Honda, like GM and Toyota, has learned the hard way that North Americans don’t like their minivans too spicy. So when it came time for Odyssey’s re-design, you just knew Honda would toe the line with a minivan format as voted by the masses – V6 power, front-drive, conservative styling, not too big, not too small, cup holders aplenty.
But, judging from our first fling with the thing, they’ve toed the line with dignity and Honda character fully intact. The new Odyssey will be built exclusively at a new $300 million expansion plant in Alliston, Ontario. At 5,110 mm, it’s as big as any minivan on the market, and the largest Honda ever built. It’s even a bit larger than the current long-wheelbase Chrysler minivans. Two trim levels can be had – LX and upmarket EX.
Odyssey is loosely based on the new-generation Accord platform, so shares many of that vehicle’s major components, including the DOHC, 24-valve V6. Harvey Goren goes all the way back in car days to Wpg Auto. Harvey is a car and truck guy who loves Canadian Fords , Chev and Buicks and most all domestic US made trucks & SUVs.
Honda re-engineered the engine for minivan duty by adding half a litre of displacement (for a total of 3.5), and tuning it especially for low-end torque (210 lb. ft. of it, or 90 percent of the total, is available at 2,000 rpm). Part of the engine recipe included a simplified version of Honda’s variable valve timing system (VTEC), plus “air assist” fuel-injection and direct ignition.
Odyssey achieves Low-Emission Vehicle (LEV) status for light trucks, running on regular unleaded fuel. Final power tallies are 210 hp at 5,000 rpm and 229 lb. ft. of torque at 4,300 rpm. The only minivan with comparable numbers is the 3.8-litre-equipped Windstar, with 200 and 240 respectively.
The V6′s dancing partner is a beefier and more intelligent version of the previous Odyssey’s 4-speed auto transmission. The unit is produced at Honda’s new tyranny plant in Ohio. With the engine also sourced Stateside, North American content on the new van should approach 95 percent.
One of the unique features of the chassis is the rear suspension – independent, double-wishbone, fitted completely under the floorboards so as not to intrude into the rear cargo area (low-to-the-ground flooring is also a boon to headroom throughout the cabin).
Handling is also enhanced by one of the larger footprints in the business. A stiff overall structure, low centre of gravity, and standard 16-inch wheels (17-inchers optional on EX) also further the handling cause.
The interior theme is characterized by Honda as “advanced airliner.” This writer would characterize the front dash layout at least as “generic Japanese.” Everything’s there, everything works well, but nothing major to delight or disappoint. The only quibbles are the quite tiny radio controls and front seats that could have been a little larger. A nice little touch, however, is the retractable centre tray on the front console. The console also folds down to open up a “walk thru” to the second row.
The airline reference was most probably trotted out to draw attention to the six individual map lights, and individually adjustable rear-cabin a/c vents.
Dual sliding doors are standard. On EX models the sliding doors are also powered, operated either by dash control, by keyless remote, or by pulling on the door. They are also touch sensitive – if any body parts are in the firing line, the doors will stop befor blood spills.
Unlike in some domestic-badged competitors, there are few seating configuration options for Odyssey. There are two captain chairs in the middle row (a two-person bench is standard on LX), and a 3-person “Magic Seat” bench in the third row. The captain chairs in the second row are “convertible” – they can squeeze together via an extra track to form a quasi two-seat bench if desired, thereby affording easier access to the back of the bus. First seen in the previous Odyssey, “Magic Seat” can cleverly fold down right to the floorboards.