Odyssey's Reputation Grows along with Its Size

Article excerpt

Byline: Dave Boe

Background: Change is good; and in the case of Honda's Odyssey minivan, change turned out great

Honda redesigned its family-oriented, front-wheel-drive Odyssey minivan in the 1999 model year to better compete with the plethora of minivans available in the U.S market. If supply and demand are any indication, Japan's third-largest automaker has a hot prospect at dealer showrooms. Calendar year sales of Odyssey in the U.S. through June totaled a healthy 64,816 units.

The first-generation Odyssey, introduced in 1995, shared components and looks with its automotive twin, Isuzu's Oasis minivan; both were powered by a four-cylinder engine. From 1995 to 1998, both Oasis and Odyssey measured in as two of the shorter minivans on the market. But smaller minivans with under sized, four-cylinder engines don't play as well with American consumers as larger-sized family-friendly vans with more potent six-cylinder engines do. When the second-generation Odyssey rolled out four years later, Honda seized the moment and took evasive action. Odyssey went from one of the smaller minivans in overall length to one of the largest and the updated, six-cylinder, 210 horsepower engine ranked as one of the most potent. In 1999 Honda also severed ties with Isuzu, marking the end of Oasis in the U.S. showrooms.

As with the Toyota Sienna, Ford Windstar and Mazda MPV minivans, the seven-passenger Odyssey is available in one overall length. Minivans from General Motors and Chrysler offer two lengths: regular and extended. Odyssey's length is a tad longer than extended wheelbase lengths from GM and Chrysler

Updates for 2001 include the addition of intermittent rear wipers, upgraded stereo speakers and floor mats. Honda assembles Odyssey near Toronto in Alliston, Ontario, Canada.

Engine and trim level: Odyssey again is available in entry-level LX and up-level EX trim varieties. The sole powertrain is the 3.5- liter, 210 horsepower, V-6 engine with multi-point fuel injection mated to a four-speed automatic transmission introduced two years ago. It's one of the most powerful in its class. General Motors' V- 6 engine powering the Chevrolet Venture, Pontiac Montana and Oldsmobile Silhouette minivans produces 185 horsepower while Ford's Windstar's V-6 generates 200 horsepower. Chrysler offers two V-6 engines, a standard 3.3-liter generating 180 horses and an available 3.8-liter engine churning out 215 horsepower.

Chrysler also offers an all-wheel option in Grand Caravan, one of the few available in a market dominated by front-wheel drive offerings.

Safety features: Odyssey includes dual reduced force front air bags, child safety rear door locks, five-mile-per-hour impact absorbing bumpers, anti-lock brakes, immobilizer theft-deterrent system and traction control standard across the board. Remote keyless entry is standard in EX while optional in LX. Side air bags are currently not offered.

Both the Honda Odyssey and Ford Windstar earned the government's highest five-star rating for occupant protection in frontal and side impact collisions.

Standard equipment: Both trim levels come reasonably well equipped with power doors and windows, cruise control, front and rear air conditioning, adjustable steering column, variable intermittent windshield wipers, rear window defroster, sliding sun visor extenders, illuminated vanity mirrors, dual power mirrors, power rack-and-pinion steering and front, middle and rear map lights.

The LX edition includes an AM/FM stereo with cassette player while EX editions substitute a compact disc player for the cassette unit. The EX edition also includes steering wheel-mounted audio controls and an eight-way power driver's seat standard.

The Odyssey EX is the only minivan on the market with an optional, in-dash Global Positioning Satellite navigation system. This handy, colored-screen device provides detailed mapping data, including an aerial view of your current location and all roadways in the region. …