In the jockeying for minivan supremacy, Honda's lead had dwindled to a nose until the redesigned 2005 Odyssey was introduced. Now, even against extremely tough competition, the Odyssey is up on the pack by a length. The high-grade interior and exclusive features like voice-operated audio, navigation, and climate control contribute to an ambiance of luxury and refinement lacking in other vehicles with sliding side doors.
Honda has taken a redoubtable chassis with a 118.1-inch wheelbase and built exactly the right-sized minivan, at 201.0 inches long. The weight is up to as much as 4634 pounds, which is frightening because of the potential for high fuel consumption and difficult handling, but measures have been taken to address fuel consumption, and the trademark Odyssey vigor is retained. Meanwhile, there is 147.3 cubic feet of cargo volume without the second- or third-row seats. And if your family finds accommodations cramped or in any way lacking when the seats are in place, it's time to start driving a motor home.
Three models comprise the Odyssey lineup: the LX ($24,995), the EX ($27,995), and the Touring ($34,495). Adding the rear entertainment system and DVD-based navigation bumps the Touring's price to $38,295, a lofty figure indeed. Yet the level of content compares favorably if you're cross-shopping against SUVs or entry-luxury sedans.
The Odyssey has always been a good-looking minivan. For 2005, styling changes to the front are most noticeable and achieve the greatest effect. The attractive new prow is adorned with a simple chrome grille, which neatly hides the hood opening. There are smart-looking new headlamps behind large clear shields. Expensive looking ten-spoke alloy wheels carrying run-flat tires brighten the corners of the Touring.
The cabin is better-looking than ever, too. The Touring's tan leather upholstery is gorgeous, and so are the new instruments, backlit in sporty blue like the dials in Acura sedans. To drive the sporting theme home, the speedometer reaches a wildly optimistic 160 mph. The leather-wrapped, four-spoke wheel is another pleasure. And with just-so arrangement of all controls, this is an easy place to do business. The center console is ergonomic perfection, and seventeen cup holders ensure a variety of libations for all aboard.
For all its bulk and heft, the Odyssey drives like a well-suspended car. There's naturally some lean in turns, but otherwise the body's motions are well controlled. In one off-camber corner that wanted to pitch us off the road, we plunged deep into a frost heave-an added degree of difficulty-and found the suspension to be very well damped. The quick and precise power rack-and-pinion steering and the four-wheel disc brakes are diligent about their tasks.
Even with a mediocre powertrain, the Odyssey would offer a rewarding experience, but the aluminum-alloy, 3.5-liter V-6 engine common to all models now produces 255 hp and 250 lb-ft of torque and is as alert as a Jack Russell terrier, thanks to the way Honda's VTEC technology varies the valve openings for maximum effectiveness. Variable Cylinder Management-a new feature that's standard on EX models with leather interior ($30,295) and on the Touring-shuts down one bank of cylinders upon reaching cruising speed: a green "Eco" indicator on the instrument panel tells you so. Step harder on the gas pedal and those three cylinders return to duty. The payoff is an EPA rating of 20/28 mpg, compared to 19/25 mpg for models not equipped with VCM. Oh, and the Odyssey achieves this on regular unleaded fuel.
The stubby lever for the five-speed automatic transmission is located on the center stack by the climate controls. Not every minivan is equipped with a five-speed transmission; the payoff is found in the reasonable fuel economy and also in the Odyssey's heightened responsiveness.
Throughout the cabin, features abound for the driver and passengers alike. Carrying capacity is seven or eight with an optional second-row jump seat. Honda endows the Touring with a three-zone automatic climate system and heated front seats with two-position memory for the driver. The large DVD navigation screen doubles as a rear-video monitor when reversing; when you press a button, the screen pivots and folds downward, revealing the six-disk CD changer. Learning how to work the voice activation for the navigation, audio, and climate systems is easy. The DVD player for the rear entertainment system occupies a position at the bottom of the center stack; there are jacks and AC plugs in the rear for those who want to use the nine-inch screen for games. All the switches and materials are top notch, and the overall look and feel is more luxury car than grocery getter.
Because the Touring rolls on run-flat tires, a spare isn't needed. Instead, the well for the spare tire-which is found beneath a panel between the first and second rows-is filled with a lazy Susan. Who knows what use this may find? Snacks? Band-Aids? A game of roulette? It's also worth noting that the sliding side doors now have power windows, and sun shades roll up to shield occupants. The powered doors and liftgate work seamlessly.
The Odyssey features enough safety features to make a soft landing on Mars. Standard on all Odysseys are antilock brakes with brake assist, traction and stability control, impact beams in the front and sliding side doors, front seatbelt pre-tensioners, and advanced front, side, and three-row side-curtain air bags. Tire-pressure monitoring and rear parking assist are exclusive to the Touring models.
For all its wonderful attributes, the Odyssey has a few shortcomings. The 18-inch Michelin PAX run-flat tires contribute to a bit of impact harshness on broken pavement. The interior could be quieter, and the front doors need some internal reinforcement to render a more solid slam. Although the third-row seats-now splitting 60/40-easily flop into the cargo area's floor, the second-row seats come out about as easily as impacted molars.
Still, dislodging the Odyssey from the head of the pack is a tough job. It's fast, corners well, and keeps everybody entertained while leading on the backstretch. If any competitor has an advantage, it would show up off road, where all-wheel drive-not available on the Odyssey-would be an asset. Otherwise, wagering against this horse isn't recommended.