnest. They're now going head-to-head with the Dodge Caravans of the world, and have surpassed them in several ways.

The new Odyssey is for the "soccer mom" group, of course--and anyone else who has been grudgingly coerced by circumstances into driving a minivan. It competes against the Plymouth Voyager, Toyota Sienna, Ford Windstar, Dodge Caravan, Nissan Quest, Chevy Venture, Pontiac Montana and OldsmobileSilhouette. In terms of size, the Honda Odyssey is comparable to the extended versions of the Dodge and Plymouth (the Grand Caravan and Grand Voyager).

 

Once you get over the fact that you're stuck driving a minivan, and that you're not going to have a sports car experience, the driving experience in the Odyssey was pretty nice. The 3.5-liter VTEC V6 engine provided enough power. Loaded down with four people and a bunch of luggage, the Odyssey did seem to labor somewhat--but that's true for all of the minivans, except perhaps the Caravan/Voyager or the Windstar with the 3.8-liter V6. For average driving, however, it's a very good engine.

The Odyssey has a smooth engine and transmission, as you would expect from Honda. Stopping is superb. Like the Caravan, it does have that slappy, bumpy large-minivan feel to the suspension. But, repeat after us: "It's a minivan. What the hell do you want?"

The Odyssey has a really good turning radius for a minivan and is surprisingly maneuverable. Honda has included a traction-control system,so it should be acceptable in run-of-the-mill winter driving conditions. (Note: Even though it has TCS, we don't recommend you drive the Odyssey through blizzards or off-road. Repeat after us...well, you get the idea.)

 

Interior

The interior design of the Odyssey is superb, and the comfort is really very good. There's room for seven--two up front, two captain seats in the second row (which can slide together and form a bench seat) and a bench seat in the back. The seats are perfectly comfortable and are fully adjustable.


Perhaps the most ingenious thing about the Odyssey is the design for the rear seat. The third-row bench seat actually folds down into a "well" in the floor, which is a huge improvement over other minivans. With the Dodge Caravan, for example, you'd better put on a truss and make an appointment with you chiropractor before you try to move the seat around. Folding down the seat in the Odyssey, however, is a simple task. And, when you're done, there's tons of room for groceries, soccer balls and a couple of in-laws.

Another nice feature we discovered in the Odyssey is the sliding doors.They have little electric motors! It's kind of nice not to be ripping aparty our rotator cuff every time you want to close the door. You'd better hope they don't break, though. Ray priced out the cost of replacing the motor...950 bills -- and that doesn't even include the many hours of labor that will certainly be needed to replace it!

 

Ergonomics

Ergonomics are excellent in the Odyssey, with everything being exactly where you would expect it. The only complaint we had was with the gear shift lever. With most automatics, the shifter naturally gravitates towards the Drive position. Not so with the Odyssey. For some reason, it doesn't always seem to end up in Drive, but in D3 or D2 instead. It's a little persnickety. Perhaps the detents could have been designed a little more precisely--we didn't always notice much of a demarcation between Drive and Neutral.

The Odyssey has plenty of room inside. Headroom is fine, though we wish the bottoms of the seats were a tad bit longer. Storage is excellent, particularly with the rear seat folded out of the way.

Like all vans, visibility in the Odyssey is superb. You're up high and there are no wide pillars to interfere with the view. As with all vans, however, you do lose some visibility on the sides. We can't say that we felt particularly safe or unsafe in the Odyssey. It's certainly large enough, and you're up high enough, that you have the sensation of being safe. Being able to see traffic in the distance and anticipate situations are real plus.

The accouterments inside the Odyssey are wonderful. Honda has always been great at adding little gizmos, gadgets and compartments to its cars. Now with a whole minivan to play with Honda has gone to town. There are plenty of cup holders and lots of little convenient change holders, token holders, tissue receptacles and glasses holders. We kept looking, but we could not find the shotgun rack, soccer pump holder or breast pump receptacle, but we're sure Honda is working on all three. There is, however, a very nice, big center console between the seats, which has enough room for a couple of coffee mugs, a diaper or two and a few copiesof  "Sports Illustrated for Kids." One thing we like about the Odyssey over the Caravan is that it has a sensibly sized dashboard--not the Greenland-sized dashboard of the Caravan.

 

styling

In terms of looks, well...what do you want? This is a minivan. It looks like a minivan. And, within the world of minivans, it's not particularly distinguished looking, either. Honda has joined the long list of manufacturers who have decided to copy the look of the Dodge Caravan.

 

Because this is a Honda, the expected reliability is high. It'll be a long time before anything has to be repaired. When that time comes, however, you'll still be in luck, because Honda has really thought out the placement of the engine in the compartment. The 3.5 VTEC engine is a perfect fit for this van. Unfortunately, there's so much room in there, we'll wager Tommy's next three pay checks that Honda will offer a larger engine within the next model year or two. (That would be a mistake, in our humble opinion. The3.5-liter engine in there now is plenty big enough.)

 

One servicing note: Honda's new owner manual recommendsw that you change the timing belt at 90,000-mile intervals. However, we'd suggest you consider changing the timing belt at 60,000 miles. Hondas use an "interference" engine design, which means, what? If the timing belt does break or jump a notch while the engine is running, the results will "interfere" in a serious way with your long-term savings plan. (Here's how it happens: in an "interference" engine, it's possible for open valves to hit an upward-moving piston, resulting in a collision that could best be described as "apocalyptic.")

 

Overall comments

Overall, we were favorably impressed with the construction of the Odyssey. Ray put it on the lift at the garage and took a look at the underside. The frame and frame rails appeared to be very ruggedly built, with four-wheel independent suspension. Ray was impressed. And he even managed to get it down without dropping it off the lift.

If you have to get a minivan, we'd certainly suggest you consider the Odyssey. You'll get Honda's great reputation for reliability, and, when the time comes for repairs, it shouldn't drain your savings. Honda has thought through the interior of the Odyssey too. You'll get that ingenious folding rear bench seat, plus Honda's unique knack for specialization in making useof every little nook and cranny and thinking of every possible little convenience.

As much as it's not the least bit fun to be driving (or, especially, to be seen driving) a minivan around town, we have a surprising admission: We like minivans. With a minivan, you can move lots of people around--and plenty of stuff too. A minivan is like a pickup truck with a cap, yet it's also a big passenger vehicle. How many cars are that versatile? Of course, there's no style or handling. But, what do you want?

Do we think the Odyssey is a good deal? Sure. With a list price between $23,000 and $25,800, it's certainly competitive with the other vans out there. And it's probably as well designed as any of the minivans currently on the market, and might well be the most reliable. If you're stuck driving a minivan around town, you could do a lot worse.

 

View cars.com model report on this vehicle.


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